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May 18, 2008.
After meeting 26 year-old
actor English actor Ben Barnes, with his easy manner and disaffected
attitude towards his good looks, it comes as no surprise that he was tapped
to star as the lead of a film like The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince
Caspian. Maybe he got a taste of being in a mythic film having had a
small part in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Yet so far, his career path
didn't immediately suggest he was a likely candidate to play this heroic yet
flawed character in the mythic Narnia saga (written by the late British
author C. S. Lewis, who had created the series as a veiled treatise
expressing his passionate Christianity for young readers).
When he was tapped to
audition for this film, Barnes was set to tour with the National Theatre's
production of The History Boys. Narnia director Andrew Adamson did
not expect to cast a British actor as Caspian, but he noted that the young
Londoner fit well into the surrogate family of Adamson and the four actors
who played the Pevensies in the first film, 2005's The Chronicles of
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In this series debut, set
in 1940, the four Pevensie siblings — eldest brother Peter (William
Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and the youngest
Lucy (Georgie Henley) — find an old wardrobe in the country home of
Professor Kirke where they have been evacuated to avoid the devastating Nazi
blitz of London.
Once they step inside,
they enter the world of Narnia, a land inhabited by mythic creatures such as
minotaurs, fauns and talking animals, a land cursed by the White Witch, who
has turned it into a frozen tundra for a century. Through a series of
mishaps and missteps, the kids join forces with the enormous talking lion
Aslan and defeat the Witch, bring life to Narnia and elevate themselves into
kings and queens of the land. As they grow older in Narnia, they rediscover
the wardrobe, return to war-torn England and find out that time has barely
passed once they are home.
In The Chronicles of
Narnia: Prince Caspian, set a year later in 1941, the four Pevensies are
called to return to Narnia by Prince Caspian who blows a magical horn, only
to find that 1300 years have passed and the world they ruled is in ruins.
Caspian was due to take over the Telmarine throne when his power-hungry
uncle drives him out and tries to kill him. Once he meets up with the former
Narnian royalty, they join forces to resurrect the land of Narnia, find the
long gone Aslan and defeat the usurping uncle.
Though Barnes may have
burned a bridge since he left England without telling the Theatre, he did so
well in playing his Spanish accented King-to-be that he is set to reprise
the role (as King Caspian) in the third film in the Narnia series, The
Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Was it surreal to see yourself on billboards as Prince Caspian?
Los Angeles is a really dangerous place to be this week if you're me.
I just don't drive down Sunset Boulevard because it's dangerous. They just
leave me completely breathless. You get this slight tingle of nerves. You're
not quite sure why because it's this eight-story man on a building looking
down at you. You know it's you and a character you've played, but there's a
part of you that refuses to acknowledge that, and you think, 'Who's that
guy?' It's a very difficult emotion to explain. It's almost quite confusing
to see yourself on those things and then you rationalize and think it's a
marketing campaign, it makes sense. They put on hair extensions and they
look good. It's a tan; it's not really me. A few weeks ago I met a
journalist and he said, hi, and he slammed an action figure in front of me,
and said, "What do you think?" Someone says there's going to be an action
figure [of me] and you think, "Aw, amazing." I played with T-man from
Transformers, and you realize what you did with your T-man from
Transformers, which is smash them against each other and chew their arms
off [laughs]. You think it's cool to have an action figure if it's a
collectible in a box, but what they're there for is for people to smash them
up, which is kind of weird again.
Did the Narnia kids welcome you?
Completely. When I got
the part, I got the DVD [of the first film] and watched all the DVD extras.
I listened to Georgie sit there and go "William [Moseley] is like my
brother. And Andrew [Adamson] is like the dad when the dad's not there, and
it's all nice," and I'm like, "Get me a bucket. I don't believe you." Then I
walked into the production office on the first day and they were playing
table tennis with each other and were sitting on each other's laps and
sharing ice cream. It was something out of a Disney film. It really was a
family atmosphere on set. They were all very welcoming and Anna and Will
were a little emotional last night knowing [this film] was their last one.
What people don't realize is that Anna is now 19 and Will is 21, and they
were 13 and 15 when they first auditioned for these movies. It's a big part
of your childhood to give up to a project of this size. I think it's 100%
worth it. They've got something really to show for it. It's emotional for
them. It's hard for him to give me the sword at the end of the movie. You
Were you pleased with your performance, especially when you saw
yourself on screen?
It is difficult to watch
yourself, to suspend your disbelief that far to not see yourself in the
character you're playing. My heartbeat rate was heightened every time I was
on screen, which is about the ego, isn't it? I was nervous I hadn't done
myself justice because it seems like such a long time ago and such a
Did your favorite scene remain intact?
I'm not sure any scene
remained intact. Most of the dialogue had changed from what I could remember
because [with] the animated characters you can change stuff up until the
last minute. [The animated sword-wielding, talking mouse] Reepicheep's
dialogue was nothing like what it was in the script, but it was brilliant.
Eddie Izzard [whose plays him] is one of my favorite heroes. I've seen him
countless times on stage so to have done scenes with him that he wasn't even
there for is a great treat.
How did you do scenes with Reepicheep?
It was somebody reading
from the script over there. A really long pole over there with a wire, when
he jumps on me. That's the scene I'm talking about. You're a mouse but
you're talking to a wire with a little orange dot on the top, which was very
hard. And we shot that in the beginning. I found that quite hard to get used
to. As Andrew said before they showed the film yesterday it's about trust,
we've got to trust that he's going to make it look awesome. And I think he
Aside from talking to tennis balls playing the animated characters,
what other effects that threw you while you were acting?
