Prince Caspian speaks!

We sit down with Ben Barnes...

We might not be the biggest fans of the first Narnia flick, but we have high hopes for Prince Caspian - not least because its titular star is a thoroughly charming young man. Opening our encounter with a smile and a gambit: "There’s a competition for who can ask me the most questions about horses." Sadly, we didn't have any equine questions, but, as it turned out, Barnes was relieved...

We can talk about horses if you want…
No! No! I don’t know anything about them!

Have you seen the finished film?
I’ve seen obviously the trailer and the first ten minutes and I’ve seen a little bit more than that having done ADR, the voice looping, but little tiny bits. Honestly, they asked me if I wanted to see it as it was but I said that I wanted to see it finished because I want to be as excited as anyone else. I’m a Narnia fan, I read the books when I was eight and watched the TV series and since I’ve been so heavily involved in it I don’t want to see it and have it not completely fulfil my expectations because it was such an amazing experience doing it, went to all these amazing places, to have it then not be completed… I just want to be blown away like everyone else and I know I will be.

In which case, are there any moments you’re particularly excited to see?
I’m very keen to see the scenes with Reepicheep, because that was very testing for me. It was the only real scenario where I had to fake everything because everything else they did for me – they built a castle on the backlot, they had an actor in a green suit playing a badger, with a little tray doing little movement and you have someone to relate to, the centaurs spend a few hours in make-up so they really look like centaurs and they’re on power-risers so it looks great and the fighting is very physical, you really get stuck into it. So everything is real – you go to these amazing places where everything looks CGIed, with a river, a beach, trees, a snow-capped mountain and a sunset… I thought it looked like CGI when I was there. But Reepicheep I’m keen to see because that was literally a wire with an orange dot on the top with someone shouting off from the side. I’m keen to see how that pans out. But all of it! I’m excited to see how all of it looks.

You got a taste of working on a big budget flick with Stardust…
Yeah, I was only on that the odd day here or there, so it was really just a taster. But I got my first little taste of CGI and being around a crew of that size and being the focus of attention even if just for a short while. It was an invaluable experience on that actually, and I really enjoyed doing it.

Are there differences between the movie and book?
Yeah. In the book Caspian is evidently a lot younger than me, and blonde. It says he’s got blonde, curly hair. But it also says his race is descended from Pacific islanders and pirates so why you’d have a blond kid from that I’m not quite sure, so they went down that route and decided to make him kind of European and swarthy and piratey, so that is necessarily different. I think also because there was a good period of a few years between making the first and second, the kids have obviously grown up. William Moseley is now 21, and the thing the book says about Caspian’s age is that he’s about the same age as Peter and because of the tension we’ve built into the story between those two characters it’s important they were about the same age. I’m 26, but on screen me and Will look of similar ages.

So that’s obviously different and the characters are that bit older and I think that obviously the main difference in the stories is that in the second one the magic has been drained from the land of Narnia. There’s a human who’s driven by his lust for power and ambition who’s usurped the thrown and become a dictator and he’s a human villain which is more scary than a magic one in that you’re turning people to stone, you’re killing them. And he’s trying to repress the Narnia race which was flourishing to an extent in the first one, there are fewer cute beavery type creatures, Mister Tumnuses and things. You do have Reepicheep but even he’s quite viscious. That’s the main difference between the films, and obviously there are other little necessary changes – the action really does fuel the drama in this second film, more so film than book but the film is a different type of story: the first was a Christmas fairytale, this one is a summer blockbuster. There are no changes that jar with me as a childhood fan of the books so hopefully they won’t jar with too many other people.

Dawntreader…
Caspian is old after that – he’s only young in two, but I will absolutely be playing him in Dawntreader. That was the other thing about the age thing, it’s much easier for an audience to accept a 26-year-old as a king than and a ruler of a land and a captain of a ship because more time passes between the second and the third in Narnia than it does it in the real world, so it’s much easier to age me than to have some 14-year-old trying to play a king in the next one. It was easier for me to play younger in the first one. In Dawntreader I’ll be more my own age. It’s gonna be great, but he’s still actually, even in Dawntreader, he’s not a confident a character. He’s very cut up by his lack of family around him and that fact he’s been thrown into this leadership role that he’s very uncomfortable with, he doesn’t feel he deserves it, which I think is quite an interesting thing for a “hero”.

