by Anthony King
Imagine, if you will, Willie Nelson as your mentor. Think of the life lessons you could learn from a man who has seen it all. A man, mind you, who is perpetually stoned and chill. He wouldn't yell. He wouldn't degrade. Sure, he'd shoot straight from the hip, but it would come from a place of love. What an experience that would be! Peaceful, right? Now imagine you're Gary Busey...
In Barbarosa, Willie is the titular character and mentor to Busey's Karl Westover, an on-the-lam farmboy and simpleton. Like Karl, Barbarosa is also on the run for blowing off the leg of his father-in-law and killing several others on his wedding night to the now-one-legged-man's daughter. Not unlike his mentor, Karl is running away after accidentally killing one of the sons of a neighboring family in their little farm community. We first meet the pair after Karl's pursuers open fire on him, killing Barbarosa's current and now-deceased mentee. Barbarosa moseys up on his horse and says, “Damn fool. I can’t teach you people anything.” Willie is sporting his signature braided pigtails and a sombrero. Busey, on the other hand, is funny Busey in this case, playing his character as green as green gets, jumpy and clumsy, all the while wearing a floppy prospector hat.
Willie Nelson isn't an actor first, obviously. Up to this point he'd only appeared in an episode of The Rockford Files and three movies (The Electric Horseman, Honeysuckle Rose, and Thief). For a non-actor, I appreciate the heart that comes through Willie's performance. He doesn't hold back (“You been shit outta luck ever since you was born;” after learning Karl's full name), he's not afraid of anything (walking right past the assassin holding him at gunpoint), and he just wants to be loved and accepted (“All I ever wanted was to be a part of this family.”). Barbarosa, of course, isn't his real name, which we never learn. The term “barbarossa” literally means red beard. The night Barbarosa shot off his father-in-law's leg, his beard was covered in blood, instantly creating the legend. The man Barbarosa ran with the legend and Willie plays it perfectly; almost like a poor man's El Topo.