Ben recently opened up to InStyle about the special gift that his mother gave him when he won the role of ‘Prince Caspian’, what he misses most about his time on ‘Westworld’, and how ‘Shadow and Bone’ has challenged him as an actor. You can read the article after the cut, watch a video interview with Ben here, and view the photoshoot in our gallery.
011 x Photoshoots > Sessions > Set 057
Ben Barnes is a “big fan” of the black heart emoji, but look, that’s no surprise. He is, after all, the steely eyed actor whose famous on-screen villains have hearts even harder than their die-cast abs. Ben Barnes is also a warm-throated singer whose recent Spotify singles are jazzy bops about true love.
“I don’t see them as conflicting things,” he says. “Love and fear and power: they’re all just different aspects of the human condition. It’s literally my job to explore them. But yeah, when I get home from work, sometimes I’m just really tired.”
The exhaustion is understandable. Barnes’s accidental specialty is playing really broken people and doing it so well that audiences hold their breath while he broods. There was Billy Russo (aka Jigsaw), the slash-jawed Marvel baddie from The Punisher; and Logan Delos, the calculating Westworld heir with seemingly less humanity than the show’s actual androids. Barnes’s current project, Shadow and Bone, has him playing General Kirigan, a gloomster in black leather whose goal is to plunge the world into darkness.
“It’s really fun to play this really powerful guy who’s got the highest status in the room. He’s dealing with all these inner demons — I mean, he’s an actual monster — but he also knows how to use charm as a weapon and manipulate people so skillfully. He’s so slick! But you should know,” he laughs. “That is 100% not me!”
As Barnes tells it, this is 100% him: Born in Cambridge, England, to a psychiatrist and a psychologist, the 41-year-old grew up performing with the National Youth Music Theater, which led to professional theater roles in London — but not at the expense of his education. He attended Kingston University (fun fact: So did Eric Clapton) and scored an academic prize for English Literature, based partly on a Harry Potter essay about “modes of masculinity and the nature of a quest” in fantasy stories — a topic eerily relevant to the “toxic masculinity” that chokes his Shadow and Bone villain.
Barnes then worked on a jazz album with American Idol creator and writer Simon Fuller and joined a boy band called Hyrise (“Briefly!” he emphasizes) before screen-testing for the role of Edward Cullen in Twilight and winning the role of Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia movies. And thus, a British heartthrob was born — albeit one who analyzes his characters with the precision of both a lit major and a psychoanalytic nepo baby.
“I’ve always wanted to be like [my parents] in lots of ways,” Barnes explains. “My mom is particularly interested in people and their quirks, their problems, their fights, and their vulnerabilities … She’s one of those people [who] you share everything with, and I think that I’m one of those people in some ways, too.”
He describes a piece of his artistic process as “weaponized empathy — the ability to have compassion for most anybody by stepping into their shoes,” even the slew of characters he’s played that are capable of great evil.
“You can definitely get lost in that journey,” he admits, but the trade-off is worth it. “I can learn to be even more empathetic because I’ve spent so much of the day wearing other people’s problems and other people’s dreams, you know?”
Of course, lugging the weight of someone’s troubled world — not to mention the CrossFit-level endurance of wearing 50 pounds of armor across a film set for months — can be hard to shake, even for a trained actor with the discipline that comes with an intense theater background.
“I’ve come up with a kind of reward system for myself,” he says, “Where it’s like, ‘OK, if I can get through this workout or this paperwork or whatever, when I’m home, I get to sit down and watch reality TV.”
In that sense, stars really are just like us … or Barnes is, anyway. “I fully bribe myself with television and snacks … I tried Love Is Blind, but I dropped it after the first season. Right now, it’s these British reality shows called The Traitor, which is so good, and one called Race Across the World … and I found these very, very tiny cookies that I really like. I know there’s a bag of them somewhere in the house, but I haven’t been eating very healthily these past few months, so I’m trying to be really, really healthy starting this week. So I’m going to … I don’t know … reward myself by not eating those cookies, even though they’re really good?” he laughs. “I’m gonna go and work on trying to write some new music with a friend of mine instead. How about that? That’s a real reward.”
As for what’s next for Barnes? A romantic comedy isn’t totally out of the question. “When Harry Met Sally is my favorite movie of all time,” he says. “But it’s so perfect that they shouldn’t ever remake it. If they make Notting Hill though, I’m so in. I’ll take Hugh Grant’s role … and then Julia Roberts can stay in the Julia Roberts role. Please.”
Read on to find out why Barnes’s favorite Hollywood Chris isn’t a Chris at all and how his mixtape picks are firmly rooted in the ’00s.
What’s your favorite bagel?
What’s the flat one, poppy seeds or sesame seeds? I like the flat ones [sesame seeds] and definitely toasted and piping hot, please. Did I sound like Nigella Lawson there?
What’s on your high school mixtape?
A lot of The Beatles, a lot of Stevie Wonder, Boyz II Men, and a lot of Mariah Carey.
Is there an outfit you regret wearing?
In [Hylife], we wore a lot of denim-on-denim and a lot of hoodies, big jackets … you can Google it!
Who is your favorite Hollywood Chris?
Let’s see … there’s Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Chris Pine … I think my favorite Hollywood Chris is Paul Rudd.
What celebrity do people confuse you for?
20 years ago, people were like, “Oh, so you’re trying to be Keanu Reeves, Johnny Depp, [or] Orlando Bloom.” I was like, “Because … I have sort of slightly floppy dark hair?” And that was the extent of the comparison!
What’s your favorite pickup line?
I think, in general, I only endorse pickup lines for comedy purposes. If you’re extraordinarily charming, you can do the bait-and-switch ones, where if you act it with enough commitment, they’re genuinely hysterical. Like, “Are you tired? Because you’ve been running through my mind” But I cannot do those!
I swear … I did see someone once get ice from this bucket and smash it on the bar with their hand and then say, “Right, now the ice is broken.” I thought that was quite bold! But I couldn’t do it!
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