Empire Magazine Interviews Ben Barnes
Empire Magazine wrote:
“Ben Barnes is… Prince Caspian”
From unknown to Disney’s poster boy – Narnia’s new-school swashbuckler Ben Barnes could well be the next Orlando…
Words: Dan Jolin
Ben Barnes is flying high, and we’re not just talking about the fact that the virtual unknown has landed his first lead role in a Disney fantasy event-pic. Also, if we’re honest, he’s less flying – more, well dangling. Donned in a fetching night-blue leather brigandine with a flashing rapier in his hand, the fresh-faced twentysomething is hoisted up to the rafters of Stage Eight in Prague’s Barrandov Studios on a T-shaped metal bar attached to a winch, itself attached to some sturdy runners on a rail that snakes across the ceiling. A few dozen feet beneath the soles of his almost knee-high boots, the upper extremities of a medieval castle have been recreated, and it’s down to these Barnes must swoop, blade drawn, to be released into action by an as-yet unconjured CG gryphon, the vanguard of a thrilling night-raid on the fortress of the new Narnia movie’s chief baddie, King Miraz.
Incongruously, soft Euro-rock whines out of the PA, and Barnes, left hanging whilst his director, Andrew Adamson, looks over the set-up, starts playing air-guitar with his sword. “It’s like something out of Spinal Tap, isn’t it?” he quips. The presence of four-and-a-half foot thesp Peter Dinklage suspended beside him hardly encourages Empire to disagree.
The rehearsal begins, and the contraption sends Barnes, now wielding his blade with steely determination, sliding down to the set at some velocity. He disappears behind the ramparts and there’s a loud clomp. “That noise was my face hitting the floor!” He confirms a little later with a beaming grin. This, it would seem, is his welcome to the big blockbuster-making school of hard-knocks.
Barnes would be the first to admit that he’s galloped virtually out of nowhere to seize the plum role of swarthy, swashbuckling Prince Caspian in Andrew Adamson’s sequel to The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. “It’s every little boy’s dream, really, to be a flying prince with a sword” he enthuses, evidently unaffected by his earlier bump. “But I honestly don’t know what they saw in me during auditions. I think it was probably a case of, ‘We have to make this film, so whoever walks in the door next, we’ll pick him!”
Yeah, right. Breezy, bright and amiable, with long chestnut hair, sharp cheekbones, large, dark eyes and a complexion so clear he could pass for a kid a decade younger, you can easily imagine Barnes earning a place on the walls of pre-teen girls once occupied by Orlando Bloom and currently glittering with Zac Efron’s flawless pearly whites.
“Why did I choose Ben as Caspian?” asks Adamson rhetorically. “Well, I’m sure you’ve seen his charm…” Of course, if it was only looks Adamson was going for, it would probably have taken him less than 13-odd months, travelling to fewer countries than Argentina, Italy, France, Spain and England, to find the right person to fill the role of the boy prince who enlists the help of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe’s young quartet of heroes to free Narnia from the oppression of his own people – the piratical Telmarines. “He understood Prince Caspian” Adamson adds. “He had a love of the books and the character – he so wanted to do it and he just kind of sold me on him, I guess. He’s been great.”
It helped that Barnes was able to nail the Iberian accent that Adamson’s given the Telmarines. Perhaps his source of inspiration helped, too. “They said, “Please prepare with a Spanish accent,” Barnes says, “So I looked at Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, which I love. Usually, I have one line which you say to yourself to get into an accent. Like, if you’re getting into Irish you say ‘How now brown cow’. Before the screen tests, I found myself sitting in the waiting room sort of rocking nervously going, ‘My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die. My name is Inigo Montoya…” Empire suggests that, given Miraz – Caspian’s uncle – killed the prince’s father to usurp the throne, he might have slipped a version of that line into Adamson’s movie. Barnes’ face lights up. “Oh my God, how good would that be?!”
Yet he’s proven a rather controversial – among the die-hard Narnia fanbase, at least. No doubt reflecting the fact that we’re looking at a rather more grown-up Narnia movie this time, Barnes is considerably older than Caspian as imagined in C.S. Lewis’ novel. “That was probably the hardest thing for me to accept,” admits Adamson. “When I realised how old he was, I was like, ‘Gosh, how are people going to take that? Because Caspian is, like, 13 or 14 in the book.”
