The 36-year-old Ben Barnes really made a splash last winter as Jimmy Simpson's sadistic brother-in-law, Logan, on HBO's Westworld. This fall, he sparred alongside Jon Bernthal in Netflix's Marvel series, The Punisher, as Billy Russo.
The British actor is a major force in today's TV landscape and will return for Westworld Season 2 next year. He recently spoke with Collider, dishing about his two big shows and offering some insider snippets about them. Here's a few things we learned:
His lips are sealed:
With these major productions that have major fan followings, there is a universal policy of keeping things under wraps. Plot details, casting decisions, and storytelling twists are just a few of the elements a large-budgeted television show has to prevent from reaching the public before it airs.
For Barnes, being a part of these shows helped him become a better secret keeper. Speaking to Collider, he said, "The truth is that I really struggle with it ‘cause I really want to be able to share things. Half the reason you get into this business is to be able to tell stories and share stories, and I sit there at every social thing that I go to, biting my tongue about everything, all the time."
He went on to say that Westworld's sophomore season is "absolutely wild" and "even more secretive," stating that he doesn't even get full scripts from the showrunners. When it comes to working with Marvel, "they’re just very used to keeping secrets," added Barnes. "They’re very used to that mode of working."
His friends got him hyped for his Punisher role:
"I have a couple of close friends in L.A., who are self-confessed comic book nerds, and they were very, very excited about it. They launched into explaining to me why I should be more excited about it," he said.
However, it was really the fact that he got to put his own unique spin on the character that got him excited. "It’s not that I get to play a character from the Marvel canon. It’s that I get to play a character that we do discover in the Marvel universe, but I get to have a completely fresh, almost original, take on him and I get to have some input into how he’s shaped," said Barnes.
Jon Bernthal's "leadership" skills pushed Barnes as an actor:
Since Bernthal is the lead actor in the show, he is the leader to bring himself, the cast, and crew to the proverbial "Promised Land." Sure, the director is an important guide on that journey, but it's the main thespian who carries everyone on his back. Ruminating on one of his first encounters with Bernthal, Barnes said:
"He’s an incredible leader. He came in for the first read-through of the first episode and shook everybody’s hand. He makes you feel confident that he’s got this ... "He had the advantage of having [played the role] already, and he filled everyone with confidence."
You can't say no to Bernthal:
According to Barnes, Bernthal was not only a driving force for his acting, but he also motivated him in terms of staying in shape.
"For me, physically, he sets the pace," said Barnes. "Sometimes we would shoot some of the flashback scenes very early in the morning or we’d have these long war days, and then we’d wrap at 11 o’clock at night and he’d be like, “Benny Barnes, we’re goin’ to the gym. You comin’, brother?” And there’s no way that you can say no to that man, in that moment. You want to bend over backwards to make him proud."
Playing Billy Russo makes Barnes a tad anxious:
While Westworld is based on a movie from 1973, the show itself is wildly different from Michael Crichton's original vision. It had to be in order to sustain itself as a TV show, so it can get away with going off in all different directions. On the other hand, The Punisher and his related characters are very much steeped in comic book history of the last 43 years. As such, there's a certain expectation on the part of fans who see these heroes and villains in a certain way. If you stray too far from their roots or fan expectations, it's not the end of the world, but you may not be able to call it The Punisher in the strictest sense. Barnes voiced this concern when he said:
"For those comic book fans across the world, there is an expectation of how The Punisher should be and, on some level, there is some expectation of how Billy Russo is going to be, and it’s not what people think it will be. There’s certainly a level of anxiety for me. I really hope they feel that Billy is a worthy companion and antagonist for Frank."