Getting to play the title role in Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian must have been a huge deal for relatively new actor Ben Barnes, and it’s a much bigger part than his small role in the opening sequence of Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Stardust, which came out this past summer.
ComingSoon.net and a group of journalists had a chance to sit down with Barnes on the second day of our visit to the Usti, Czechoslovakia location shoot for the movie, to grill him on how well he knew what a big role his character plays in the Narnia universe.
ComingSoon.net How does this compare to “Stardust”? Can we assume that it’s a much bigger scale?
Ben Barnes: I didn’t really get used to it, because I was only on that for a couple of weeks. But in terms of the scales of the sets and everything it was kind of similar. There was one scene I did in this kind of magic marketplace, and they built it in the courtyard of a castle, a real castle, up in the north of England. I walked in and my jaw dropped, almost as far as it dropped when I walked on to the Miraz castle set that we’ve got in Prague at the moment, which is just Have you seen it? It just blew me away.
CS: What was the audition process for this like?
Barnes: Actually I came into it really late. I know that they’d been looking for a long time, and I hadn’t really heard about it at all. Somebody came to see a play that I was doing and I went in to meet the casting director in London, just to read like two scenes, and then the next week I met up with Andrew and all the producers and screen tested and then I had the job four days later. It was really fast. It was like three weeks from start to finish. Less. Two and a half weeks from when I heard about it to when I got the job.
CS: What does the character give you as an actor to grab onto?
Barnes: Well I think the reason I like the character is because he’s sort of an everyman. It’s sort of a coming of age story, really. It’s from boy to man and prince to king, kind of story. Obviously, it’s been adapted somewhat from how it is in the book because the kids that were in the first one have grown up so much that it’s very hard to keep them as young children. So it all had to kind of grow up a little bit. Hopefully, he’s a kind of everyman character that you go on the journey with and sort of drags you through the story, and hopefully you kind of emphasize with him and latch on to what he’s feeling. When he’s feeling vulnerable, you feel vulnerable, and when he’s feeling strong, you’re feeling good about what’s happening. Principally, he’s that kind of character, but he’s very honorable and I think those are kind of the principal things, really.
CS: You didn’t have much time to prepare for this, did you?
Barnes: Actually, once I got to New Zealand I had a good few weeks. I literally got off the plane and within 20 minutes of getting off the plane in New Zealand I was on a horse, and they were like, “Okay, go.” And I did it every day for two months, I think. I was riding with these fantastic Spanish horse trainers we’ve got and doing the stunt training with Allan Poppleton, who choreographs all the fights for us. He’s fantastic. So I had a good sort of eight weeks out there, whilst filming little bits and pieces, but I had a good eight weeks of quite hardcore training.
CS: Were you experienced on a horse?
Barnes: No. I might have suggested that I had ridden before, but I, in fact, had not. So yeah, that was an experience. But I love it now. I love it.
CS: Did you read the books or know the part Prince Caspian played in not just this, but future books as well?
Barnes: I actually knew the first three: “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, “Prince Caspian” and “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”
CS: So you were familiar with the character?
Barnes: Yeah, I remember watching the BBC series where Sam West played him in the “Dawn Treader” part, and I remember sort of being exactly the right age for that to really capture my imagination. As soon as I got the script I remembered the beginning of that with the theme music and how it kind of panned over the map of Narnia and all that. Actually, right when I first heard about the audition, I went and looked on my bookshelves and found my copy of “Prince Caspian,” and it had a copyright date of 1989. So I remember I was eight. So that’s like the perfect age, I think, to have first got into that. And it had a little sticker in the front saying, “I can’t bear to be without my books” and a picture of a bear and below that was written Benjamin Barnes in my little eight-year-old handwriting.
CS: Has anyone taken pictures of that book to include on the DVD?
Barnes: Not yet. We should do that. It’s in London. I should bring it back. But yeah, that was a trip to go and find my copy of it.
CS: Is there anything specifically in the book about Caspian that’s inspired you?