When Empire meets again with Barnes four months later, sheltering from the biting December cold over a croquet-madame in a Highgate Village café, we ask if he lied about his age to get the role. He laughs and jokes, “I have no age!” explaining how casting directors have assumed he’s been anything from a teenager to his real age, 26. And, having specialised in children’s literature during his English and Drama degree, he was certainly capable of talking the Narnia producers round. “C.S. Lewis never really describes anything in massive detail, and the only mention of Caspian’s age is, ‘Peter sees a boy of about his own age.’ So basically Caspian had to look about the same age as Peter.” Given that William Moseley, who plays the eldest of the adventuring Pevensie Children, has now turned 20, it wasn’t that hard for the youthful Barnes to match that. “I can get away with it!” he laughs.
As with the last Narnia movie, the adaptation process has required rather more dramatic meat to be laid on the slender novel’s bones, and Barnes reveals that there is, in the story, the introduction of some alpha-male friction between Prince Caspian and ‘High King’ Peter. “We both feel we’re owed the dues of royalty and leadership, so there’s this sort of tension between them. Also we both think that ours are the best-laid plans for how to proceed, and when things don’t go according to plan, everyone looks to assign blame.”
Barnes is quick to assure us that such tension didn’t affect his and Moseley’s real-world relationship, and that he was welcomed into the “family”. But you can’t help but wonder when, back on the Prague set, Adamson reveals, “There has been some great competition between Ben and Will as people.”
“You can just wind them up,” the director goes on. “There’s one scene where I wanted them to be quite antagonistic, and right before a take, I said, ‘Ben, could you just pull your sword out? Will, can you pull… Oh, Ben, is your’s bigger than Will’s?”
“That joke should have become a lot older sooner, but it didn’t,” smiles Barnes. “I mean, poor old William had to endure that joke for most of shooting, but it would just go on and on, and he’d say ‘Yeah, but mine’s prettier than yours. Mine’s broader, and it’s all about girth…’ And I’d go, ‘Yeah, but at the end of the day, my sword’s bigger. And then one day, Cornell John walked onto the battle-set as (lead centaur) Glenstorm, wielding a six-foot sword. I just looked at him, and he raises his eyebrows at me, and I looked at William and I said, ‘End of argument'”
As you’d expect, there’s rather more to Caspian than weapon length, in fact, he’s arguably the most interesting and complex character in the entire Narnia cycle, something that Barnes, understandably, has seized upon. “The most interesting dilemma about this film is that I’m forced – through extenuating circumstances – to conjure an army and use it to fight against my own people. It’s actually quite a difficult concept. And then he’s got this other interesting dilemma; he’s not sure if he even deserves to be king. He’s not all gung-ho – he’s not necessarily the character you see on the poster.”
Ah yes, the poster. Disney must be very confident of Barnes’ “charms” – after all, the studio’s thus far hung its entire poster campaign on a one-sheet of him – and him alone. Just as Caspian is less than certain he deserves to rule Narnia, Barnes is a little unsure if he’s ready to head up the Mouse House’s prestige summer movie. “Yeah, I’m the teaser poster” he ponders, nervously chewing his toast. “It’s frightening. The producer took me into his office a couple of months ago and showed me the poster, and I just stared at it. I think I said something like, ‘Is that sensible?’ I just thought: ‘Interesting marketing concept. Where’s the actual poster?'”
Even long before the film’s come out, Barnes’ involvement in Prince Caspian has already boosted his fortunes. “I’m being sent loads of scripts,” he offers. “Whereas even a year-and-a-half ago I was praying that any audtion would come along – for anything!” he marvels. He’s since been cast alongside Jessica Biel in Stephan Elliotts’ big-screen version of Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue, and then, of course, he’ll be hitting the high seas for Narnia III: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader.
“The Dawn Treader is my favourite of the Narnia series,” he says. “The first one was a fairy tale, and the second one is an action film. But The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be more of an adventure movie” And one, you’d imagine which will enable Barnes to further impress us with his swashbuckling abilities. “Swashbuckler,” he says, half-dreamily. “I love that word so much. I’m very happy to have it ascribed to me…”
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is out on June 27 [in the UK] and will be reviewed in a future issue.
Huge thanks to Icarus for the transcript