By John Lichman | The Playlist January 27, 2012 at 3:15PM
Depending on your point of view, in “The Words,” Ben Barnes is either a much younger Jeremy Irons, or Jeremy Irons is what Ben Barnes will become over time. The British actor that's captured the hearts of C.S. Lewis fans as Prince Caspian throughout the 'Narnia' series plays one of three central characters in the closing night film of the Sundance Film Festival. He pairs up with Nora Arnezeder playing a couple in one strain of the multi-level plot of the film (that had many tossing around comparisons to "Inception"), which also stars Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saladana and Olivia Wilde in the story of a writer who achieves success after passing off another author's work as his own.
The Playlist caught up with Barnes in Park City to talk about "The Words" and he revealed he was initailly told to pass on the script. We also chatted with him about "The Chronicles Of Narnia" and his upcoming role in “The Seventh Son” opposite Jeff Bridges.
Well, I got an email from my former agent saying, “Interesting script, your character hardly speaks though. It's a pass. Don't do it.” I read the script, it's utterly brilliant and they're totally misguided.
Was that why he was your former agent?
Not directly because of that. That kind of stuff changes daily for actors. I just didn't want my current agent to read this and go, "We never said that!" I read [the script] and the character doesn't speak very much, I thought how fascinating is that, particularly in a film called "The Words." And yet I feel something for this character and I don't know how he speaks yet. I thought it was fascinating how the characters engage with each other and mirror each other. There's moral ambiguity as to which characters are real, which are not. Taking ownership of your mistakes. It raised a lot of interesting themes. As an audience you're judging these characters on your mistakes and I think that's interesting, that's what sparked my intrigue.
Does the moral ambiguity of the character affect your portrayal?
I think it absolutely shouldn't in any way, in any scenario. I played in another film and there was an actor playing a character who was fictional and he was worried the whole time over would he say this since he wasn't real. You can't worry about that. You have to play every moment in a film as if it's absolutely real and you believe completely in any given scenarios that you are a real person regardless to what you may turn out to be. I don't think it particularly affected my performance. The only thing that did was knowing I'd be playing a younger version of an older man. Jeremy [Irons] had thought he'd play both and I had assumed I'd be made up to look older. Obviously we realized that wasn't possible. The day before we started shooting, [directors] Brian [Klugman] and Lee [Sternthal] showed me a five minute close-up take from the week before--just on his face. It was magical. I know in the film it cuts away, but it's really engaging. I remember the way he closed his hand when trying to remember something, so I knew I'd steal little things like that from him.
How is it as the younger Jeremy Irons?
That's the thing, when you play younger characters they're always less casual. You're hungrier or more naive. Those things wane in time.
Is that something you took into the montage of writing the novel, banging away on the typewriter and moving around the room?
I did actually make Brian read some of Jeremy's lines while I was doing that. Some shots of Bradley typing on the laptop, when he finishes typing copy he sits back in this semi-orgasmic sort of way. I wanted to do something similar but different, so when I finished I was more drained from it, incapable of thinking anything else. It's nice those little tiny mirrors flow through the film. I would definitely refer to the text of the story that overlapped. I always wondered that when I was younger and saw films with voice-overs—how they did that. Were the actors on screen talking while whoever was talking over them?
My character [“Prince Caspian”] doesn't feature in the later books, so it it's a non-starter for me. He is in “The Silver Chair” as an old man, so he could be played by Jeremy Irons. Hey! That's not a bad idea. But I don't think I'll be hugely involved. I don't even know if they're doing them anymore.
There was rumor that they'd stop production on the other books, despite the initial plan.
Yeah, but I don't know if there was any intention. The BBC, in 1987, did exactly the same thing: “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” “Prince Caspain” and “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” It's a whole new set of characters...and it doesn't work chronologically so it's not fair to an audience.
You're working with Jeff Bridges on “The Seventh Son.” Can you describe that at all?
I haven't started. It starts in March. We're making all the decisions about the sets, costumes and all that. It's based on these young adult novels, the Spook series, they're fantastic books but they've decided to make something new from the book. Jeff plays a grumpy old Spook, which is essentially a fighter of the dark side and witches, goblins and evil creatures. I'm sure it's going to be PG-13. I'm his apprentice; he has an apprentice that dies horribly and I'm the new one. In order to be one, you have to be the seventh son of a seventh son, which I, luckily—for the plot—am.