Barnes: Specifically in the book, I don’t know. I guess some of the earlier chapters where he’s having his conversations with Cornelius about what Narnia means and we don’t have a huge amount of that kind of explanation of the exploration of that piece in the movie, simply because everyone knows it from the first movie. It’s kind of something that’s assumed, but Caspian hasn’t known it so obviously that kind of helps to inform where I take the character and my approach to my surprise and my joy, while it’s quite a hard thing to understand that I’m going to have to fight against my own people. So I think that was kind of very informative.
CS: Did you feel at all challenged when you came to the set because many of the other kids had already been through the first movie together?
Barnes: Well, it’s interesting how that relationship has grown, actually. In the script it’s supposed to be kind of a sort of light sparring between the two of them, so you’re kind of automatically ready for that kind of conflict, I think, but we automatically sank into those kinds of roles. We have a very kind of light banter with each other all the time on the set, which I think is really good, and we get on really well. We have similar senses of humor, so they were very welcoming. I think they were all ready for a new character to be involved. They knew this was coming, so they were kind of more ready for it than I was I think. In terms of being ready, the first thing I shot was after I fall off Destrier (his horse) at the beginning of the movie, and I’m being dragged along by the horse. That was the very first thing I shot. So I was lying on my back in the forest being pulled along by a stunt guy, like through the leaves and then just dropped. I had literally been thrown into this movie feet first.
CS: The rivalry between the boys is a bit different in the book.
Barnes: I think that a lot of drama, it is conflict that drives it, whether that be between good and evil or between a couple or wherever. I think conflict is always a very important piece of any drama. I think that’s made doubly interesting by the fact that these people essentially should be getting on and working together, so I find it a really interesting part of the story and I hope everyone else will too. But yeah, it’s a really interesting relationship, and I think the more interesting and the less patronizing the relationships are, the better.
CS: How has it been working with Andrew? Does he communicate his vision to you?
Barnes: Yeah. I mean, he really does. I’m sure you’ve heard many a compliment about Andrew since you’ve been here from everybody, but he really is extraordinary. He has a vision beyond anything that any of us mere mortals are capable of. You visualize a castle, you visualize how a particular scene would go, and he’s done that. And he’s gone past it. And he’s surpassed any kind of dreams you might have had about how something would look or how something would feel. And he’s very, very encouraging and he’s very, very good with the detail, and this sort of enormous picture. I remember one day on set we were filming something with like a hundred extras fighting in a courtyard and he came up to me and he said something like, “Wasn’t your belt on the fourth hold, not the third?” and I was just like, “I didn’t notice that. How did you possibly?'” But he’s just got a real eye for detail and the bigger picture at the same time, which I think is almost necessary for a director, but he really does have those things. And he’s really passionate about it as well. He has a vision of how he wants the scenes to make him feel when he watches them. He often will step out from behind the monitors and come right up close, just behind where the camera is, to watch, and he’ll say, “Yeah, check the gate.” He’ll know if he’s got it from that. He doesn’t even need to go and see it through the monitor. He knows whether he felt what he thought he would feel. Which is really important, I think. Somebody who obviously comes from a more visual background than that.
CS: How dramatically does Caspian change from when he’s in the castle to when he enters the forest and meets the Narnians? You’re probably slightly older than he is in the book, too, so how old are you playing him?
Barnes: Well, yeah. I think there’s a lot to do with acting and a lot with his kind of confidence growing, and actually that’s probably been reflected in my experience. It’s probably quite true. I was nervous the first few days of filming, but I’m settling into it, relaxing into it now, so I’ve been lucky in that respect. Obviously, the people who know and love the books know a child, and I think we’ve sort of established that because William Moseley is 20 now, he’s playing sort of the older end of school. He’s playing kind of 17, 18 maybe. I think the only thing it says in the book about Caspian’s age, the only thing that we could find, Andrew and I together, was that it says Peter first sees Caspian, a boy of about his own age. I think in the early part of the book it’s important because he has a nurse and all that kind of thing, but then actually, you can see the next chapter after that, you can see when he’s with Dr. Cornelius, he’s obviously jumped, because the way he talks is suddenly much more mature. The questions that he’s asking are not of a 13-year-old. They’re much older than that, so I think we’re sort of playing around 17 and obviously I’m a little bit older than that, but yeah. I’ve been playing 17 for the past four years, so I don’t see any reason why it should change now. Shaving twice a day, that’s the key. I guess I’ve tried to play him, rather than sort of young and naïve, more kind of protected, because he’s grown up in this royal household. He’s sort of the only young Telmarine you encounter, because the others presumably live in the village and not in the castle or whatever. So I tried to make him kind of quite wide-eyed at the beginning, and sort of innocent. Thinking of these things as fantasy stories, and as it progresses and he finds out these things become true, he takes them more into his reality and becomes more comfortable with them and realizes he’s got this task ahead of him to become a leader and realizes that it is his duty to begin to start thinking about leading these people.
