Ben Barnes on 'Killing Bono'

Ben Barnes

Gemma Creagh chats with Killing Bono and The Chronicles of Narnia star, Ben Barnes.

You have a great accent in the film; how did you manage your Irish accent?

Well I had about two hours with a dialect coach before I came over to Ireland because we didn’t have the budget to have him for longer – and I just decided I would stay in the accent the whole time that I was in Ireland. So for about 10 weeks, whether I was in the pub or on the phone to my mum, everything I said was in the accent. I was listening to Robbie Sheehan speaking. I know he’s not from Dublin, but Laois is close enough! So I was just listening, basically because with a comedy you’re going to improvise little lines here and there, and if you learn only to say what’s in the script you’ll come unstuck very quickly. I just loved that accent, I’ve done loads of accents in my career so far, lots of different weird accents, but this was a really fun one. I’d do it again. I’m looking for other Irish projects.

What attracted you to the role of the troubled musician?

I was aching for the script to be funny when I knew that it was by the guys who wrote The Commitments, because I knew what sort of feel it would have. It was hilarious because this guy was such a moron, he couldn’t really get out of his own way, and I could relate to the passion and the frustration of not really getting there as soon as you hope you can. I was looking for something to do that was a different, a little bit less… earnest. I didn’t want to play a heroic character. I wanted to play someone who took the piss out of himself – and this was he if ever there was someone. But because he’s not famous I had the freedom to play him however I wanted, and turn him into who I want and now everyone will think that he’s like he is in the film, when he’s not. It was an interesting challenge, I wanted to make him good-natured and good hearted but a plonker as well.

Are you a U2 fan in real life?

Yeah, I’m more so now. I didn’t really grow up with their music but I always liked particular songs of theirs. I have a newfound respect for Bono as a frontman, you can see the energy of that raspy high voice! I think they’re a great band and I’d love to go and see them.

What’s the difference between Killing Bono compared to a big role like The Chronicles of Narnia.

I think time is a big thing. On those big movies you have a lot more time. You’re filming for five, six or seven months so you’re concentrating on little tiny moments – but on a film like this, it’s like a firework every day. You need a big sweary director like Nick Hamm to get it going every morning and be like: ‘be funny. Go. Immediately.’ Its about rushing, and that’s the major difference. You can definitely have a lot more fun on things like this also.

Did you get any pointers from the real Neil before you played the role?

No, I wasn’t allowed. The director wouldn’t let me meet him. He said, ‘if you meet him you’ll be wanting to take little bits of his character and put them in and I don’t want you to do that because he’s so irritating. I’ve met him, he’s so annoying and if you play him like that nobody will be able to watch the film from start to finish.’ So I had free reign to go back to the book. I did watch In Bruges, I wanted to take some of that crazy enthusiasm that Colin Farrell has in that movie and put it in this – Withnail & I as well. They structured the relationship between Neil and Ivan on that relationship and infused it into the real story of what happened. So I looked at Withnail, Richard E. Grant’s character. I mixed them all together and read the book over and over again, to be able to think the way Neil thinks – which is in a very abstract, strange way.

You finished a play recently in the West End?

I did yeah, I just finished six months in a World War One play, called Birdsong.

Which do you prefer, film or the theatre?

They both have their challenges really. There’s nothing quite matches up to the feeling of telling a whole story to an audience on one night, and getting through to the end of it, feeling like you’ve told that story successfully. You take that audience on that journey with you. You have a lot more control and power as a stage actor because you can change and manipulate things to suit the audience and suit that particular night. On film there’s so many more people involved in crafting those moments. All you can do as a film actor is give those moments of amusement or whatever is and hope and prey that the director and editor will put it together in an arc that makes sense. The responsibility is not yours anymore. Performance in film is very collaborate and performance on stage is very much your own. The weird thing about theatre is when you finish it feels like it never happened, especially if you don’t talk about it. You tend not to – and then when the theatre is stripped and it has other posters on there… it’s just bizarre, it feels like a weird dream.

Did you get on with Robert Sheehan when shooting?

Yeah, absolutely. And straight away as well. I didn’t know who he was in the beginning and he gave me the DVDs of Misfits to educate me. I came in the next day completely in awe of him, going ‘You’re amazing. You’re a comic genius!’ He is so talented, one of the most naturally talented young actors. He can just switch between serious and crazy, frustrated and angry and stupid comedy in two seconds – he doesn’t even have to try. I’m proud of him in the way that an older brother is. I’ve got a little brother and you love them and you’re very proud of them and they annoy you – it clicked very quickly between us.

Killing Bono is released in cinemas on 1st April 2011.

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