Former Lynwood SHS student Devon Terrell lands acting break as Barack Obama in Netflix movie


Devon Terrell Captivates the students at his old school, Lynwood Senior High School.
Devon Terrell Captivates the students at his old school, Lynwood Senior High School.

SITTING in the library of Lynwood Senior High School, mucking around with his mates, Devon Terrell was like any other confident kid eager to leave the confines of school to find something exciting.

He had always thought about acting, and was the self-confessed class “weirdo”, always going for the laugh and creating characters.

“But there is a difference between making noises and becoming a different person,” Terrell, now 24, said.

In his school days, the 4pm screening of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was must-watch TV and Will Smith – the rapper-cum-comedy actor-cum-Oscar nominee – was his idol.

“In Year 12 I sat in the career guidance office and told them I wanted to be a journalist or an actor; I knew acting was what I wanted to do, but I thought I was just some kid in Perth,” Terrell said.

In his first year out of school, Terrell headed to the WA Mecca of acting WAAPA, before graduating and leaving for Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts, the prestigious school that takes just 200 people a year and kicks out those deemed not serious enough.

He said the experience prepared him for the slings and arrows of the acting world.

He got his first pilot at 21 with elite network HBO under the directorship of Oscar winning director Steve McQueen; the pilot was picked up and then dropped.

He remembers the pressure, which came from a real acting gig.

“Steve held me to account, after a take he took me into the office and told me it wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t trying hard enough,” Terrell said.

“At first I thought ‘but I’m only 21’ then I realised how serious it was to do well, if you don’t bring your best you pull the entire cast and crew down.”

Living in New York, Terrell said the call from his agent, telling him he was cast as Barack Obama in Barry, a Netflix film about his life at university in 1981, was exciting as it was his first proper gig and a chance to play an idol.

“When someone casts you, you give them your life,” he said.

“I lost 8kg for the role and learned to write with my left hand, and to play basketball with my left hand, and then I practiced his accent. There was (pressure) that he was a real person.”

While yet to meet the 44th President of the United States, Terrell said he hoped to one day, but remains focussed on pursuing acting.

“My ultimate dream is to play Marvin Gaye, but mostly I want to sustain this life and become part of the upper echelon of actors,” he said.

Barry premieres on Netflix on December 16.