Don Knotts didn't want anyone thinking Barney Fife was ''nervous''
Barney Fife was no "nervous man."
Oftentimes, an actor can find themselves typecast into a certain type of role that catapulted them to fame. This can feel limiting to some; Michael Learned often discussed how she'd like to shed her Olivia Walton image and play some more morally ambiguous characters. But for some, it can be something to embrace, like Caroll O'Connor, who enjoyed playing Archie Bunker so much he incorporated it into a nightclub routine.
However, although viewers may have assumed that Don Knotts had been playing similar characters since the infancy of his career, Knotts himself was quick to point out their error. Knotts grew his fame by developing a character known to many as the "nervous man." The character itself was not borne entirely out of Knott's imagination; he actually based it on an especially anxious after-dinner speaker he had previously been subjected to.
This character eventually became the "nervous soldier," who appeared in the Broadway and film productions of No Time For Sergeants. Knotts would make his nervous character a career as he was seen on The Steve Allen Show. When viewers were introduced to the bumbling, wide-eyed character of Barney Fife of The Andy Griffith Show, they might have easily assumed that again, Knotts was playing a variation of his nervous character.
But in an interview with The State, Knotts explained that his portrayal of Fife was a whole different animal than his previous roles. He said, "Barney was an entirely different character. He showed his emotions like a child. He tended to exaggerate everything." So while the role of Barney Fife was incredibly open and innocent, potentially naïve, for Knotts, that wasn't necessarily the same as his "nervous man" persona. He continued, "The funny thing was that audiences, to this day, seem to blend the two and talk about Barney as 'that nervous little guy.' He wasn't."