Prince Caspian's 'Inner Humility'
Actor Ben Barnes shares the strengths and weaknesses that define his character in the latest 'Narnia' movie.
Continued from page 0Sitting down with Ben Barnes, it doesn't take long to notice his charisma and magnetic personality. He is enthusiastic and easy-going, full of charm fit for a prince, which is appropriate considering his first major Hollywood role is as the title character in "Prince Caspian," the "Narnia" sequel to C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Having acted mostly on the British stage, it was his role in "The History Boys" that caught the eye of "Narnia's" casting director. As Prince Caspian, Barnes will also star in future "Narnia" movies such as "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."
Describe your earliest "Narnia" memory.
I found my copy [of the book] when I got the part, and I definitely read [the books] when I was eight. I remember reading a chapter to my dad. As kind of a reward, my dad would read the next chapter back to me, so I’d get a bit more of the story, but he would also do silly voices. And then we’d sit down and watch an episode of the TV series, and I just remember it being completely magical at the time. I remember just being totally fascinated by the stories, by the imagination in them.
Since you were mesmerized as a child by "Narnia," why do you think Prince Caspian is mesmerized by Old Narnia? What is it about the Old World that really grabs him?
I think this is evident in the film. He's really the only young Telmarine that you see, because he's been brought up in this household. He's an orphan. He hasn’t been able to engage with loving parents.
The closest thing he's got to a father is his professor, and he hasn't had people to tell him bedtime stories, and he hasn't had people to engage with him on any level. He hasn't had the childhood that he's craved. In our [movie] version, he's in his adolescence. He's starting to ask questions about things, and he's kind of craving his lost childhood and the escapism of that. He desperately does want something to believe in beyond the prison that is the castle.
What do you think is the core message of "Prince Caspian," or the "Narnia" series in general?
I think "Caspian" is probably one of the least didactic of all of them. Certainly, there are messages about having faith in something that’s greater than yourself; having that kind of blind faith and trust. It's about having belief in yourself and the people around you, and possibly something beyond that.
What I like about "Prince Caspian" is it's really not spoon-feeding. [The messages are] there if you choose to see it, as is the dictatorship qualities of King Miraz in his power lust and his wanting to further his own race at the expense of all others. I think the historical context of that is undeniable. In the film, the [Telmarine] design [has] eagle heads and things that are slightly reminiscent of a sort of Nazi regime, but not quite enough to be forcing it down your throat.
How would you describe your perfect Narnia?
Actually, I think Narnia represents--by the fact that Susan and Peter are not allowed to come back--childhood and the beginnings of adolescence. Your kind of escape as well.
For me Narnia was Transformers and He-Man and all that kind of stuff. So, it usually is that kind of fantasy world with swords.
What are Prince Caspian's strengths and weaknesses?
He's mostly got weaknesses, I think. His inner humility is actually something that works in his favor. Obviously, on the outside, he puts a brave face on and he is kind of pleased with himself. He's not really a natural born leader. Peter sort of throws that fact back in his face a bit. He needs to learn all these things as he goes through [them].
In the movie, what do you think the White Witch is saying to Caspian in the scene where his hand is outstretched? Why do you think it's so compelling for him to reach out?
[Caspian] is not entirely convinced that the White Witch is a bad idea. He wasn't around for the White Witch's early reign. She's come out of ice, and Caspian's in a trance. She's very seductive. He's entirely mesmerized by her, and she represents some sort of way forward for him.
In Shakespeare there is a term, "harmatia" which is the fatal flaw of the character. Like Macbeth, "harmatia" is his ambition. He's so ambitious that it becomes his ruin.
Caspian doesn't believe in himself, and she's saying, "Come." She's the first person who, instead of saying like Peter, "No, we need to do this," she's saying, "Come." She's ethereal and maternal. She's almost showing him the way forward.
What do you think is the moment that defines him in the movie?
I think there's a couple. I think there's the moment on the ledge, after he's made the mistake of trying to summon the White Witch. He's sitting on the cliff, and his professor comes out and talks to him and says, "You have to understand that yes, you're a Telmarine, but you do believe in these things. And you have to trust in other people and believe in yourself as well." I think that's a real turning point for him.
Then, at the end, [when] he says, "I don't think I'm ready for this," and Aslan says, "It's for that reason that I know you are." That definitely sums him up.