Geeky is the new cool on TV. In fact, Hollywood has become a hotbed for such characters. And actor Barrett Foa is enjoying being part of this trend with his role as tech operator Eric Beale in NCIS LA. Debashine Thangevelo bagged an eXCLUSIVE interview with the actor and found out some interesting things about his heritage and his role…
GEEKY characters are like the new black in Hollywood. With writers defying the boring and unattractive stereotype traditionally associated with nerds, they have shifted their mindset and, in so doing, fashioned a new fan base.
These days, Dr Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) from Criminal Minds, Nikita’s Seymour Birkhoff (Aaron Stanford), CSI NY’s Dr Sheldon Hawker (Hill Harper), Dr Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) from The Big Bang Theory and Zachary Levi in the title role of Chuck are hero-worshipped in their nerdish roles.
Now Barrett Foa has joined that stable as tech operator Eric Beale in NCIS LA, which was given the green light for a sixth season last year.
When I reach Foa on the phone, he animatedly announces: “Hi. My cousin just married a South African, so that is my connection to you.”
After chuckling about his proud proclamation, Tonight asked him if he has visited our shores.
“I have been to Joburg and Cape Town. We spent one or two nights there (in Joburg). Anyway, it was a family holiday many moons ago. I love the country and would love to come back.”
Before chatting about his character, though, I asked him if there was an interesting story behind his rather unusual name.
Foa notes: “But you have an unusual name too…”
To which I reply: “Yes, but I’m Indian – it is a given.”
He laughs: “That’s your excuse, eh? Well, my crazy excuse is my parents – they really like unusual names. My brother, who is older than me, was named Justin. No one was named Justin back when he was born. But they were really nervous about it, wondering if he was going to be made fun of all the time with people teasing him and calling him ‘Just-in Case’ or ‘Just-in Time’. They thought they were taking a huge risk and then four years later, it blew up and became a really popular name.
“So he is now one of many (a la Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake). But Barrett seems to have held on, which is nice. They did a good job there. I like unusual names too, it’s distinctive. My dad’s name is Conrad, which isn’t too popular. The thing with my last name ‘Foa’, it’s Italian. All my family are Italian. They are from Genoa. And I have many cousins over there. Everyone thinks my name is Portuguese or something…”
Interestingly, Foa debuted on NCIS for two episodes before landing a principal spot on NCIS LA.
The 36-year-old, who graduated with honours when he obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre performance from the University of Michigan, honed his craft in an array of productions on and off Broadway.
Of his handful of TV roles to date, NCIS LA was his big break.
He explains: “I auditioned for a different role on the show (NCIS) and didn’t get it. I thought that was the end of that. Then a week or two later, they called me up and said: ‘We just like you so we are going to create a character for you – on the back- door pilot episode (for the spin-off series)’. He had a handful of lines, but was needed as there are a lot of technical aspects to the show.
“They then expanded the character by giving him a name – Eric Beale – and fleshed him out. I guess I tested well as I got picked up for the whole series.”
His character, while a geek, has a very chilled vibe about him. Completely averse to wearing long pants as he is most comfortable in his surfer boy wardrobe and sandals, he does, every now and again, get dressed up when he has to do undercover work.
“We had to establish what the rules are in the first couple of seasons. And then start to kind of break the rules, which is fun because the audience are not expecting it. Now Eric is (sometimes) out in the field. Getting to play out of the comfort zone is fun and a great challenge. Also, it is great to break away.”
One of the interesting things with his character is the electrifying but suppressed chemistry between him and intelligence analyst Nell Jones (Renée Felice Smith), who joined the series in season two.
Not wanting to give too much away, he shares: “There is the Christmas episode with Nell and me. Something hot and heavy goes down under the mistletoe, which is a great turning point for our characters.
“Coming up in season five, there is a great episode where Eric is out in the field again. There are bullets whizzing past his head while Sam and Deeks are protecting him.
“Also, with Kensi in Afghanistan, it almost gets to be an epic sweep. It is more global, especially for our overseas fans.
“That’s what is so great about the show. You know you are going to follow the crime every week. You know the good guys are going to win. You know there are going to be some great action sequences. But there is also that kind of workplace comedy aspect. The quirky relationships between the characters. It isn’t just about the case. It is how this team come together to solve the case and the personal things that get in the way. It makes the show human and grounded.”
Alas, our time was over. But it wasn’t before establishing that this blond, spectacle-clad actor takes geeky to whole new level. A successful mission indeed for the TV heart-throb!
• NCIS LA season three airs on Universal Channel (DStv channel 117) on Wednesdays at 8pm. The fifth season is on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Thursdays at 8.30pm.