With the new Narnia adventure out on DVD this weekend we talk to Ben Barnes, the new prince of Narnia
The one thing we thought when meeting Ben Barnes is how down to earth he is. The twenty-six year old unknown was hand-picked from a West-End theatre in London to play Prince Caspian in the sequel to ‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’, probably the biggest debut role in cinemas this year. His fresh face now hangs from huge billboards on sky-scrapers around the world, he’s on phone-boxes, lunch-boxes, t-shirts, wherever you look, there he is. So why hasn’t it all gone to his head? Movies.ie meets up with the actor to talk about how the boy next door has become this year’s hottest property.
Q: As a virtually unknown actor, how did you do to convince film-makers that you were the right person to play Prince Caspian?
A: It was all very, very, very quick. I heard about the audition literally one day before I went in. The advert said ‘please prepare with a Spanish accent’, so I looked through my DVD collection for something with Antonio Banderas in it but I didn’t have anything . So I rummaged through and found ‘The Princess Bride’, then when I got on set, I’m thinking my accent is reminiscent of something and it dawned on me that it could be from ‘The Princess Bride’. *laughs* I just sort of prepared it as honestly as I could , I knew the book, so I didn’t have to rummage home and quick flip through it. I knew he was a quite vulnerable, fragile guy who didn’t really feel like he deserved to have this responsibility. But, um I don’t know, they were kind of running out of time, so they said the next guy who walks in the door next we’ll have him, and it was me. *laughs*
Q: Did you have voice lessons afterwards to prefect the foreign accent?
A: I did get a dialect coach, and of course, you know, we worked on this Spanish accent. Then a week into shooting they cast, an Italian, a Mexican, a Spaniard, a Flemish actor , and said can you do something to kind of fuse all these together, and make it all sound like you’re from the same race? And I just went blank,… I looked at the dialect coach and said, ‘I don’t know, can we’? So we just basically, decided to soften it a bit, and I was all keen that it wouldn’t become annoying, or intrusive, and you know, I was very aware that the vernacular of the book is very English, and so I didn’t want it to become intrusive, but I wasn’t too disappointed with it, I think it’s ok.
Q: When did you start acting?
A: When I was about 15, somebody came from the National music theatre in the UK and took some auditions at my school, I was sort of been singing in a choir and stuff, but when your voice breaks and it’s not really cool to sing in a choir anymore so I thought music theatre was a good step, and then gradually the music sort of phased out over the next 5 or 6 years and I focussed on acting and university.
Q: How many Narnia movies are you committed to?
A: The only one that I’m definitely doing is “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, it will be very exciting because it’s my favourite book. I love the sort of roaming adventure genre feel that it has, it’s very episodic. I think it’ll be quite difficult to adapt into a screen play… so I’m a little nervous about seeing it because it doesn’t really move forward from this story.. but they have assured me that its more about Caspian’s self voyage of self discovery as well, he has the responsibility of being the King, so I’m sort of looking forward to see how that sits with him.
Q: How strange is it walking down streets and seeing your face up on big posters everywhere?
A: Yah really weird. The one that really got me, I have to admit, was I was in Los Angeles last week, driving down Sunset Boulevard, and there’s a poster that’s about 10 stories high, and it literally left me short of breath, I had to pull over.
Q: Did you take a photo of it?
A: Yah, of course I did. A big cheesy photo too of course, you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t do that. *laughs* but , it’s still a little freaky, you know, to go, to drive 10 minutes out of town and sit down to have lunch and then go, ‘oh no, I’m looking at myself again’.
I don’t know why it should be intimidating or nerve racking . You know, you have to publicise a film, and as my brother said, ‘it’s the character not you, look at the tan’. And I was like, ‘well fair enough’.
When producer Mark Johnson first showed me the poster, I looked at it and asked is this sensible?, you do realize that no one actually knows who I am?; And he goes, ‘yah, but the book is called ‘Prince Caspian’, we have to call the film ‘Prince Caspian’, which means you’ve got to be on the poster, sorry mate’. I was like, ‘ok, fair enough’.
Q: Are you being recognised a lot now or do you think that will start over the next month as Narnia opens?
A: No, nothing… nothing. I’m a little disappointed about that really. I can walk directly past posters and no one will notice. I was on a plane as well, when “Stardust” came out, from New York to Los Angeles and every single person was watching Stardust with their headphones. I’m only in the first few minutes, but I still felt this will be awkward won’t it, and I thought everyone’s going to be staring at me… but no, not one person batted an eyelid. The guy next to me even watched a close up of my face on the screen, looked at me and carried on watching it, so it was absolutely ridiculous. So you’ll never know maybe no one will make the link. Maybe my fake tan will be enough to confuse them.
Q: We found a rather embarrassing clip of your Eurovision song contest attempt on the internet, how did that come about?
A: *Laughs* I whole heartedly regret that! I quit the band the next morning. You witnessed my entire pop career, that was it, we had one song, and we performed it once on BBC1. I’ve concentrated more on musicals, I went up to Manchester and did a musical called “Sex, Chips and Rock and Roll”, my first ever job was in “Bugsy Malone” in the West end when I was 16. So I’ve done other singing besides the Eurovision song.
Q: You’re also appearing in ‘Easy Virtue’ based on the Noel Coward play, what can you tell us about it?
A: It’s set in 1928. The only way I can think of selling it is ‘Meet the very, very posh parents’. It’s like ‘Meet the parents’, but set in 1928, I marry this girl impulsively who’s American, and I bring her home to meet my very English parents who are Colin Firth, and Kristin Scott Thomas, and hilarity ensues… we hope. It has a very dark undertone. It’s directed by Stephan Elliot, who did “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” So that’s another amusing, funny, almost farcical story but it’s also got a real heart , but a tinge of darkness and sadness underneath it.
The real joke, is that for “Narnia”, I did all this horse training for seven months, thru rivers, thru forests , up and down ramps, into battle with swords and didn’t fall off once… Then I had to do one day of horse riding on this, as part of a fox hunt , and the very first take I went down a dip, and the horse jolted and I came right off and my ego was so bruised.
‘The Chronicles Of Narnia – Prince Caspian’ is out now on DVD in Ireland.