CS: Do you have any Telmarine accent or do you use your regular voice?
Barnes: No, I’m doing an accent. I’ve had a dialect coach from the beginning. I’ve actually, very rarely have I worked in my own voice. I’ve played I think Russian, American, Northern from the North of England. All sorts of different accents I’ve worked in. And I’m almost more comfortable in an accent
CS: So it’s more of a Mediterranean type thing?
Barnes: Yeah, exactly. Well, we started off sort of looking at different Spanish accents, because that was kind of the original concept, and then we found that we had a lot of Italian actors and French actors, Mexican actors, so we have this whole kind of mix. Obviously, the books are very British, so we wanted a lot of the intonation to feel English, so it was very understandable, it wasn’t too thick. What we’ve ended up with is what we kind of called a Telmarine accent, and we kind of got everyone working from a similar page, but it’s a sort of Mediterranean. It’s a Mediterranean loosely based on the Spanish accent, but with a lot more of the English intonation. Obviously, these are foreign characters. They’re speaking in their own language and it’s being automatically translated for you, because otherwise all the scenes between each other would be in Telmarine, and they’d need subtitles. That’s why I think the language is kind of as free and easy as it is.
CS: Do you have to match what Sergio’s doing with his accent?
Barnes: Well, I was actually filming before Sergio. I’d already filmed when Sergio was cast, I think, or certainly I filmed before he did. So I think if anything, he had to match me. I think it was just kind of a happy accident that they were similar enough. Well, not really a happy accident, it was completely planned, but yeah. I think we sound and look similar enough for it to be totally believable that we’re family.
CS: Yesterday we spent a lot of time looking at the costumes and your shirt was a topic of discussion.
Barnes: Which one? This one or the flowery one? I affectionately refer to it as the flowery one, with the big arms and all that.
CS: Does it help you get into the character?
Barnes: Well, yeah, absolutely. I said it before, but somebody asked me what research did I do in terms of getting into being like a prince, and I realized that one of my scenes a couple of months ago I was sitting on an enormous, beautiful black horse, in armor, a sword in my hand, in a castle. You know, what else do you need to make you feel like a prince than that? I mean, you’re just sitting there and everyone else is kind of standing in the courtyard, and you feel like royalty. I didn’t need to do any more than that. They’ve been so helpful and so wonderful and their attention to detail is fantastic. I mean, in terms of, like, for the final battle. I mean, obviously I’ve escaped from Miraz’s castle, so I’m in my Telmarine garb, my Telmarine outfit, and then I slowly become slightly more Narnianized. That’s not a word, but .
CS: It is now.
Barnes: It is now. As we move towards the battle, I end up with this kind of great mix of the two types of outfits, and all that detail has been done for you. You never have to think about, “Where did I get this from?” Well, that’s got Aslan on it, so that’s Narnian, and then I realized that some of my armor is the same as the entire Telmarine army is wearing, which kind of highlights the fact that I’m fighting against what are essentially my own people, which is quite a hard thing, I think.
CS: A couple of the characters you’re going to be working with are going to be CGI, so how has that been for you?
Barnes: Interesting. Obviously, I’ve never done anything like that before. Actually, the first scene that I shot with a CGI character was with Trufflehunter, the badger and Andrew has a wonderful assistant, who’s a fantastic actress as well, so she just put on this completely lime green suit, balaclava, gloves, the whole everything, and was hobbling about on her knees, and she was holding the real props, like the actual tray that the badger will be holding. She was kind of putting it on the counter in this kind of– like a badger, and that’s really easy to work with.
