It isn’t easy being the new kid on the block. However, when always being the new person is part of your job, you find ways to adapt to or even enjoy it.
Veteran actress Avis-Marie Barnes has spent her career as a character actress and guest starring on numerous shows, such as Atlanta, Stranger Things, Treme and Bloodline. Most recently, she has had a recurring role as judgmental Misty Williams on the OWN Network megachurch drama, Greenleaf.
But just a few weeks ago, Barnes settled into her first regular role, as beloved Anita Jones on AMC’s quirky new comedy-drama Lodge 49. The opportunity came as a surprise.
“You never know exactly why somebody picks you for something,” says Barnes. “I felt honored, but at the same time was like, ‘What was that?’ ‘cause I saw the audition and…” Her voice trails off into laughter. “But I guess I’ve learned not to ask that question!”
Lodge 49 has received an overwhelmingly positive critical response so far. “It’s always kinda hard to describe,” Barnes says of the show. “It’s about this guy that has run into a string of bad luck. His father dies and then he goes surfing and gets bitten by a snake and it isn’t healing right.
“He feels like he needs something to make his life feel meaningful again,” continues Barnes. “He comes upon this lodge where he meets a group of people where the lodge is basically their sanctuary.”
Talking about her character, she explains that, “Anita has been part of the lodge for a very long time. She’s a middle school teacher and she goes there after school to decompress, unwind, and be among friends.
“She’s the voice of reason. She’s definitely the person where, if people are having some sort of trouble or problem in their lives, she’s the one they come to talk to.”
Starting out in her career, Barnes was particularly excited to be a character actor, a journeywoman who brought her own special skills and picked up others as she moved onto different projects. “When I started out doing this,” Barnes recalls, “I didn’t want to be the type of actor who stayed in one position all the time.
“I admired character actors. When I was growing up they were mostly White males. They were the ones who moved the story along for the main characters and I always thought it was cool they got to play so many different things.”
But now, having embarked on the experience of being a regular on Lodge 49, Barnes has observed some distinctions. “It’s such a different feel professionally knowing that you could make a mistake or forget a line and not have it hit you upside the head as you might when you’re just walking in for a day and get into their pace and get into their rhythm.”
This isn’t to say that Barnes hasn’t had an abundance of positive experiences on the sets where she’s worked. “Sometimes I look at folks like in Greenleaf. Those folks see each other every day and they’re lovely. Their ease also helps them with their job because they know each other so well.
“I’m looking forward to the experience of getting to know these folks on Lodge 49,” Barnes continues. “It’s a professional situation that you don’t find very often that you really like the people that you work with. I think it’s gonna be a really special show.”
It was Tennessee Williams, or rather, one of his most celebrated plays that awoke Barnes to the magic of acting. While attending an all-girls Catholic high school in her hometown of Montclair, N.J., she remembers being approached out of the blue by one of her classmates.
“One of the girls asked me to play Laura in Glass Menagerie. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I did it. And, when I went up on stage, the bug hit me and that was it!”
Barnes earned her BFA from Howard University, mainly to meet the exacting expectations of her parents. But personally, she had had enough of school. “I said that would be the last time I went to school because I just didn’t want to do anymore.”
Though she originally planned to make the customary trek to Los Angeles as most other actors, she was convinced to move to Florida where she has lived and worked from all her professional life. “I figured I would stay long enough to get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, and I ended up staying a heck of a lot longer than that. It’s been 26 years.”
Lodge 49 airs Mondays at 10 pm on AMC. Go to www.amc.com/shows/lodge-49 for more show information.