Interview: Charlie Barnett

The hit CW series Valor follows a group of elite helicopter pilots as they train for and carry out domestic and international missions.

One thing that sets this particular unit apart from the others is that it features one of the unit’s first female pilots, Nora Madani, played by the wonderful Christina Ochoa.

Her boyfriend, an intelligence officer Ian Porter, is played by the talented Charlie Barnett. You may instantly recognize him from playing Peter Mills for several seasons on the hit NBC series Chicago Fire. Most recently, he appeared as a regular in the second season of the ABC series Secrets & Lies. Other credits include Code Black, Orange is the new Black, Chicago P.D. and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Today, we sit down with Charlie to talk about his character Ian Porter, what it was like putting on the uniform for the first time and what fans can look forward to with the first season of Valor.

Pop Culture Principle – What is the biggest similarity and difference between you and Ian Porter?

Charlie Barnett – The biggest similarity is that we use different words. I think Ian would use honor and I would use karma. We guide our lives by judging ourselves and the people around us on that kind of karmatic path. It’s like, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. As far as differences, it seems that Ian always has a stick up his ass. He just tries too hard to be the best and be aware of every position and every point.

I’m a really laid back, relaxed kind of guy and I am always trying to have fun and be free, but that isn’t Ian. I tried to figure out what is going to help me ground this character and I started doing yoga and surprisingly that made me figure out my feet and use my base which is something he kind of directs from.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you do any specific preparation or training for the role?

Charlie Barnett – Oh yea. First and foremost, we are a show that is based around a female character in the military and also, two of our female writers served in the military. One of them was a former intel officer who was tapped by the CIA and she has been a huge outlet for me. It’s interesting because when you watch the show, everyone is pretty much on their own path with being pilots and my character is confounded with being an intel officer. Intel is such a convoluted and interesting job in the military. Every time you read a book or get a little piece of information, it gives you a lot of secrets and stories to play with as an actor.

Pop Culture Principle – What was it like putting on the uniform for the first time and stepping on set?

Charlie Barnett – I am one of those actors who really connects with wearing the shoes of the character. I like working outside in or working from inside out, but there is always an important part when you adorn the clothing for me. So, for me and I am sure everyone who serves, getting to put on that uniform makes you so proud and it lights your soul. You realize that you carry this weight and hopefully, you do so with a level head.

Pop Culture Principle – Nora and Leland have a special bond between the two of them. Do you think Ian sees Leland as a threat to his relationship with Nora?

Charlie Barnett – You know, I don’t. It develops over the process of the story. I mean, what guys aren’t going to be a little jealous and aware of what is going on. Ian is in control enough of his own emotions and I think he has had to work hard at keeping things tight and in a box, so he doesn’t show it as often and that helps him kind of press it down. He can’t deny that it’s still there though, so I would say yes and no to your question.

He also knows that Leland is cut from a different cloth. He’s a cowboy and he’s freeform and Ian knows that Nora doesn’t want that and that it wouldn’t work with her mentality. She needs structure and needs a man who will be a man, but she also likes a man who is comfortable enough with himself to let her be the strength within the relationship.

Pop Culture Principle – Tucker Magnus has suggested to Ian that he think about joining the CIA. Is this something that Ian is definitely considering and will it play out in the first season?

Charlie Barnett – You will see it play out. At this point, I don’t think so. He sees the CIA as an assortment of twisted lies and corruption and climbing the ladder is not anything that he wants to be a part of. The form and the diligence of the Army is really what spoke to him from the beginning and that is what he wants to continue.

Pop Culture Principle – There seems to be this interesting dynamic between Ian and Thea. Would you agree with that?

Charlie Barnett – It’s twisted. We really wanted to play into that when we were working on it. We don’t even know where this relationship is going to go. She just has this sexual energy in the way she carries herself and it powers over some of the men in the room and women.

Pop Culture Principle – Ian definitely expects a lot from himself, but how much-added pressure comes from his mother?

Charlie Barnett – You know, I think Ian would definitely deny the control she has because I think it’s something that he fights as much as he possibly can. Ian has to deal with the fact that his mother doesn’t think Nora is the right person he should be involved with when it comes to his career and his future. It’s funny because when I’m in the presence of Valerie Pettiford, who plays my mother on the show, I feel she could definitely put me in my place. She is an incredible actress.

Pop Culture Principle – What has surprised you the most about playing this character and what have you enjoyed the most being on Valor?

Charlie Barnett – That’s a good question. I’ve enjoyed the comradery and the family aspect of the military. When I was on Chicago Fire, we worked closely with firefighters and police officers on the show who were from Chicago.

They were actually from the city and we could literally lean over to them and ask questions or they could call me out when something didn’t look right. We also have that as well when it comes to Valor. It’s just part of our country that a lot of people have served and many of our background men and women have and that really means a lot to me. It has been a surprise and I think it is one of the best parts about the show.

Also, this is another one of the shows that I’ve worked on where everyone is incredibly talented and awesome to work with. Everyone is always prepared and ready to go out their and represent the best of this country and I am very proud of that.

Pop Culture Principle – What do you think separates Valor from the other military dramas on the air today?

Charlie Barnett – I said it from the beginning. The fact that we have a female lead and that she’s a soldier in a position that has had very few women. We are representing a part of the military that no one else has tried to and especially in our scope right now and our society, I feel it’s an important voice.

I will add though and this may be a little controversial, but I think that we could be stronger in raising that voice and being more aware of how we tell that story. It’s difficult to be a woman in this day in age, but I think in the military, there is also added pressure and I think there is a lot to pull from that base and we need to explore it more.

I say that as I reach out to women in the military and hopefully hearing more of their stories because it is really important. I’m glad to see that representation coming out on television and I want to see it done right. Of course, I take nothing away from the other military dramas that are on television right now because they are doing some great storytelling as well.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you feel that Valor portrays the military life in an authentic way and how important was that to the cast and crew?

Charlie Barnett – You know, this is always a difficult question because there has to be balance and there are forces above us that we can’t control. When you try and represent a large group of people in this country, you aren’t going to please everyone. Personally, I like projects that are based in truth and draw from real life existence. It doesn’t matter if it’s from fifty years ago or today.

I like things based in reality and I feel it’s part of our connection as human beings. I personally think that we’ve done a really good job. With a show like ours, there always has to be compromises between the LA forces and the true forces. I read a review in the Hollywood Reporter where a veteran voted that our show was the most legit except for some of our hairstyles, which we then corrected for the rest of the season.

Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the rest of Season 1 of Valor?

Charlie Barnett – We are literally filming the final episode of the first season and it’s huge. A lot more mountain peaks will need to be climbed. Every time you think you found some clue under a stone, it will lead to fifty other things. That just seems to be how it is in this world and in this climate. You do get a little bit of resolve with some of the storylines and no pun intended, a couple of things are going to explode.

We would like to thank Charlie Barnett for taking time out to chat with us! Don't forget, Valor returns on January 1st at 9/8c only on the CW. If you would like to keep up with all of Charlie's latest news and projects, you can follow him on his official Twitter account @_CharlieBarnett.

**All photos courtesy of Jace Downs/The CW Network**

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