Kids in battle in LW&W…
That’s the thing – in the story they do come and get given their weapons by Santa Claus and they’re suddenly wielding them like heroes. Caspian is much more easy to believe because he’s been brought up in this royal household. He’s been trained by the Captain of the Guards or whatever, he’s a prince so he’s been taught to ride and fence and all this stuff, so from that point of view that’s much more believable.

Is there less religious imagery?
Yes. Not so much in this film… I studied literature as part of my University course so I revisited this book there and looked at the moral didactism of children’s literatue through the ages and the relative success of all of those. I think it’s important to have decent moral message for books aimed at children, but having said that I would include His Dark Materials on that list because I do think they have decent moral messages despite the fact that Pullman’s much more ambivalent about the role of religion and the church. I think spoonfeeding is very dangerous. They’re not as strong in allegory, the Narnia books, as people think they are. The first one certainly has some overt imagery but having said that if you’re reading them as a child you don’t get it. That’s for adults, that’s what Lewis wanted to write. I mean CS Lewis was an atheist himself until JRR Tolkien convinced him otherwise.

The message is more of a story about faith, but not necessarily religious faith. It’s about having faith in yourself, faith in the people around you, faith in the world that you live in. The language of those stories was much stronger when they were written in terms of… if the trees came to save you that represents nature, which is why Tolkien and Lewis both had in the Two Towers and Caspian, the trees save the day in the battle and I think people now might watch and go “Oh, he’s just copied Lord of the Rings”. But it’s simply that was not how it worked. But it has a message of belief, belief in your self. At the very end, Aslan tells the Kings and Queens of Narnia to rise and the four Pevensys get up and I stay on my knee and says “you as well” and I say “well, I don’t think I’m ready for this.” It’s about self belief, trust, faith and all that. Oh and killing all bad people. That’s what it’s really about.

The book is Caspian’s – is this his film?
Not as much as the poster would lead you to believe! (laughs) Obviously people who loved the first film will be keen to see what happened to those characters first and foremost. So we show exactly what’s happened and then there’s an exciting introduction to the new characters and hopefully it will all mix together well. But I was in LA last week and saw the billboard of just me and I thought how there was a thousand people who’ve made this film and it’s so ridiculous that it’s just me on that poster. It’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time. It’s awesome in the traditional sense of the word, not the LA sense of the word. It makes me full of awe.

Has it been good having Easy Virtue immediately after…?
I didn’t when I was doing Caspian. I got back and Stephan Eliot saw Stardust and liked my character in that, which was actually quite a complement. But it’s so useful to be doing something different, because people always ask “Whaddaya doin’ next?” and it’s great to be able to say anything and even better to be able to say something different. A Noel Coward comedy is pretty different. And I’ve been so lucky in terms of working on projects by great British authors – Alan Bennett, CS Lewis, Noel Coward. Long may it continue.

And working with Jessica Biel as a side point…
A side point but a very important one, I feel. She’s a wonder, I’ve got to admit that.

What do you want people to take away from Caspian?
I think that the effects and the action will be mind blowing regardless because they’ve proven that in the first one. I hope that this one, from my point of view, they come away with a sense of really caring about what happens to the character and the fact that people really feel like they’ve been taken on a journey and convinced to side with Caspian and aid him in his plight whilst they’re watching it. If they see him as a kind of everyman then I’ve done my job. And now I’ve set myself a challenge that I can only fail. That would be the biggest complement that someone could give me to say “I was really upset when that happened.” I just want him to be someone they could relate to. Obviously not relate to in terms of being a prince who was chased by own people and had to rally with fantasy creatures to fight against, but in terms of just being to relate to him as a human being would just be a great complement.