Ben Barnes: From "Caspian" to Dawn Treader and Beyond
For Holiday giving and personal collecting, Narnia: Prince Caspian is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. We celebrated by cornering Caspian himself... yum! Gorgeous, dark-haired actor Ben Barnes will reprise the Caspian role in the film of Voyage of the Dawn Treader and he also plays mysterious and hot Dorian Gray in a film based on the Oscar Wilde novel.
We had a sit down with Ben in the Hollywood/Highland complex on Hollywood Blvd. near the Academy Awards' Kodak Theater to talk about what is fun on the new DVD, Ben's theories on acting, that crazy Spanish accent he affected for "Caspian" and how he handles the stalkarazzi. Hey, what advice does he have for friend Rob Pattinson who is in the middle of Twilight mania? And what would he tell YOU if you wanted to be in showbiz? Read on and find out....
TeenHollywood: First of all, Rob Pattinson is going through the fan frenzy that you went through as Caspian. Do you have any advice for him?
Ben: Actually, I know Rob a bit. He's from very close to where I lived. I used to sing with his sister at school weirdly. We used to do Soul nights. I think it's just about having confidence. The hardest thing is when you first start to do things like this (interviews). I'm not surprised if he was freaked out at Comic Con. It's having confidence that people are asking questions because they want to know the answers not because they're trying to 'get' you. If you can't think of an answer it's okay to say 'I don't know'. You don't have to be interesting and funny all the time. But I'm sure he has a much better handle on it than I do. I wanted to be in that Twilight film but I was too old (geez, he's only in his late 20's). There's no way I could look seventeen for the next three years. Tell Rob hi and good luck for me.
TeenHollywood: We will (and we did!) Are you still recognized and chased by paparazzi?
Ben: At the beginning, I wasn't used to it. I've had a fair bit of it but now, I forget. I go out of my hotel and (see paparazzi) and I'm like 'oh, how did you guys know I was here?'. It still doesn't feel real. It is overwhelming and surreal and there's nothing I can do to change that. I don't feel famous. It's just nonsense. But, it's still very sweet. I still get sackfulls of mail at home. I spent five hours on it the other day. People come up to me. 'I saw you in that film'.
TeenHollywood: What was the most challenging thing about playing Caspian?
Ben: Probably trying to maintain a faithfulness to the character in the story rather than play some kind of stereotype of a Hollywood action hero which was not what Caspian was to me when I read the books. So to try and inject some of that into the telling of the story.
TeenHollywood: Do you feel that Prince Caspian was your big break?
Ben: People always talk about the concept of a big break but I don't know if it exists. Certainly, if it does, it was Prince Caspian. I was still banging on doors before that and immediately afterwards I was getting some scripts sent to me which is the big change. I think you need lots of big breaks. It's about what you choose to do next. You should invest in the stories that you think are worth telling, and characters you think you can play well.
TeenHollywood: Where did you get that sorta-Spanish accent for Caspian?
Ben: (laughs) It was a combination of a lot of things. I was in bed, the night before my audition reading the lines to myself over and over again and just before going to sleep, I saw on the very bottom of the page, 'please prepare with a Spanish accent' (laughter). 'Oh God!', right? So I got out of bed and went to my DVD collection and thought 'okay, something with Antonio Banderas (we laugh). Ah, Desperado, brilliant' but it's 'bang!! (he makes crashing and shooting noises) See you later', nothing, just nothing. He doesn't talk. So then I found The Princess Bride which is one of my favorite films and obviously, that is a ridiculous stereotype of an accent (the Inigo Montoya character), but I thought 'it'll do for the audition' so I used that a little bit as my inspiration for the audition but then got a dialogue coach who was fantastic and then a lot of the intonation was my choosing. I wanted it to sound flowing, not like somebody who didn't have a firm grasp of the English language.
TeenHollywood: But, didn't you get asked to change it?
Ben: A week into shooting, I'd done one dialogue scene and (the director) comes up and says 'you sound very Spanish'. I said 'That's what you asked me to do'. 'Yeah, but I just cast some Italians. Sound a bit like them' (we laugh). So, I watched their audition tapes with the dialogue coach to try to round it out so it sounded more Italian. He cast Italians, Spanish, a Flemish actor, a Mexican and said, 'then do an accent that sounds like them'. 'But, they don't sound like each other', In the end it was just something I felt comfortable with.
TeenHollywood: Who of the cast sat around a table watching the film and doing commentary for the DVD?
Ben: It was the four Pevensies, myself and Andrew the director and we sat on a sofa drinking sodas for the kids and coffees for the adults and we just watched the movie and chatted. I think those commentaries are best when you forget the microphones are there really. Otherwise, the rest of it you can see in a "making of". You want to get people's personal experiences.
TeenHollywood: Is there something that you shot that was cut out of the film and is now on the DVD or any extra features on there that you are happy about?
Ben: Not sure. I haven't watched all of the deleted scenes yet. There were a couple that I was anxious to see. One of the deleted scenes was one of my audition scenes so I was very keen to see how that turned out and wanted to listen to (director) Andrew's commentary on why they were cut out. I think they had good reasons for cutting. It was a long film anyway.
