How to describe the voice of Colorado-based Barron Christian, who has a small part in Imagine That, an Eddie Murphy movie shot partly in Denver that opens on Friday? It's a deep baritone delivered warmly and confidently -- and there's a cadence to his vowels that gives his sentences incredible richness. He did the voiceover for a Jaguar commercial in which the only words spoken are the name of the car and two short sentences: "I drive one. Don't you think it's time?"
It's the sort of voice that allows him to get away with introducing himself using his full name -- "I'm Barron Christian" -- with the authority of the European financial royalty that he claims runs in his blood. "I figure life is arrangeable," he says.
A longtime bit-part actor, Christian's voice has been compared to that of James Earl Jones -- a name that leads to a story. Christian says he once mistakenly introduced Jones as James Earl Ray, the MLK assassin, at a party he hosted in his Los Angeles mansion, back when he owned a mansion. He doesn't now.
Christian is pretty cryptic about the majority of his past, but what he does claim seems too surreal to be true. It involves the KGB and military escorts and John Lennon. He also used to own a franchise of something called BabyVision, which made educational films for babies in the late 1980s, years before Baby Einstein.
Today, he lives in Golden and has an affiliation with filmmaker Kristian Day, whose most recent work was an "artsy" (and unbelievably bad) short called Wolf Tits: An American Superlative. At the moment, though, he's more interested in talking about Imagine That.
The Paramount Pictures film, originally titled Nowhereland, is based on the premise that Murphy's daughter gets prescient advice on the stock market from invisible princesses. Much of the filming took place in Denver in late 2007, including Christian's big moment, which is set in the upscale Palace Arms restaurant inside the Brown Palace Hotel.
In the scene, Christian, who plays billionaire Carl Simons is sitting at a table in the center of the restaurant with Murphy and actor Thomas Haden Church, who seems to be mailing it in a little bit since Sideways. The scene took ten hours to film, which Christian figures will translate into a couple minutes (or seconds) of screen time at most. He says by the end of the shoot, he could see the extras practically mouthing the lines.
Still, Christian is grateful for the opportunity. When asked how he got the part, he says, "I had to go to bed with six people." But seriously: "It's a lottery. There are a lot of wonderful, capable actors here." As for Murphy? He's "a poised gentleman. He made me feel on his level, even though I'm several notches below that."
It was certainly better than working with William Shatner. Christian appeared with Shatner in 1991's Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, playing a more-or-less anonymous Klingon. On the set, he was warned about the man behind Captain Kirk: "Whatever you do, stay away from Shatner because he'll go nuclear," he was told.
Klingon One. That's what Shatner kept calling Christian. "Klingon One, get over here," that sort of thing. Again and again, Christian says he told Shatner, "My name is Barron." And finally, according to Christian, Shatner cracked. "Barron, Barron, would you please come here, Barron, Barron, Barron," in a highly affected and sarcastic manner. No hard feelings, however: "He was charming," Christian says.
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Christian carries a picture of himself in full Klingon regalia in his large briefcase. Other contents: a headshot and the Rocky Mountain News special section on chili for which he was the cover model. He says people recognize him from Star Trek. He says it gets him tables at restaurants.
When he was younger, Christian imagined such favors as his right. He lived the kind of life you would expect from a twenty-something with money in LA in the '70s. "I was a party monster," he says. "Best thing in my life, losing all that." It's a little vague how. Bad investments and natural disasters and general irresponsibility -- that sort of thing.
"I used to be upset if my burger wasn't ready at McDonald's," he says. "Now, those people are my heroes." With age and bad fortune have come perspective, and Christian now sees the people in the service industry as living a life of impossible bravery in comparison with his own. "Sometimes, when you have your face pushed down in the dog poop, it's an awakening," he says.