Interview: Carl Barât - What became of one of the likely lads of the decade?
CARL BARÂT was one half of the most talked-about rock'n'roll partnership of the last decade, but his acting CV is, to be kind, brief.
• Carl Barât: Now tackling his first stage role. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Since the messy demise of the Libertines, the band that made a focal point of his intense, fractious, borderline homoerotic relationship with Peter Doherty, Barât has played a version of himself in a YouTube serial and had a walk-on part as Gene Vincent in the film Telstar.
Now, however, he has found a role almost as demanding as keeping Doherty in check: next week he will make his stage debut at London's Riverside Studios, starring opposite Sadie Frost in Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. It's an intense, savage drama in which a couple's doomed relationship is played out in a motel room in the Mojave desert.
"It's about cycles you can't break," explains Barât when I meet him at the south London rehearsal rooms. "Like the hold of a relationship coming back after years." He is not, at this point, talking about his friendship with Doherty – but he does smile knowingly when I point out the parallel and, intriguingly, says: "I don't know that that's ended yet. We'll see where life takes us."
But for now, any thoughts of a Libertines reunion are on hold as he rehearses for the play's eight-week run under director Neil Sheppeck. It was Frost, an old friend of Barât's, who persuaded him to audition for the part – but Barât admits that his agreement was down to his own braggadocio. "I was always sounding off when drunk to Sadie about my great acting prowess, which of course I made up totally," he says. "And then Sadie offered me the part. So I thought, I might as well put it where me mouth is. And here I am."
Acting isn't entirely mysterious to him. There was always an element of theatre to the Libertines, and it turns out that Barât studied drama at Brunel University before being diverted by music.
And Barât looks the part of the volatile stuntman Eddie, who has made an arduous voyage across the desert to track down his lover, May. Dressed like a punk Brando in jeans, boots and white vest, the 31-year-old exudes charisma. Frost says she thought of him for the role because "I wanted somebody really raw, really dangerous but really vulnerable, who could relate to the character's dysfunctional upbringing. I didn't want anyone too conformist. And Carl had a quality that a lot of actors who have trained don't have – a kind of recklessness and unpredictability."
The dysfunction Frost alludes to isn't something Barât is interested in discussing. He was raised in Hampshire by a hippy mother and an artist father, who latterly worked for an arms company. Barât started taking drugs before he was even in his teens, through "a combination of boredom, and the things that lead to depression in later life. My parents split up, **** goes on. It's a story anybody could tell. I wasn't trying to get away from anything specific, I don't think. As with any depressive person, maybe it's just chemical."
He was treated for acute pancreatitis in June 2008 – a condition commonly caused by heavy drinking – but brushes aside concerns about his health. He hasn't given up alcohol, he says, "but I don't need to be blitzed all the time". He has forsworn marijuana, however: "It was making me very confused, tired and lazy. Well, I remain confused and lazy. But less tired."
Having kept a low profile since the split in 2008 of his post-Libertines group, Dirty Pretty Things, Barât has developed a new determination to put himself on the line. In addition to the play, there is a solo album on the way.
"It will sound very different because I don't want to have loud electric guitars," he says. "I want to do something more wordy. Or at least where the words are more exposed. It's quite naked-sounding."
He says the demise of Dirty Pretty Things was a product of disillusionment with record company expectations and the limitations of working in a group. From this distance, they look like they were always doomed. "I was trying to have the same spirit as the Libertines without the sparring leadership," Barât says. "And once you take that away, you're dealing with a whole different thing. It was something to hide behind. And I chose to hide behind it because I'm intrinsically quite a lazy person. So I'm going to get rid of all of that, and then I've got no choice."
This is surprising talk for a man whose musical career has been swathed in the mythological swagger of rock 'n' roll. Both of Barât's bands had a sense of identity which made them more like gangs than pop groups. "That's what I've always been after, but part of being in a gang is hiding. That's why people join gangs, because they need support. And I've grown in confidence through having that." He hesitates. "Maybe not enough confidence to release a solo record just yet!"
Which may be why he has been giving serious thought to a reunion with Doherty. "It's not definite definite," he says. "I can say 2011 but it's hard to plan the Libertines until next Tuesday. But 2011 is where there's room for that to happen. So if everything's all right, then yeah, it would be glorious to get on the old jacket and venture forth, into the known."
I ask whether the reunion depends on Doherty controlling his drug habit, and Barât answers hesitantly. "Well, once he's settled into his grooves, and he's fine, and not hurting himself or anyone else, then that's fine with me."
Certainly, the conditions seem ripe for the return of the Libertines. Their reinvention of English pop, wreathed in poetic tales of a mythical Albion, would suit a country mired in financial woes and political uncertainty. He senses a "pre-punk" feeling. "It's hard to see what our national identity is, really, unless we get the World Cup, or a war, or a nationwide blizzard. Then the spirit of the Blitz kicks back in, and there's pride and unity. That's the only time you see it. So is there going to be a renaissance, through anger and frustration? Probably, it's going to come at some point, isn't it? So, yeah – vive la renaissance!" And a Sam Shepard play is probably a good place to start
tFS 45 book challenge |5/45 |currently reading: The Fellowship of the Ring