Westworld's Ben Barnes On Doing Love Scenes In The BBC Thriller Gold Digger, And Rumours That He’s Playing The Joker In The New Batman Movie

He plays a "dangerously persuasive" guy in the six-part BBC mini-series.

Love scenes are awkward to film. Ask any actor, and they’ll tell you love scenes are technical, choreographed and incredibly — what’s that word? — unsexy.

For Ben Barnes, he tries to make things less uncomfortable by going out on “actor dates” with the person whom he’ll be shooting intimate moments with. And that’s how he broke the ice with his co-star Julia Ormond on Gold Digger, the six-part thriller, now available on BBC First and BBC Player.

On the mini-series, Barnes, 38, plays Benjamin, a thirtysomething copywriter who weasels his way into the life of 60-year-old divorcee Julia (Ormond), much to the chagrin of her grown-up children who suspects their mother’s mysterious new boyfriend is after her wealth, not her heart.

 “We actually met on the plane on the way over from California to England together,” says Barnes, 38, who only knew the Emmy-winning actress then from Legends of the Fall, Sabrina, and Mad Men.

“When we were filming in the countryside, we hired a little car which drove us to a little country club and where we would have dinner and get to know each other,” he tells 8days.sg over the phone from Los Angeles where the British actor now lives.

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Ben there, done that: On Gold Diggers, Ben Barnes shares the same name as his alter-ego. Does anyone called Barnes Benjamin? "As a kid, if I was in trouble, if I did something bad, I would hear my mother screaming, "Benjamin, Benjamin!" But everybody calls me Ben or Benny, not Benjamin."   

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian star adds, “It’s really important that we trust each other and look after each other when you are filming intimate scenes, not just the sex scenes, but also the emotional ones where you are screaming at each other or crying with each other. It’s important that you feel safe and you make the other actor feel safe as well, make them feel like they are being looked after, so nothing bad will happen if they try different things.”

To prepare for his role, Barnes listened to Dirty John, a true-crime podcast about a younger con man who romances an older businesswoman and infiltrates her family. He would also conduct some field research. “[While I was in England,] I would sit on a train and just say hi to people who were a bit older, just to be open and engaging and see how they react.”

Barnes is no stranger to playing someone as “dangerously persuasive” as Benjamin, having done similar characters on Westworld (as douchebag executive Logan Delos) and Marvel’s The Punisher (as sociopathic mercenary Billy Russo).

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” says Barnes of his recent walk-on-the-dark-side roles. “After 10 years of playing earnest characters who are trying to find their way to being a hero, I suddenly find myself playing all these characters who are slightly untrustworthy but charming enough to convince people otherwise. It’s a strange turn my career took which I didn’t really expect.”

These shady parts allow Barnes to explore the duality of man. “If a character seems a bit slimy on the page, I try to make him a bit sweet and vulnerable. If the character seems violent, I want to make him a little bit gentle. If the character seems weak or soft on the page, I kind of look at the grit and backbone in him somewhere. Because it’s always interesting to see the opposite of how somebody seems and how you expect them to be in any given moment. I am always thinking about that kind of dynamics.”

ben barnes punisher westworld
Love the sinner:  Barnes as Billy Russo on 'Marvel's The Punisher' and Logan Delos on 'Westworld, both unsavoury characters. "When you're playing a character, you have to defend him to a hilt," says Barnes. "As far as I'm concerned, Logan was abused by his father and unloved and that was the way he turned out. Billy Russo was literally sexually abused as a child and abandoned by his drug addict mother and he suffered a brain injury. I feel like you are always protecting your character. Even if they are villainous and unforgivable, you find a way to interpret them by sympathising them."
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And what does he make of the rumours that he’s being eyed to play the Joker in the Robert Pattinson-starring The Batman?

Rumours, schmours.

Barnes says, “To be honest, sometimes when I hear things like that and I would go, ‘Oh, that would be ridiculous, I don’t think I would be good for that character, I can think of so many people who are better in that role. Then sometimes when I hear them, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea, wonder if it’s true that they are thinking of me?’ I’ll ask my manager, ‘Is that a character they would see me for?’ Or ‘Have they been talking to you?’ It’s funny how the world of Twitter moves faster than you.”  

One rumour did come true, though. About seven years ago, Barnes had heard that author Leigh Bardugo wanted him for a key role in the live-action adaptation of her fantasy book trilogy Shadow and Bone. It was all talk until recently he was cast in the Netflix-produced version, currently in post-production.

Set in a 19th century Russia-inspired country mired in chaos, Shadow and Bone follows a young girl with magical powers battling forces of darkness. Is there anything else Barnes can reveal about it? “I’ve seen half an hour of the show and it looks absolutely beautiful and the characters are really compelling and fun. It’s a family show as well. I think it’s a show I’ll 100 per cent watch if I wasn’t in it.”

Right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Barnes is holed up at home, waiting for the quarantine order to be lifted. “I try to get myself a schedule,” says Barnes. “While I was shooting Shadow and Bone, I had a pile of books that I haven’t been able to read; because I was always reading scripts, it’s nice to read some books finally.

“I also get to practice my piano and learn how to play different songs. Sometimes I put them on my Instagram if I am feeling brave. Because I have been away so much in the last few years that it’s nice to pretend to be a DIY guy doing some projects around the house — fixing light sockets and locks, painting the rooms — so that I feel like I am achieving something.”

All episodes of Gold Digger are available on BBC First (StarHub Channel 502) and  BBC Player.

Photos: BBC Entertainment, TPG News/Click Photos

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