TeenHollywood: What about bloopers? Anything you are like 'oh my God. Why does that have to be on the DVD'?
Ben: No. (laughs) You've got to be a good sport about that. You've got to let them show you falling over. That's part of it.
TeenHollywood: In "Dawn Treader" will you go anywhere near a real body of water or will it all be CGI or in a tank?
Ben: I have no idea. I imagine it will be water. That is very expensive to fake. They will probably have an infinity tank where you put the ship in and, in the background, will be the real ocean. You put the tank on the beach and film past it. They've been talking about doing it in the same place they did Titanic (Rosarita Beach, Mexico).
TeenHollywood: What is the first time you walked on a stage?
Ben: I think it was a school play called "Mr. Jones Goes to Jupiter" and I played a rock star/alien.
TeenHollywood: Hilarious! What was that like?
Ben: I was probably a bit nervous but quite enjoyed it when I got up there. I had to make my own guitar out of cardboard and gold foil. That was at about seven or eight. Then I was in a choir until about fourteen. At fifteen your voice breaks and I found myself going toward musical theater; a logical next step. I joined a company called the National Youth Music Theater and the next six summers that's where I got my training and was in the West End in "Bugsy Malone". Most of my friends were in that company. It's the same one that Jamie Bell and Jude Law and Johnny Miller went through. It was a wonderful time.
TeenHollywood: So, what did you do when that was over?
Ben: At sixteen and seventeen, I wanted to leave school and my parents said, 'no, go to University and get a proper job. Be a lawyer'. I said 'I don't want to be a lawyer'. 'Well, go to university'. I spent a couple of years doing more music and TV projects then went to university and came out at about 22 and still couldn't think of anything else to do. I had gained some confidence in theater.
TeenHollywood: Yes, we know that you've done both stage work and film. What about film is difficult for you?
Ben: Film is actually about these tiny moments and everyone is focusing on (them). Every day, like on this film, you need to get just one scene, maybe two. It's a skill that I'm still learning, to be ready when they want you to do that moment. To psych yourself up for that is a real skill. It's all very well doing five weeks rehearsal but it's very difficult when they say 'Ben, we're ready for you to do that moment now'. 'Well, I'm not ready to do that'.
TeenHollywood: How do you choose your projects? You do a lot of period films.
Ben: I've chosen certain scripts because I like the stories and love the language. I love words. I've read a few scripts that are contemporary that are equally valid and I feel could be great films but it just so happens that, at the time I read them, those were the best scripts on offer (to me) and I'll continue to make my decisions like that rather than worry about 'what do you mean he's doing another film set in the 1920's?' It was an interesting time between the two World Wars. It was a fascinating time for young men.
TeenHollywood: Do you have any advice for teens who want to break into the business?
Ben: Usually, I'd say who the hell am I to answer that? It is about luck. It's about being in the right place at the right time but, for young people, I think reading is important because all you have to base your decisions and characters on are black and white words on a page and, if they don't mean anything to you, then what's the point of telling the story?
TeenHollywood: Did the way you grew up inform your acting now?
Ben: Well both my parents are in the field of psychology and psychiatry so a lot of growing up it was "how do you feel about that?" (he laughs) A lot of acting is projected emotion, 'how would I feel if I were (this character) in this situation?' It's hypothetical so I'm sure that had something to do with it.
TeenHollywood: You just finished playing Dorian Gray, right?
Ben: Yeah. The film isn't finished but the shooting is finished. Now they have a lot of work to do in post-production. A lot of the previous adaptations of it were The Portrait of Dorian Gray and about the portrait and what happens to Dorian. Our version is just called Dorian Gray and we're trying to look a little more into the experience of what the character goes through. Originally, people would say that you can't identify with a character who sins and is manipulated so easily and falls into this vortex with no notion of redemption so we teased some of the stuff toward the end to keep it tense. But, essentially, it's a fairly faithful adaptation. In the same way that nobody is going to try to adapt Narnia or Lord of the Rings in the next fifty years, I'm hoping after they see this, nobody is going to want to touch Dorian Gray either. Who knows?
TeenHollywood: For those not familiar with the classic novel or early films, what is the story?
Ben: It's quite a rock and roll story actually. It's about this guy whose parents have been killed and he's been raised by an abusive grandfather and he dies and the guy comes to town naive, innocent and gets completely corrupted but is completely adored from the moment he sets foot in London and that kind of just grows. It's a great character arc to play; a naive young guy, who has been abused, turns into this guy who realizes the power of his looks and the power of being 21. Then he becomes very dry and cynical and starts doing these awful things and realizes he can get away with it. Then he becomes very depressed and inward and starts drinking etc. It's a swooping arc and I'm hoping that will be clear in our version. He's letting himself get carried away. I learned a lot from playing Dorian. I had to do things I'd never done before in real life. It's such a terrific story.
TeenHollywood: We can't wait for that.