Ben Barnes: Chatting with "Caspian"
You've seen the posters or huge billboards; that gorgeous, dark-haired guy in armor, sword in hand looking directly at us under veiled lids. Wow! Even if you never ever heard of Narnia, you might want to flock to theaters for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian based on that hot gaze alone!
Ben Barnes, who is in his 20's playing 17 or 18 in "Caspian", was whisked off the London stage where he was a hit in "The History Boys" and dropped down in New Zealand for a crash course in big Hollywood filmmaking while being dragged behind a horse! It's been a series of whirlwind publicity and public appearances for the dark and handsome young star-in-the-making and, when we finally caught up with him on the phone, he had a bad throat infection but was on his way to the New York Stock Exchange to ring the closing bell for the day! Whew! Then, after a short break, he gets to do it all again for the next Narnia installment The Dawn Treader.
We were excited to get to know this cutie and found him to be funny and earnest about everything from his quick launch by the Hollywood starmaker machine (he had only a small part in Stardust playing young Dunstan before this role) to what he was like at 16 and what qualities he's looking for in someone to date. If you find one of those hot posters to stare at on and off while reading this, we don't blame you!
TeenHollywood: We heard that you weren't feeling so swift so thanks for talking to us.
Ben: I just have a bit of a nasty throat infection but antibiotics is clearing it up.
TeenHollywood: We know that you left your successful stage role in "The History Boys" at the National theater to play Caspian. What was it like when you found out that you had the part?
Ben: I told them that I wanted to know day or night any time, because we knew that they would make their decision in the next couple of days. It happened to be late afternoon Los Angeles time so it was four o'clock in the morning and so I answered the phone completely sleepily and jumped out of bed running around the house screaming, making as much noise as possible!
TeenHollywood: Are you concerned that you might get type-cast or are you going to take the route that Dan Radcliffe did....
Ben:..and take my clothes off you mean? [referring to Dan in the play "Equus"].
TeenHollywood: Well, uh [okay, we're blushing]... that would be very interesting but I meant ...and diversify by taking totally different roles to keep from getting type-cast?
Ben: I've been lucky so far in the variety of roles that have been afforded to me. I've played Russian yobs and all-American quarterbacks and a Spanish prince and all sorts of different things and I just hope that that variety will continue. I think it's up to me to make wise decisions.
TeenHollywood: You shot in Czechoslovakia and New Zealand. Was there any time to look around or hang out with other cast members off set?
Ben: It seemed like they had different days off than me because, obviously, the story threads don't come together until like a third of the way in. So, when I was shooting horse chases through the forest in New Zealand, they were off bungee jumping and hang gliding and doing fun stuff but I was more of a night owl so me and Peter Dinklage would hit the town in the evenings.
TeenHollywood: You are closer in age to Bill Moseley but, for the most part did you feel like "the new guy" or "older brother" to the young cast members?
Ben: Well, obviously, it took a little while to fit into the group that was so closely knit from the first film, but, absolutely, by the end, that's entirely how it felt. I was getting teased by all four of them.
TeenHollywood: Did they tease you about the posters featuring your face or about your heartthrob status?
Ben: Absolutely. Georgie [Henley who plays Lucy] does a very good impression of me; a sort of Zoolander version.
TeenHollywood: Oh, that "blue steel" stare you mean?
TeenHollywood: How does all this effect your daily life? Do you feel like your whole world has been turned upside down?
Ben: A little bit. The thing is, I'm so busy, I haven't been able to see what life is like because I'm running around working and promoting. I haven't been able to stop so I haven't noticed too many changes.
TeenHollywood: Do you miss the immediacy of theater roles; having the audience right there in the room with you?
Ben: I don't miss it as of yet because I've just started trying something new so it's still exciting and it won't happen again for another year or so because of the next installment that we're shooting at the end of the year but, of course I'd like to get back on stage in London.
TeenHollywood: If you are going to take someone out on a date, what kind of qualities does that person have to have?
Ben: They've just got to be someone who enjoys life and enjoys a laugh and has a good appetite for life in general. I can't stand it when I take someone to a restaurant and they order a salad.
TeenHollywood: Okay, if you take us out, we'll promise to pig out bigtime!! We hear you had a copy of the "Prince Caspian" novel with a cute sticker in it when you were a kid? Something about a bear...
Ben: Yeah. There was a sticker in the front with a picture of a bear and it said "I can't bear to be without my books", a little pun and then it says "name" and I wrote Benjamin Barnes. I was eight years old.
TeenHollywood: Awwww. So, did you remember much about the character from your childhood reading of the novel or did you have to go back and re-read it?