The scale of things like
the castle as well. I remember on the set Andrew came up to me as I was
staring at one of the turrets and my mouth was agape and he came up to me
and said shut your mouth, or something. I said I just can't get over the
scale of it. You built a castle. Thanks. I really appreciate it. He said
this will be three times bigger when we're done with it. And it was, you
know. It's just huge. When you're filming against the backdrop of the How [Aslan's
huge underground hall built over the Stone Table that was the Narnians home]
and you've got a tiny bit of green screen on top of the How and it's always
there you kind of ignore it. But then you go back and you see it when we
come out and it's three times bigger because they've got that little bracket
where they can build anything they want above it. I thought it was really
impressive. It was overwhelming and I feel I need to see it again because I
feel like I missed most of it because I was absorbed in it. The memories
start flooding back. It's kind of difficult to watch yourself in something
anyway. Lots of the scenes that I'd read about but wasn't in, it just kind
of clarified it for me. What I was most pleased about [seeing the movie] was
the relationships between myself, and Peter, Susan and Edmund Pevensie. I
thought they were a lot more subtle than they felt when we were filming and
a lot more born out of the situations that they found themselves in rather
than just hating each other as characters or having an eye for each other.
The kiss at the end felt like, she just kind of looks away from the camera
and thinks well, why not, I'm not coming back. It felt like something that a
real 16-year-old girl might be thinking. So I was just pleasantly surprised
by a lot of things.
faux-Spanish accent was really good.
Thank you. It was
interesting because they started off saying they wanted a Spanish-sounding
Mediterranean accent and they said they would cast all Spanish actors. After
one week of filming, they cast an Italian, a Spaniard, a Mexican, a Flemish
actor and some Czech actors. I just thought: this is not going to work.
We're not all going to sound the same. So we worked on the accent to make it
more Mexican and Italian sounding, to smooth it out a bit so it wasn't too
intrusive, and I think it worked out OK.
Did you have to repeat scenes because of the accent?
No. It all stayed pretty
much intact. The first scene I shot with dialogue we shot before they cast
the Telmarines. I was going to say, “I hafto, hafto” [in a thick Spanish
accent]. They were like, "We don't like the hccck sound," which is more of
the Mexican sound. Damian Alcazar is Mexican. So he sounded more like, "I
hafto go." That was kind of tricky but we kind of came to a happy medium in
the end. For my ears, certainly, it wasn't incongruous. It seemed like they
came from the same background.
And you are now a master swordsman and horseman?
What was the training like and how will you use it in the future?
Winning the hearts of
damsels in distress on the streets. Yo. I did some solid horse training when
I got there because I hadn't gotten any experience on a horse even though I
might have suggested I did. I was literally on a horse five or six hours a
day. I bought some padded cycling shorts to ease the comfort. And I had
these great Spanish teachers who went through everything with me and
eventually after a couple of weeks it clicked into place and as you can see
I'm going through rivers and riding with flaming torches up and down ramps
and through trees and it was amazing. It's totally exhilarating. It's like a
ride at Disneyland. It's fantastic.
Really, how are your sword skills?
I actually had to do more
throughout filming. The battle sequences were at the end so we knew we had
time. The sword fighting is as fun as it looks and I can't lose because I'm
in the next film.
Will there be more humor added into the next one?
The film was a lot
funnier than I thought it was going to be because I wasn't around for a lot
of the humorous bits. Skander has throwaway lines. And [there's the bits] by
Trumpkin [played Peter Dinklage] and Reepicheep. I wasn't really there for
those light bits. And they changed them anyway. So I found myself laughing
[at the screening] quite a lot. I was thinking: I'm taking this seriously
and they've pulled the rug from under my feet. This isn't fair. I was
talking to my brother about it last night and he said, "Your parents have
been killed and they're chasing you, trying to kill you, why wouldn't you
take it seriously..." and I thought, "Good point." So he made me feel better
about that. I think it works. Caspian is an earnest character. That's who he
is. In the next film he's not suddenly going to become this macho musing
quipping king. I think he's a bit of a lost soul. He hasn't been parented.
He's been brought up by someone who essentially doesn't care about him at
all and is just waiting to have his own heir so he can get rid of him.
That's not a very loving environment to be brought up in. The closest thing
he has is his professor. If you read the book, he only had a couple of years
with him and before that, a nurse. So it skips those years because the film
can only be so long. There's only so young I can play. We're pushing it as
it is. He's an interesting character. I'm curious to see how he develops.
You're shooting the next movie in October. Do you have time to shoot
anything else before then?
I shot a film with Colin
Firth and Jessica Biel called Easy Virtue; it's a Noel Coward play
adaptation. It's a very different British farce, kind of a posh Meet the
Parents. It's very different again. And I hope to be doing something in
the summer. I don't know exactly what yet.
How many Narnias are you signed on for?
We're definitely making
Dawn Treader, but beyond that I don't know.
How many more books is Caspian in?
He's in Dawn Treader
and then he's much older, much older in The Silver Chair. He's like
70. So who knows what they'll do with that.
So what's your favorite children's book?
I guess Roald Dahl. I
(studied) a bit of children's literature at university. I read all the
Tolkien and I love Phillip Pullman – writer of the His Dark Materials
trilogy [the film, The Golden Compass was based on them]. I think
Apparently, Pullman hates Narnia.
I know he does. I read
that article some months ago and I was kind of disappointed about it.
By the way, did you know that "caspa" means dandruff in Spanish?
Oh no! That's a Head and
Shoulders campaign coming my way.
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