Can a Prince George’s County native make it in Hollywood? You better believe it.
Luke Barnett, 37, who attended Grace Brethren Christian School in Clinton, Maryland, writes and stars in the new comedy “Faith Based,” which just hit video-on-demand.
“It’s a fun movie,” Barnett told WTOP. “It’s got a lot of heart and it’ll bring some joy in this weird, dark time. … Technically, it will also be in theaters, but because of COVID, it is on a week-by-week basis as to what theaters … I recommend watching it at home.”
The story follows two cash-strapped buddies who discover that faith-based films make bank at the box office. So, they embark on a mission to make one of their own.
“They set out to make a Christian movie of their own called ‘A Prayer in Space,’ which is about the first prayer ever to be prayed in space,” Barnett said. “We find the Christian film industry to be very interesting. The fact that so many people financially support these things somewhat blindly, that’s an interesting topic for us.”
It’s a delicate balance trying to mine laughs without offending religious audiences.
“Websites like Fox News and Breitbart basically ran all these stories saying these guys are making this Christian-bashing movie,” Barnett said. “They clearly didn’t really know what the movie was about. I’m the son of a pastor; the director of the movie goes to church every Sunday. It all of a sudden put this weird spotlight on the movie.”
Still, he knows the Rated-R movie won’t be for everyone.
“There will be people on both sides that won’t like this movie,” Barnett said. “There will be people on one extreme side [that] won’t like it because we curse. … Then there’s the other side that probably wants us to make a movie that’s just a scathing, mean-spirited take on belief, and that’s also not what we wanted to make.”
Barnett was thrilled to work with a cast of Margaret Cho (“30 Rock”), David Koechner (“Anchorman”), Lance Reddick (“The Wire”) and Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”).
“[George Costanza] is my favorite character on my favorite comedy,” Barnett said. “It was the most surreal working experience of my life. … We had an Excel sheet when we were casting the movie of our top choices. … I’ll never forget one of our executive producers leaving a note next to his name that said, ‘Perfect, but impossible.'”
“Seinfeld” was one of several comedies he watched growing up in Clinton.
“We would rent a movie from Blockbuster every Wednesday and order Little Caesars,” Barnett said. “The first time I can remember watching something and laughing until I cried was either ‘Dumb and Dumber’ or ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.'”
He later pursued theater arts in high school.
“I had the opportunity to be in a lot of the plays,” Barnett said. “Our school was small enough that I could play sports every year and then also be in at least one play every year, if not two or three. … My senior year, I knew I wanted to do something in the entertainment industry and I was going to move to Los Angeles.”
That decision was cemented when he lost his mother to cancer.
“When I was a senior in high school, my mom actually got diagnosed with cancer and passed a year later,” Barnett said. “As tragic as that was as a 17-year-old, I think in a weird way it made me grow up quicker than a lot of kids. I combined that with this already-mentality of, ‘I’m going to move to Los Angeles and pursue this.’ That was it.”
He slowly worked his way into the film industry.
“I took a lot of classes and was doing a lot of short-form content,” Barnett said. “I basically worked my way into doing stuff with a website called Funny or Die, which is Will Ferrell’s comedy website, which now has become a little bit different, but back in like 2013, ’14, ’15, it was a really hot spot for ‘SNL’-style short-form sketch comedy.”
His big break came with a horror comedy in 2016.
“Vincent Masciale, who I’d met on one of those Funny or Die videos, we decided we want to do our first feature film,” Barnett said. “We had made a horror comedy called ‘Fear Inc.’ that we got really lucky [with] and it premiered at a big festival called Tribeca and did really well for us and that was the big [break]. That did a lot of things for us.”
He urges everyone to make your own content.
“We have a world now where you can do that,” Barnett said. “There’s the technology and the tools and all the people that are excited to make stuff. If you’re somebody that’s pursuing a career in writing or directing or producing or acting, that kind of stuff, there’s really no reason you can’t make your own content now.”
Listen to our full conversation.