NYC Interview Series: Ben Barnes
He is Prince Caspian.
Spinal Tap type moments… on the set.
Ben: Wow, I’m not even seated. [Dracula voice] “We’ve prepared that question for you.” [laughter] So Spinal Tap type moments?
Ben: When we were doing the movie?
Yeah! Any unintentional mishaps or anything like that?
Ben: Well it’s funny you say Spinal Tap moments. The one I remember, and some of you were probably there because it was a day they brought some of the journalists onto the set. And you know the bit where we were all flying with the gryphons and they land us on the battlements at the top. We all filmed that scene individually and then they comp you all in. And you’re on these wires and I was next to Peter Dinklage and we’re hoisted up by our shoulders and ankles and holding a sword. And for some reason Andrew liked to use a lot of music to set the theme. So when Skandar and William were walking out to do the duel he was playing Kanye West. [laughter] And you can actually see in slow motion when Skandar is walking, he’s bopping a little bit. So for some reason he likes to use music and Andrew’s blaring out this kind of 80s rock while we’re hanging on these wires. I don’t know what he was thinking. But I was playing a bit of air guitar on my sword as well. And then I look over at Peter Dinklage in full makeup next to me doing the same thing and I’m thinking, “This is something straight out of Spinal Tap.” [laughter] And then, all the journalists are sort of lined up, watching us just hanging. [laughter] Like the least interesting thing for them to see, we’re just going to be flown in and landed. And we’re supposed to fly in, and your feet get released as you’re landing. But the very first time, they didn’t release my feet, so I just went headfirst straight into this thing. And the journalists were behind this wall sitting there, and I went crashing down, and they just heard this Thump! “Ow!” [laughter] as my face grazed against the floor.
I bet it will be on the DVD.
Ben: Yeah… I’m sure it won’t be. But, yeah, that was a little bit Spinal Tap. And since then, recently as well, we’re appearing at Comic-Con or whatever, and you can’t go out in the main halls, so you’re running like underneath, through the kitchens and garbage cans and things. And so I’m running on going, “Hello Cleveland! Rock and roll!” And then literally, there was a janitor with a mop in one of the halls and I’m thinking “Which way to the stage, man?” And he’s like, “What?” [laughter]
Do you know your status for movie three?
Ben: My status?
For Dawn Treader.
Ben: I play Caspian. I think. [laughter]
You are on board, you are coming back.
That’s what I mean.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a go. KING Caspian though, I think that’s what I am. October, I think we’re going to start shooting October. From what I hear, the last week or so, New Zealand and Mexico, from what I hear. But subject to change. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that or not.
It’s public, on NarniaWeb we know.
Ben: On NarniaWeb we know, ok good. They know everything on NarniaWeb. [laughter]
Have they discussed you playing yourself elderly in movie four?
Ben: The only conversation I’ve had about that was with Howard Berger from KNB. I said, “Dude, can you make me look 70?” Really just trying to be funny, and he’s like “Yeah…” And I’m like, “Sweet.” [laughter] That’s the only conversation I’ve had about it so far. Whether anyone wants to see me with a walking stick…
You get a death scene though, that’s always important.
Ben: Right. Well, he’s young at the end right? He comes back. At the very end he floats down the river and chases [the bullies] away at the school. So maybe it will be a cameo, who knows?
What was the experience like for you? I mean there’s already one movie in the can and very much a family element in the first film. And now you’re the new guy on the set — how was that process of acclimating into the Narnia family? Were you accepted immediately? Did they welcome you with open arms or was there a little bit of a stand-offishness?
Ben: No, no, not at all. I mean, if they weren’t prepared, they were prepared by somebody else, that they knew somebody else would be joining their family. And I’ve said this before, I was very cynical when I first watched… When I first got the part I was very fascinated by the whole process and wanted to know as much as possible as I could before, so I went and got this DVD of the first one and watched all the extras and there’s Georgie standing there going, “Oh yeah, we’re like a family and Will’s my big brother and Andrew’s like my dad when my dad’s not there.” [laughter] And I’m like, “Get me a bucket. It’s not going to be like that!” [laughter] And I really didn’t think it was going to be like that, and then you get there and I walk into the production office and they were playing table tennis with each other and Georgie was sitting on Will’s lap and they were sharing ice cream and it was like something out of a, you know, Disney movie. [laughter] And it wasn’t a movie, it was real, and I was just… looking for someone filming me thinking, “It’s not like this.” But it is like that and I really learned from Will and Anna how to be around the younger members of this cast and they were very, very welcoming and it was family feel throughout the whole process. And it was great to see it with them, sitting with them and I was a little emotional at the end of the film last night and you could tell because Anna was sitting next to me and she was bit teary at the end. And Will, when we filmed that scene where he hands me over the sword, he didn’t want to let go of that, he’s worked for that, so it was hard for him I think. They were 13 years old when they auditioned for this, and now they’re like 19, 20, 21 years old. It’s a lot of years to devote to one project. So obviously they’re going to want to cling on to it and they have to hand it over. But it kind of mirrors things, at the end of the movie, Caspian says. “I don’t think I’m ready for this,” and everybody was asking me today how I think going to handle what’s coming, and I’m like, “I don’t know. You tell me.”
