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Ben Barnes of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"

Ben Barnes

Is Transformed in Narnia's Prince Caspian

by Brad Balfour


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.


Ben Barnes in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"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 can see.


Ben Barnes in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"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 different world.


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 delivered.


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.


Your 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?


Hell yeah.


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 he's great.


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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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2008 Brad Balfour. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2008 Murray Close. Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2008 Murray Close. Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2008 Murray Close. Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2008 Murray Close. Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2008 Murray Close. Courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 18, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 18, 2008.