RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB. English actor Ben Barnes chats with DA MAN about his upcoming appearance in Marvel’s “The Punisher” and the vision behind hit TV series “Westworld”
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For English actor Ben Barnes, life in Hollywood started off like a fairy tale. Almost literally, that is, as his big screen debut was in 2007’s “Stardust.” He then went on to become a household name when he played the titular Prince (and later King) Caspian X in the second and third “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies. These days, however, his success has been on TV, with major roles in hit series “Westworld” and the upcoming “Marvel’s The Punisher” where he plays opposite Jon Berthal in what is perhaps the darkest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Naturally, he has quite a few tales to tell about his new show, and the journey that got him there.
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DA MAN: Hi, Ben. Great to have you with us. Obviously, a lot of us are excited for “Punisher” which will come out later this year. How are you feeling as we inch ever closer to the show’s premiere?
Ben Barnes: I’m excited to share what we’ve made with everyone. More than anything I’ve worked on, with this property, I’m extremely aware of the passionate fan base. I see Punisher tattoos and T-shirts and hats and stickers on vans everywhere I go now and I really hope the show lives up to their expectations.
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DA MAN: You’ve been in the industry for a long time. Still, was there anything about working on a Marvel show that managed to surprise you?
Ben Barnes: I was really pleased at the grounded, tough approach to the material. Our show is about men suffering tragedy and trauma; it’s about a very real topic set in a world of superheroes—but no character in our show has superpowers and that makes it feel unique in this universe.
“Finding a way to be proud of the finished product is a more important goal than accolades”
DA MAN: Lately, the public sees being on a superhero movie or TV show as a major milestone, seal of approval and career-enhancing move all rolled into one. In your opinion, is it?
Ben Barnes: I don’t think so. I love watching all kinds of films including blockbusters. And it’s a nice badge to be included in the universe we know so well, certainly. All actors imagine if they were a superhero or villain, which one would it be? In my case, it’s not one I ever thought of but it’s nice to be able to define one without too many expectations of how he should be!
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DA MAN: On a more personal note, what would you say is the best part of being on “Punisher”?
Ben Barnes: Jon Bernthal is one huge positive. His grace and leadership and humor and the way he challenges you. He’s definitive in the role of Frank Castle.
DA MAN: How about the most challenging? Or should we say, the most punishing?
Ben Barnes: Ha! It was a great challenge to find a character to appear opposite the Punisher. When a character is compelling and violent and charismatic like that, the challenge is to find the qualities that will balance him out or complement him. It was also pretty physically grueling in the action sequences—a lot of very cold night shoots in Brooklyn, New York. I always had some injury or other during the course of the season.
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DA MAN: We’re also looking forward to the return of “Westworld” next year. Is there anything you can tell us about what to expect in the show’s second season?
Ben Barnes: I wish I knew anything. But if I did, I wouldn’t tell you!
DA MAN: “Westworld” is both a critical and commercial success. Today, over half a year after the first season’s finale, what do you think was the key to this success story?
Ben Barnes: I think the showrunners’ vision is everything. The source material from Michael Crichton is a great launching point but the way Jonah and Lisa [series’ creator Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Hay] have crafted every aspect of the show from design to cast to music to the compelling twists and turns is astounding. They’re really special talents and I can’t say enough good things about both of them.
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DA MAN: Looking back at “Westworld,” at your time on the set of “Punisher” or at any of your past performances, which roles would you say have been complete game changers for your career? And why?
Ben Barnes: I think “The Chronicles of Narnia” certainly took me from obscurity and gave me the opportunity to make a career out of acting. “Westworld” has given me the confidence that I can be involved with the most creative people in entertainment and I’m very proud of the film “Jackie and Ryan,” personally. I just really like that film and I think finding a way to be proud of the finished product is a more important goal than accolades and often elusive.
“Luckily, I can pretend [watching TV] is research every time I’m on my sofa”
DA MAN: And now for something completely different: About a couple of years ago, we started noticing the rise of English actors in Hollywood—the so-called “British invasion,” if you will. What is it like today for an English actor working in the U.S. film industry?
Ben Barnes: I think trends and momentum can influence certain casting choices, but in general I like to hope—or maybe pretend—that the best man or woman will prevail and get the job. But, there is disappointment and elation whatever level you’re at.
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DA MAN: Still about being an actor in today’s movie industry: How much of an impact does having an active social media presence have on your career?
Ben Barnes: Again, I’m sure it can, but I only use it as a tool to share something of myself with those who have supported me and watch my shows and films—and plays when I do them. And to hear from them too. It’s the perfect forum for that and I’ve had such unbelievably loyal support; in some cases for many years, but now I can have some insight into their thoughts on what I’m up to.
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DA MAN: All things considered, are you happy with where you are now?
Ben Barnes: Very; I’m excited for what’s next.
DA MAN: What would be the next milestone that you’re hoping to achieve?
Ben Barnes: I don’t really see milestones, career-wise. I would love to continue to find interesting projects to devote myself to.
DA MAN: By the way, do you have anything in the works right now? New movies or TV series?
Ben Barnes: I do have a show and possibly another project in the works, but I don’t want to jinx them!
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DA MAN: Outside of work, what else are you passionate about? What do you usually do when you can set aside a bit of “me time”?
Ben Barnes: I love stories, film and TV shows. Luckily, I can pretend its research every time I’m on my sofa. I’m very passionate about theater and comedy and live music. I love tennis, playing and watching it. I’m very lucky with friends, friends who like to cook and play games or go on adventures so I play catch up with all that stuff when I’m not working!
DA MAN: Looking at, say, your Twitter feed, you’re sometimes quite vocal about current affairs and activism. Are there any particular causes that you support or are involved in?
Ben Barnes: I can’t help myself but get involved when the world seems to spin into disarray and you don’t feel any control or that your voice counts. So, any way I can help voice the concerns of those who don’t feel they have a platform. There are causes that we should all be aware of and support and push all the time in terms of equality for race and gender and others that are more personal to me, like the Make-A-Wish foundation and so on.
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DA MAN: How do you deal with the pressure and public attention that comes with your celebrity status? Especially as you take on increasingly memorable roles…
Ben Barnes: I have found any newfound public attention from “Westworld” to be very positive. I think Logan is a character certain guys respond to and they are happy to shout at me on the streets of New York about what a dick I am—which I’m taking as a compliment, whether they meant it that way or not!
DA MAN: Final question: What is your number one secret to being happy?
Ben Barnes: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I know it’s a dick move to quote Shakespeare in an interview, but my dad always quoted this to me and I think authenticity in your personal life is the key to not carrying the poison in the world around with you.
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