Well, speaking of which, last night at the movie theater, people were swarming you and William the second you came out of the bathroom. So what was going through your mind? To have this fan frenzy.
Ben: Yeah, Caspian’s gotta pee too. [laughter]
Were you thinking, “Are my pants properly zipped up?”
Ben: Right, exactly. I was thinking that. “Fans! [points to self] Caspian! [points to the side] Men’s room sign!” That’s not cool…
One of the things we were talking about was how you had to create an accent based on a group that doesn’t exist. There is no Telmarine accent, so how did you come up with that? Did you work with someone?
Ben: Yeah I did, a great dialect coach named William Conacher. We started off… our brief was to do a light Spanish accent. That was our brief because they said they were going to cast only Spanish actors who would be speaking the natural Latino English. And then he cast an Italian, a Mexican, a Spaniard, and a Flemish actor. And this was week one that we finalized the cast and I just went, “Now what do I do?” Because I had been working with a Spanish accent and so we basically just tried to alter it a little bit so it would sound a little bit like Miraz and Glozelle and those characters but a little bit lighter. I felt it was important to keep the intonation of an English accent, these are such English books and the dialogue is very English still and I felt it was important to keep the intonation, so a really thick accent I think would have been annoying actually. But in almost all my parts I’ve done a billion different accents, almost everything, and to my ear, I was actually ok with it.
Ben: I was. I was ok with it watching it yesterday. It was one of the things I was worried about, I thought it might sound a bit odd, but I was ok with it. And I don’t like watching myself so that was a big deal for me.
Speaking of family films, what do you think about the Prince Caspian action figures? The whole franchise aspect of the movie?
Ben: I know, I know, it’s scary isn’t it? The concept of when somebody says to me, “You’re going to be an action figure,” and you’re like, “Yeah,” and then you think, “Actually, what this entails is some 6-year-old smashing my head against the table.” [laughter] I mean that’s what I did with my He-Man and my Transformer action figures. I was like “Fight each other!” And the whole chewing on the fingers and everything. And people playing video games, going, “DIE! DIE Caspian!”
So have you played the video game then?
Ben: I have and I think it’s just amazing. I’m a technical idiot and it just looks incredible.
Do you get to cut off Miraz’s head in the video game?
Ben: I don’t know. I don’t know and I haven’t got that far, I’ve only seen the video game trailer.
Because my son would want to.
Ben: Yeah, yeah, kids can be pretty grim… pretty morbid.
Grand Theft Narnia.
Ben: Yeah, Grand Theft Narnia. [laughter] Very cool… yeah.
How was watching the movie last night for the first time and your being around all kinds of people watching yourself? What was that like?
Ben: To be perfectly honest with you, I might as well have been on my own. I was completely… Well, you know, with the press and the shooting, it’s like a year of your life, and suddenly it’s condensed into this two-hour… object. And it’s tangible, it’s right there in front of you.
Were there any parts that you wish were still in or wish that there were parts that were cut out?
Ben: The bits that were cut, I really think actually helped. I briefly said this last night, but the things I was most worried about, were the action and the relationships between Peter Pevensie and Susan Pevensie. I was worried that they would be too… broad. And actually I thought they were quite subtle and felt kind of real. The kiss at the end feels like where she thinks, “Well, why not? We’ve been through this together, I’m leaving.” And it’s real and it’s subtle and it might happen. And the stuff with Peter as well. It doesn’t feel like they hate each other, it just feels like they’re at each other’s throats because they’ve been through this stuff together. And so I was pleased with the way that all fitted together and basically I feel like I understand the story a lot better now than when I did when first read it. Talking with Andrew, it was kind of like, “Oh that’s what that is.”
There’s a lot of spirituality in C. S. Lewis’s work.
When you read something like that and you’re performing in that, is that something you’ve thought about?
Ben: I think it’s something I’ve thought about because when I [was] in the university, children’s literature was one of my sort of special topics. So I reread lots of children’s literature, these books being part of that. So it’s definitely something I’ve thought about. I think it’s a dangerous thing to think about whilst you’re shooting because we’re making a contemporary film for a 2008 audience who might not necessarily know the books, or might not be interested enough by them, and you still want it to be exciting for those people. And so it’s not something I think you can afford to think about when you’re actually shooting. It’s more kind of a moment to moment thing. But it’s definitely something I’ve thought about since. I’m not a fan of spoon-feeding in films, I find myself patronized very easily by those kinds of films. But also, equally, if I watch a film, I’m like, “Well what’s the point? What’s the message?” And I don’t think that there has to be one specific clear message. There are lots of little messages in there about self-belief and belief in the people and acceptance in the people around you and believing in something bigger than yourself. You don’t necessarily have to give it a name. And also the historical context was much more vivid to me watching it than was when we were shooting it. The kind of facelessness of this race, with a dictator that wants his race to go forward at the expense of all others and you go back to the second World War and you see little remnants of it. But I think all of it is there if you choose to see it and I think you can judge the film on whatever level you want to.