Ben Barnes Crowned Prince Caspian

Starring in the scarier Narnia sequel, actor faces imminent stardom.

January 8, 2009, 1:15 AM

May 15, 2008— -- For Ben Barnes, the remaining days of anonymity are now few: He probably has just two left.

Last week The New York Times declared him "an unknown actor, on the brink of certain global fame."

This Friday when "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" opens in theaters around the world, his life is sure to change, and even he says the anticipation is "palpable."

"It's a very surreal position for me to be in, with my face plastered on every building site in New York and every bus stop in L.A. ... It's very, very strange," the 26-year-old British actor told "Popcorn With Peter Travers" on ABC News Now.

Barnes, a life-long actor and musician, says he got the call to star in Disney's $200 million Narnia sequel at 4 a.m., sending him running around the house screaming with excitement.

"Not only has your dream of playing the lead in a Hollywood film come true, but also for it to be books you read when you were 8 years old and that you remember conjuring this magical utopia for yourself, now to be a part of creating that for the next generation is a privilege and a treat," he said.

Before this, his closest brush with fame came from a stint in a British boy band that Barnes says he completely regrets but can still be seen on YouTube.

To read Peter Travers' Rolling Stone Review of "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian", click here.

Three years after "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the four Pevensie children from the C.S. Lewis series have returned to Narnia to help Prince Caspian (Barnes), the rightful heir to the throne, in his struggle against his evil uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto).

"The villain of this movie is human. He's fueled by very, very human emotions of ambition and lust for power," said Barnes, who described the sequel as "much more human ... darker and scarier than the first movie."

One thousand years have passed in Narnia time since the end of the last story. After having a son of his own, King Miraz no longer had use for Prince Caspian and drove him from the castle. The prince is then forced to rally the magical creatures that make up the Narnians. An epic struggle ensues, leading to what Barnes calls "the pinnacle of the emotional story" when Peter and Miraz duel.

"There are a lot of shenanigans on a set when you have people who are half-horse," Barnes joked.

He says he had just "a week or two of Narnina bootcamp," which included "horse riding, sword fighting and dialect training" to prepare for seven months of filming on location from New Zealand to Europe.

"They take us to these unbelievable locations which look CGI, even when you're there with rivers and pebble beaches and fern forests and snow-capped mountains and a sunset beyond that, and you're standing there thinking 'I am the luckiest man on the planet,'" he said.

Barnes also said he was surprised by how little "green screen" was actually used in the fantasy film. For characters like Trufflebadger (Ken Stott) he explained that an actress dressed in all-green would crouch and move around the set like a badger, "so you have someone's eyes to look into."

"The tough part is when you literally have to have a conversation with an orange dot and someone's feeding you the lines from 10 yards away," Barnes said, referring to the challenges of acting alongside Reepicheep the field mouse (the voice of Eddie Izzard).

Though he expected it might be difficult to be a newcomer joining an established cast from the first film, he says he couldn't believe how much on-set life was actually like a Disney movie.

"I remember my first walking into the production office and they were playing table tennis with each other, and sharing a bucket of ice cream. ... It was a lovely environment," he said.

The only thing he could remember being frustrated by was trying to get the horses to stand still while he delivered his lines.

Barnes grew up in a family of doctors in London, studying theater and music throughout his childhood.

He said the only thing he lied about to get the part was being able to ride a horse, and he recalled phoning his mom afterward and asking if in fact he had ever been riding. He joked that he was relieved when she produced a photo of him on Shetland pony at age 6.

Looking back, he said the movies that inspired him most included "everything from 'The Sting' and 'Some Like It Hot' through to 'The Shawhsank Redemption' and 'Spinal Tap' and 'American History X.'"

Though he had made it onto the cast of the U.K. production of the hit play "The History Boys," when the Narnia casting agent found him, he was still relatively unknown.

His once-forgotten teenage stint with the boy band HyRise is now creeping back onto the horizon amid Barnes' press blitz for Prince Caspian, to his dismay.

"My first job was playing the drums in a West End production of 'Bugsy Malone.' ... I was moonlighting as a jazz drummer when I was 16, singing Stevie Wonder at graduations, and we had this one song and now there's no escape. Everyone has a skeleton and that's mine," Barnes said, still managing a smile.

On track to superstardom, he's eager to downplay his role in HyRise to protect his new image, but he says he'll never be a diva and doesn't even feel entitled to be picky about projects yet.

"I'm not in that place yet," he said. "I would like to work with whoever would like to have me."

With a merchandising juggernaut like Disney now promoting his face, Barnes does seem to still have his feet grounded but admits he was "a little disappointed" when he saw the action figure of himself.

"Based on what I did with my Transformers and He-Mans at that age, I'm probably better off. It would be terrifying seeing a kid chewing on the head of a toy with your likeness," Barnes joked.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is produced by the Walt Disney Company, parent company of ABC.

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