Ben: I didn't have a very vivid memory of the story, but I definitely had this image of Prince Caspian. I knew he was different from High King Peter and I knew that he was reluctantly in the position in which he found himself but, beyond that, I had to go back and read.
TeenHollywood: Did you actually fib about being able to ride a horse? How was the horseback training for this film?
Ben: I didn't actually lie. They said 'have you been on a horse before?' and I said 'yes'. Then, I rang up my mom and said 'have I been on a horse before?' 'I think so'. She fished out a photograph of me on a Shetland pony at age six [he laughs].
TeenHollywood: Not exactly what they meant. So, I guess you hit the horseback training hard when you got to New Zealand then?
Ben: Yeah, six or seven hours a day.
TeenHollywood: What was the first scene you shot?
Ben: At the beginning when I get knocked off my horse by a tree branch and then I'm dragged. The very first shot, they put a camera on the ground and attached a rope to my foot and yanked on it and pulled me into frame so I was literally dragged kicking and screaming. Welcome to Hollywood!
TeenHollywood: Yikes! When you were a teen, say at 16, what were you like? Did you always want to be an actor?
Ben: That was around the age that I started doing musical theater and thinking about the possibility of it maybe being something that I could do as a career. I couldn't think of anything else. I was always the youngest in my year group at school so I was always a little bit shy.
TeenHollywood: Say someone is 16 and wants to act. What advice would you give them?
Ben: Be true to yourself and see where it leads you. Decisions, in this business, have a very strange way of making themselves. Something comes along which sort of guides you in the right direction even if it's right at the last minute.
TeenHollywood: So if you were in the National Youth Music Theater, do you sing or play an instrument?
Ben: Yeah, I do. I sing and also play piano and the drums. My very first professional job was playing the drums in "Bugsy Malone" in the West End when I was 16, just getting the bug.
TeenHollywood: Would you like to go back to that some day for fun?
Ben: For fun, absolutely. I was never good enough to do it as a job.
TeenHollywood: What sort of music do you like to listen to?
Ben: Everything that I grew up with; the Beatles, the Stones and Queen and some Motown and Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway and modern stuff like Arctic Monkeys and Kanye West. I'm very eclectic...with movies too.
TeenHollywood: Do you feel that your costumes and "princely stuff" in the film help you in playing the role?
Ben: Yes. For me, the first thing to get into place was the accent, the voice, how the character sounds and then, a very close second to that is probably the costume and how that makes you feel when you put on the boots and the suede trousers and the big-armed shirt, the cape. It makes you feel kind of adventurous. But, you know, in The Incredibles there are no capes, because they can get caught in things, but I find them helpful [humm, he must be an animated movie fan].
TeenHollywood: Now a fun question. What, besides acting, do you do really well and what pretty badly?
Ben: Everything else, pretty much. I was always that guy who could do everything sort of quite well but wasn't brilliant at anything. I can cook a few dishes well but the rest is hopeless.
TeenHollywood: So, we won't come to dinner at your house then.
Ben: Well, as long as you choose one of five things, it'll be great!
TeenHollywood: What is your favorite thing to cook then?
Ben: Like a big British Sunday roast!
TeenHollywood: Yum! Are you getting ready for Dawn Treader [the next Narnia film] now?
Ben: They have started pre-production but I don't get involved until October myself. I've seen some storyboards and they are absolutely magnificent but we have to translate them into a film. More than that I haven't seen. There's no script available yet.
TeenHollywood: You were also in a TV movie for the CW called "Split Decision". What was that about?
Ben: That was a pilot that didn't go to series but it was fun to make. I played this all-American quarterback which was important to me because I'd grown up watching The Breakfast Club and those movies and I was determined to play the cool guy in the American high school before I'm too old and I got to do it.
TeenHollywood: When you were a teen, what movie just blew you away?
Ben: The same one that still does today. It's the funniest movie of all time, This is Spinal Tap.
TeenHollywood: Hilarious movie. Then why didn't you end up in a big comedy movie?
Ben: I know but your skill set isn't necessarily the thing you enjoy. But the film with Jessica [Biel] was a comedy so I have done my fair share. I'm being called away. I have to go ring the bell at the stock exchange for the end of the day. We've just arrived!
TeenHollywood: Okay, we'll wrap up. You were referring to playing John Whittaker in Easy Virtue, a social comedy based on Noel Coward's play. Was it fun acting with Jessica Biel?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. It was fantastic. She's such a brilliant actress and, obviously gorgeous so you'll hear no complaints from me!
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.