Why He’s On Our Radar: Barlow Jacobs first caught our attention when he appeared opposite Michael Shannon in Jeff Nichols’ feature film debut “Shotgun Stories.” While Shannon’s profile has risen to huge heights since the 2007 drama, Jacobs has remained relatively below the radar, continuing to deliver solid work in films as varied as the Sundance hit comedy “Great World of Sound,” Joe Swanberg’s “Alexander the Last,” and the experimental horror film “The Oregonian.” He also wrote, produced and starred in “Low and Behold,” which also premiered at Sundance, and was inspired by his need to evacuate New Orleans before Katrina hit.
His latest film, the indie post Civil War western “Dead Man’s Burden,” drew rave reviews at the Los Angeles Film Festival where it world premiered a couple of weeks back. The directorial debut of indie producer Jared Moshé is a spectacular looking drama in which Jacobs gives a commanding turn as Wade, a former soldier-turned-deserter who returns to his sister under mysterious circumstances.
What’s Next: This October Jacobs is sure to become more of a familiar face with moviegoers, thanks to his supporting turn as James Sullivan in Paul Thomas Anderson’s anticipated Weinstein release “The Master,” which co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams.
How did you get into acting?
I kind of got into it backwards in a lot of ways. Growing up with my friends, we were always making movies and acting, and in high school doing drama. When I went to college, I stopped doing it. I think growing, becoming an actor, moving to Hollywood or New York to make it as an actor, never seemed realistic.
I went to school at the University of Mississippi, and took writing. I went there to study under some of the writers who I admired and then ended up falling into a group of filmmakers in college who I admired. I met David Gordon Green shortly after I graduated and through David I met Jeff Nichols. It was David who actually recommended me to be in “Shotgun Stories.” Jeff put me in that and that’s kind of what started me on the path.
What gave David the confidence to put you up for that part?
I’m not sure. David had maybe seen a short film I had done recently that he dug. I know David had read “Shotgun Stories” and I think there was something he saw in that character that he saw in me. David threw my name in the hat and you know, it just kind of took off from there. I ended up winning the role and it was amazing. I mean, your first film out and you’re working with somebody like Jeff Nichols was pretty special.
Since completing that film you’ve gone on to work with some great young indie filmmakers like Swanberg, Nichols and Ry Russo Young. Clearly you have an affinity for the indie scene.
I guess on some level it’s happenstance. I think I’ve just really been fortunate. There’s been no film I did just for a paycheck. They’ve all been something I’ve been super excited about.
Have you consciously tried to stay away from the mainstream market?
I just always want to be working on things that are challenging. With “Dead Man’s Burden,” the role terrified me. If I get that feeling when read a script, that’s the role I want the most.
What terrified you about this role? Was it the setting, the character or the genre?
I think it was the character itself. He deserted his family. He’s a veteran of one of the worst wars in history. He’s suffering from severe post traumatic stress syndrome. And then kind of having all that buried and then coming up and being confronted by his sister… When I say terrifying, it’s more that, man, there’s so much going on with the character. But this was also a period of time where nobody really expresses themself verbally. What you’re really trying to say isn’t necessarily what you’re saying. The challenge to convey that was terrifying. So it was exciting to do that.
The western genre is generally represented by the studio system. “Dead Man’s Burden” is a total rarity in the indie landscape.
I was surprised when Jared approached me with the project. Period pieces are not synonymous with indpendent filmmaking. For Jared to take it on, and for him to take it on the way he did by shooting on 35mm — I think it’s actually something that can be done more. But I think that people just don’t take that step. I think one of the greatest thing Jared did with this film was surrounding himself with such an amazing crew. Because of that he was able to pull it off. He had so much experience around him.
Now I have to ask about your part in “The Master.” I’m sure you’re not privy to tell me a lot. But what can you tell me about your role in the film?
It was amazing. Becoming an actor in your head you make this list of directors you want to work with. Somebody like Paul Thomas Anderson is at the top of my list. It was a huge honor to get to work with him. When you step onto one of his sets, you know that you’re going to be working with the best at every level of production. I think it’s going to be a super, super powerful film.
So who do you play?
I’m trying to be very careful about what I’m allowed to say. I play a young powerful lawyer in the film…in Philadelphia. That’s all about all I feel comfortable saying.
Is it a movie about Scientology?
I can’t say! I will say that obviously with this cast — I feel like everybody just gave phenomenal performances. I cannot wait for it to come out in October and see how people respond to it. It’s epic.
Now you’ve never worked on anything so tight lipped. What is it like to be a part of something like this, that has this level of secrecy surrounding it?
For me it’s just more about being respectful of the people who made it. For me it’s just exciting being a part of something that’s just so big. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been a part of. Laura Dern — getting to work with her; I’ve admired her forever. I remember my first day on set where I was having dialogue and there’s Philip Seymor Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern and Joaquin Phoenix — you go into it and you just sit there going, “What is happening?!”