Benjamin Thomas Barnes, otherwise known as Ben Barnes, has come a long and far way since his “The Chronicles of Narnia” film series days.
The English actor took on the title character of Caspian X in “The Chroniles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”, a performance that would later earn him a nominated a MTV Movie Awards “Best Breakthrough Male”nominee title. Then, in December 2010, Barnes appeared as King Caspian in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, the third installment in the series.
But did you know that his career started way before the first of the “The Chronicles of Narnia” films were even in planning?
You see, Ben began his career in musical theatre. As a teenager, he spent a few years as part of the National Youth Music Theatre, whose alumni also include actors Jude Law and Jamie Bell. At 15 years of age, Barnes landed his first professional job as a drummer in the West End musical adaptation of Bugsy Malone. Believe it or not, we was even briefly a singer in the pop boy band Hyrise!
Ben made his feature film debut as Young Dunstan in 2007’s “Stardust”, directed by Matthew Vaughn and based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name. Ben then starred as a Russian hoodlum named Cobakka in Suzie Halewood’s “Bigga Than Ben”, which was released in 2008 in the UK and other European countries. In February 2007, his role in the film adaptation of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” was announced. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This year, he’s set to make waves again for his portrayal of American founding father Samuel Adams in the 2015 miniseries, “Sons of Liberty”.
“Sons of Liberty” is a 3-part American TV miniseries dramatising the early American Revolution events in Boston, Massachusetts, the start of the Revolutionary War, and the negotiations of the Second Continental Congress which resulted in the drafting and signing of the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence. It centers on the beginning portion of the American Revolution and how the clandestine group, Sons of Liberty got started by men from all walks of life seeking freedom in the colonies while living under British rule in Boston, Massachusetts. Their actions lead to how they helped form the United States of America.
Thanks to our friends from HISTORY channel, we managed to snag an interview with Ben Barnes, where we checked up on him to find out how he (a British man) prepared for his “Sons of Liberty” (American history) role.
Here’s what went down:
How well do you know the history of the period when you first received the script and how did it feel being a British to take up a role in American history?
Honestly, the script was much more exciting to me than it would be to most, American actors because I didn’t really know how it ended. I hadn’t really studied particularly this period of history. I knew a little bit about most of the protagonists involved in the sort of plot to work towards America’s independence, I knew a little bit about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and some of his past, and I watched the John Adams show but I didn’t know very much about Sam Adams, the character I played. I didn’t fully appreciate, I think, just how much crossover there was between all these incredible characters. You know, many of whom became President of the United States, many of whom ended up on various denominations of the dollar bill and I didn’t realize how small the beginnings were of this kind of uprising. And I love that kind of very exciting, intriguing element of it. The fact that this revolution was born out of the disquiet that was being discussed at the backrooms of pubs and bars. So, that I feel, to me very greatly in terms of telling the story.
How accurate is the history in this show and how do you feel about that?
I think, I think the sort of the spirit of the revolution is pretty accurate. There was a little bit of contention to the specific details of some of the events. And honestly, you know, we wanted to make just some very brilliant adaptations of this period of history and some very detailed accounts and I think there’s many moments on this era that people can read to find out the exact kind of details but we really wanted to make the really fun, exciting version and to do that, I think sometimes you have to manipulate details. You know, you have characters present in scenarios where they won’t necessarily be in there. Just making it much more kind of physical and dynamic than it would’ve been, I think the main difference is my character Sam Adams is younger than he was in this series. But all the other characters are pretty close to the ages they would’ve been. But I think as with all revolutions around the world, you know, they start with a small group of spirited young men and women and so I think that was the kind of very dynamic element that they wanted to portray in this series. And I think it comes across. I think it’s a sort of really exciting series. And if you’re very interested in the details, you can go look them up. I was listening to folks on paper on the plane on the way over and I would come across the little details, which we did have. The writers are huge fans of history and so they try to sandwich in as many kind of exciting things that people who know the period well would also appreciate. But you know, just got to make it exciting because those people not interested in those little details.
About your character, could you tell us some of the special qualities that Sam Adams has?
I went to Boston and I saw a statue of Sam Adams and on the side of the statue it said “Sam Adams, a statesman, incorruptible and fearless”. And that was a kind of good leaping off for me in terms of how to establish the character. I knew he couldn’t be bribed, very honest in terms of his ideals and he has been seen in the show-ups, that its not possible to bribe him or corrupt him really. And in terms of fearlessness, he might not always approach things in the most subtle of ways. You know, he’s a bit headstrong. But he wasn’t fearful of anyone or anything in terms of working towards what he believed to be right and I think that for me was a very kind of feeling combination of characteristics.
What was tough about playing Sam Adams and how fast did you ease into it?
I think the more you immerse yourself in that world, and they were using incredible sets and we were filming in Romania, so you’re very far away from any sort of home, comfort. You ease in quite quickly because you’re immersing yourself entirely in that world and there’s nothing else to distract you. It’s difficult when you go into a cast that’s all men and your character is supposed to be the leader because you kind of have to make yourself the leader of that band of actors. That sometimes is tricky water to navigate because actors are very sort of material creatures. But in this instance, the other actors were so supportive. We were all very supportive of each other actually and the selling of this story. But just finding that sort of level of reverence to the history and fun as well, just finding the tone and balance, I think is the most important thing when telling a story like this.
With regards to this character that you’re playing, do you feel a personal connection to him?
Only as much as I researched him and when I took on the responsibility of portraying him to millions of people, I think that this was a real man who lived and breathed the same as I do but achieved much greater things than I have. But at the same time, there was this responsibility to try and make him interesting and appealingand bold and all the things that people described him as being. Whether it’s an accurate portrayal I don’t know but I don’t particularly feel the pressure to portray him as he was known. I’m not doing an impression; there are no videos of him or anything like that. So I’m just going to portray him in a positive light.
What are some of the learning lessons that you want people to take back from Sons of Liberty?
I don’t know if I would want people to take lessons away. I don’t think it’s a particularly didactiveseries. I don’t think we really have a particular message in mind. It’s just that we’re telling a story of an exciting version of events of what really happened in order to build a nation. But I think the lesson is just the basic lesson of equality. People can’t be colonized successfully because eventually over the years that would be worn down. People would lose their patience with it. Just about fighting for equality and the idea that you believe to be right and to be fair.It’s a very basic story about equality and fairness and human rights, really. But it’s in an intriguing, violent and political package, which is often the way that these battles are formfitting.
Thanks for the chat, Ben! Also, special thanks to our friends from HISTORY channel for making this interview happen :)
Don’t miss the chance to catch an epic TV event next Monday!
The 3-part “Sons of Liberty” series premieres on HISTORY Astro CH 555 and CH 575, 25th – 27th May (Monday – Wednesday) at 9pm.