Turk Barrett is having a bad day. Despite having no notable powers of his own, he seems to tangle with New York City’s vigilante heroes like Daredevil or Luke Cage on a regular basis. In Netflix’s latest Marvel show, The Punisher, Turk finds himself with a gun to his head as he tries to reason with the city’s most volatile antihero. “I’ve done nothing to you,” he says. “I’m just a guy trying to make a living.” Frank Castle’s mercy arrives in the form of a swift pistol whip to the back of Turk’s head. He’s out cold.
In the comics, Turk Barrett is a small-time criminal operating out of Hell’s Kitchen, which usually puts him at odds with the local neighborhood vigilante, Daredevil. The on-screen version of Turk, played by actor Rob Morgan, has built a reputation across Netflix’s shows as a down-on-his luck arms dealer who often doubles as an unwilling informant. When Daredevil or Luke Cage are looking for information on shady deals, they often make a slap-filled visit to everyone’s favorite punching bag.
Morgan didn’t know exactly what he was getting into when he signed on for the part. When he originally read for the character, he wasn’t even sure who he’d be playing; there were no names listed for the audition. Even after he’d landed the job, he had no idea just how often Turk’s character would show up in Marvel’s interconnected Netflix universe, or how well fans would respond to him. “After [Daredevil season 1] premiered on Netflix, the fans that would see me in the street or people that would recognize me would let me know how crucial this character was throughout the universe,” Morgan says.
Turk operates not just as a character, but as a piece of world building, someone who reminds viewers that everyday life continues on in the background of Marvel’s fictional New York City, even when its heroes are absent. He breezes in and out of jail. He wanders away from Hell’s Kitchen and up to Harlem. While they’re trying to take down criminal empires or battle with supernatural foes, he’s still hustling in the streets trying to make a living — usually through legally and morally questionable methods.
As Turk has progressed through Marvel’s series, he’s gone from a man trafficking humans to more of a... goofy ne’er-do-well, to put it lightly. But beyond acting as a connective thread between shows, Morgan views the character as much-needed comic relief. “It's always nice to be able to add a little flair, some lightness, even if it is at his expense,” Morgan tells The Verge. “I say that because that's mostly the reaction I get from people, how funny this is. They're rooting for him, but it's sort of like one of those kind of double-sided coins, where you hate to seem him get beat up, but it's funny.”
Morgan points to a scene in Daredevil season 2, where Turk is trying to sell some weapons, and his salesman pitch about the classic pump action on a shotgun is cut short by Daredevil somersaulting into frame wearing a doofy skin-tight costume. Turk cradles his newly busted arm and pleads “Come onnnn, D,” only for Daredevil to chuck his car keys into the water. In Luke Cage, after watching a man get tossed off a roof, Turk flippantly remarks that’s he’s heading back to Hell’s Kitchen “where it’s safe.”
“Turk Barrett wants to kick some ass, too.”
“Turk brings that to the world, as far as being that break moment when you can say, ‘Oh wow everything is alright,’” Morgan says. “‘I can laugh.’”
Still, Morgan would love to see Turk get more depth than just a lovable punching bag. He’s interested in exploring his personal life, seeing the “inside of Turk Barrett, see what makes him tick outside of just being this deep informant / gun / drugs / arms dealer,” Morgan says.
"I can see Turk having a beautiful woman, potentially even a kid. There's gotta be Turk 2, somebody to come up behind him.” Morgan imagines him as a man of the people, the kind of guy who plays chess in a New York park in his downtime and has the sort of slick, down-to-earth vibe that allows him to kick it with everyone from bus drivers to celebrities. “I could see him being that kind of guy, everybody's guy, and yet, serious about getting his money when it's time to get his money,” Morgan says. “That's the kind of interesting thing his superpower would be, being able to shut off humanity to going back to being a beast of getting that money in the streets.”
Morgan would like to see Turk hold his own every once in a while, especially since he has his own mixed martial arts background that he can bring to the table.
“That part of me says ‘when can Turk Barrett kick some ass? Turk Barrett wants to kick some ass, too,’” Morgan says. “I want to at least throw a punch here and there.”