IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ben Barnes Talks 'By the Gun' and 'Seventh Son'

Sunday, 14 December 2014 22:48 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ben Barnes Talks 'By the Gun' and 'Seventh Son'

Opening in theaters, OnDemand and iTunes December 5th is the new Boston-set crime drama By the Gun, which was directed by James Mottern (Trucker) and stars Ben Barnes.

Barnes is best known for playing Prince Caspian in the last two installments of The Chronicles of Narnia trilogy, as well as appearing in such films as Stardust, Killing Bono, The Words, and The Big Wedding. Barnes will soon be seen opposite Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges in the highly anticipated adventure fantasy Seventh Son, which will be released in theaters on February 6th, 2015.

By the Gun stars Barnes as Nick Tortano, a young and ambitious Boston mafia criminal whose life spirals out of control once he becomes a made man. With Nick's girlfriend (Leighton Meester), family, and friend's lives at risk, he is faced with a difficult decision; continue to pursue his criminal ambitions or concentrate on the ones he loves. He can't have both, but Nick is determined to gun down anyone in his path. In addition to Barnes and Meester, the film also stars Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Toby Jones (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Paul Ben-Victor (Daredevil).

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ben Barnes about his work on By the Gun, as well as Seventh Son. The popular young actor discussed his new film, shooting in Boston, what he learned about his character from the local community, practicing a Boston accent, his character’s dilemma, appearing in a gangster movie with Harvey Keitel, Seventh Son, why it’s original release date was postponed, and working with the great Jeff Bridges


Here is what Ben Barnes had to say about By the Gun and Seventh Son:

IAR: To begin with, as someone who was born and raised in Boston, I really enjoyed By the Gun. What was your experience like filming in my hometown?

Ben Barnes: Well we shot a good chunk of the film in Providence, Rhode Island because I think they could find a lot of the back alleys and things that we needed for that gritty urban texture. Then we shot the remaining stuff in the North End. The real treat about filming this was that when I arrived they had a lot of the supporting cast already, and they were as authentic as they possibly could be. A lot of the places we shot were well-known Boston bars. We actually got a lot of the gangsters and the bar owners who are infamous in the town to play cameos. We had some of the gangsters played by ex-policemen who had seen this story from the other side. Everyone in Boston is such a great storyteller. They are so keen to tell you stories about the dealings they had with these kinds of characters in the past. There was no limit to the amount of secondhand research that was available to me.

Do you think that because you were filming in the environment where the story takes place, and because you had authentic Bostonian policemen and gangsters around you, that you really didn’t need to do any other research in order to play this role?

Barnes: Yeah. I cannot talk about it enough. I like to be a sponge and be around the closest environment I can find that feels authentic to what we are making. We did spend some very late nights in the North End at many Italian restaurants and bars trying to see who we could drum up to or talk to. Everyone in Boston wants to introduce you to somebody they know. Then you add in the layers. You watch the way that they kind of muscle each other physically. Their swagger in their walk and their accent is something that is very specific. Everyone wants to be a dialect coach. We are swimming in that world for a few weeks before we started shooting. They were all pretty wary of me. They thought that I was swimming along pretending that I could be authentic and be part of this because it is important for them that this world feels authentic. Even though the story is about disillusionment and how it may be a bit of a puppet show in some ways, what is left of it, I still think it was important for them to represent Boston in a fair and honest light. It took me a little bit of time to win them all over. They would literally and physically encourage me to try out the accent on someone I had not met yet as we were out drinking essentially.

How many times did you practice saying, “I Parked the car in Harvard yard?” 

Barnes: I tried to avoid it, but you cannot because it has all of those great vowel sounds. So you cannot avoid whipping that out. 


What was it like appearing in a gangster movie with the legendary Harvey Keitel, and do you think that his history in mobster films added a certain authenticity to the project?

Barnes: Yeah. He came in essentially for the last few days. I never saw him out of character really. He had his hair back and he was in this perfect suit and tie. He was very humble. He sounds like how he sounds, and looks like how he looks. There is almost no direction required. He has a very powerful and intimidating presence. Certainly shooting the last scene with him in the film was one of the real highlights for me because it is such an interesting ending. It is quite poetic in some ways. It was a real pleasure to go back and forth with someone like him who you associate so closely with that genre. It felt like the real thing. I did not feel like we were playing make believe.

Can you talk about the inner turmoil that Nick is experiencing throughout the film, and how he is confused about where his place is in the world?

Barnes: Yeah. Absolutely. Director James Mottern made another film called Trucker, which was about a female truck driver. It was a very personal story about the psychology at war on a woman’s plight. I thought he would have the skills to direct something like this, which is about one man and his hopes, dreams and ambitions. He feels that he lost his own family, so he looks into this new family for that kind of guidance, sense of belonging, sense of manhood, and what it means to be a man. Once he starts climbing the ladder and moving towards what he thinks are his goals, he realizes what he has to become in order to fulfill those goals, which is not necessarily everything he wants to be. I think he starts to look in the mirror and does not like what he sees looking back at him. The things that he has started to crave have become poisonous to him. There is a sense of things falling apart for him, which mirrors the crumbling of this mafia world.


Your upcoming film, Seventh Son will finally be released on February 6th. Were you disappointed when the movie’s original release date was postponed?

Barnes: I was disappointed that it got postponed because you make something and you want it to get out there. You will now be able to hopefully enjoy it, and that is exactly how I viewed this film. It was not quite what I expected when I saw it. It has this lovely, fun, nostalgic feel to it. There are four central characters, the love story and the history between the two older characters. It has magic and intrigue. It has this great subject that Jeff Bridges and I were very keen to highlight about the dark, the light and the good and the bad in everyone. It almost relates to the By the Gun as well. Can you love even if you do not understand hatred? Can you murder out of love? Those are underlying themes that could be set in any universe. The idea of fate and destiny is very present as well. Obviously the thrill of working with your heroes in every scene was a big draw for me to do that film. Actually I wanted to get it out there, but it was truly a studio issue in terms of Legendary Pictures moving to Universal Studios and that studio already having their slate set for the rest of the year. It was not anything to do with the film itself. It will find its audience when it is supposed to.

Finally, what was it like working with the great Jeff Bridges?

Barnes: I thought he would be a little bit like the Dude (The Big Lebowski), and he is to some extent. You do channel some of yourself into all of the parts that you play. He asks very intelligent questions. He is very curious. He is very on it all of the time. He wants every moment to be the best it can be. He works very hard, and that was something I enjoyed seeing in him because it is kind of like how I approach things as well. It is great to see someone you admire so much approach things in a way that makes you feel comfortable and you are along the right line. He had this beautiful reclining chair, which he had on set. My birthday came up, and he bought me the same chair. He put it next to his, and he said, “That is you and that is me.” He is just such a sweet man and has such an unbelievable charm and presence. To be around somebody like that was pretty amazing.

By the Gun opens in theaters, OnDemand and iTunes December 5th.



Seventh Son opens in theaters on February 6th, 2015.


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