CS: Like a badger would hold a tray.
Barnes: Exactly. And she’s so great. It’s like doing a scene with three people. But what’s harder, I think, is when there’s nothing there at all. I think the kids have had to do a lot of that with bits of tennis balls and things like that, but I’ve been quite lucky so far. Any dialogue I’ve had has been with a real person on their knees.
CS: Since the structure of the movie is different from the book, have you had to hang around and be on-call, because for some scenes, you’re not needed at all?
Barnes: Well I think a lot of the beginning part for the Pevensies, which I think is actually the other way around in the movie than it is in the book, I can’t quite remember which way ’round. I think it deals with the Pevensies first, and then Caspian, right? And I think in this we get a little bit of Caspian first, and it kind of cuts between the two. But a lot of their stuff, it’s in England at the beginning, and they’re sort of rediscovering Narnia right at the beginning. A lot of that, they filmed it pretty chronologically, so they were filming that almost when I got to New Zealand. And I was doing my horse training and everything. They were filming a lot of that. We’ve been really lucky in that Andrew is a director who likes to film pretty chronologically. There’s obviously bits and pieces that you have to take sets into account, you have to finish on a particular set, but it’s been a really easy ride in terms of that, because the journey of the movie has reflected the journey of the story. It’s been fairly chronological.
CS: Have you had a few weeks off in-between?
Barnes: Not since I got going, but we have a whole second unit filming at the moment in Prague while the first unit is shooting here. So any day that I’m not here, it’s likely that they want to yank me and film something that we owe on another scene, or whatever.
CS: We were just watching them film the scene where Peter and Edmund walk out of Aslan’s How to meet Miraz. Where is Caspian during that scene?
Barnes: He’s about to join them. He joins them a few minutes later. He’s up to something, but that might spoil it.
CS: Any favorite scenes?
Barnes: Most of them. Most of them, actually. I’ve just enjoyed so many of them on so many different levels.
CS: What scenes haven’t you shot yet that you’re looking forward to shooting?
Barnes: Well, there’s a big scene where I first meet all of the Narnians together. In the book it’s at the Dancing Lawn, and I’m really looking forward to doing that. I think that’s going to be a really good challenge. I mean, that’s a real scene where he really takes a big leap forward from being someone who hasn’t really said much to somebody who has to convince all of these Narnians that he’s the rightful king of Narnia and they should all side with him. I think that’s a really big juicy scene.
CS: It must be very CGI based where you have to imagine a lot of stuff that’s not there.
Barnes: Actually no, I think there’ll be pretty much one human per animal, because there’s always somebody voicing it in a little suit behind or a centaur obviously on a box or on the centaur legs that they have, Power Rizers. So there’s a lot of interesting, cool stuff to look at and imagine. You don’t have to use your imagination too much, but it’ll be a nice surprise for me as well. When I see it, I’ll be like, “Hey, you’re half horse!”
CS: Have you had any meetings yet for “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”?
Barnes: I’ve met Michael. We had dinner and he’s a really sweet guy. And I can’t wait. But I don’t want to kind of think I can’t really afford to think about it too much. I’m so lost in the middle of this one that I’m totally immersed in the world of “Prince Capian.”
CS: Have you re-read the book?
Barnes: I have re-read the book. I did do that.
CS: Just to make sure when you started that you don’t have anything too hard down the line?
Barnes: Exactly. Yeah. No, I did re-read the book, though, and it’s so different. It’s so different. I couldn’t believe how different it is. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do, because obviously it’s quite an episodic book, “The Dawn Treader.” But it’s really interesting. It’s not quite as action-packed, but it’s so much more interesting in terms of sort of varied experiences that the crew of the Dawn Treader go through, so I’ll be really excited to see what they do in terms of threading it all together as a kind of two-hour movie.
CS: Have you seen Michael Apted’s movies before?
Barnes: Yeah, I’ve seen the Bond that he did. And I’m sure I’ve seen bits of others.
Check out our interview with William Moseley, the young actor who plays Peter Pevensie, Caspian’s compatriot in war, by clicking here.