Don Knotts always thought of Barney as a kid
"You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they're thinking."
While Don Knott's adult life was spent spreading joy to others through laughter, his childhood seemed to be anything but joyful, to put it mildly. In a 1976 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Knotts recounted that as a young person, "I felt like a loser." He claimed, "I was unhappy, I think, most of the time. We were terribly poor, and I hated my size."
Luckily, Knotts found performing when he was a teenager, and he was able to enjoy happy success after happy success as an adult.
However, it turns out that in order to cultivate those roles that would inevitably lead to that success, Knotts would have to turn back to childhood.
An article for The Los Angeles Times stated that Knotts actually spoke about the development of one of his most iconic characters, Barney Fife of The Andy Griffith Show, in a 2000 interview. Of Fife, Don Knotts stated, "Mainly, I thought of Barney as a kid. You can always look into the faces of kids and see what they're thinking, if they're happy or sad. That's what I tried to do with Barney. It's very identifiable."
You might already know that as Knotts developed Fife into the character that we know and love, Andy Griffith was actually developing Sheriff Taylor around Knotts. According to The Andy Griffith Show by Richard Kelly, show producer Aaron Ruben had this to say about the evolution of the characters: "One day he [Griffith] said, 'My God, I just realized that I'm the straight man. I'm playing straight to all these kooks around me.'"
The shifting of characters was also something that seemed to continue to happen as the show progressed. At one point, Griffith himself commented, "Over the years, we added various other characters as we needed them, and our show became what it was — what it didn't start out to be, but became what it was."
So, Knotts was able to become the child that we all understood and even identified with, and it seemed that The Andy Griffith Show became better for it.