Barnard, who is just 26 years of age, has clearly been rather busy of late, as not only does he welcome the release of two separate productions, but he can also be seen in the BBC period drama The White Queen, while other upcoming titles such as Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes and Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box are also not far away from their theatrical release.
We discuss all of the aforementioned projects with the actor, as he talks about his enjoyment at working on a TV series, what it is about independent cinema he loves, and why, sometimes, it’s nice just playing a character who is a little bit normal.
Both Citadel and Trap for Cinderella are out on the same day – what are your thoughts on that? Do you like the idea that people have a choice of Aneurin Barnard movies to see over the weekend, or would you rather they were spread out a bit more?
It’s quite nice. You know, I don’t think you can be picky about films coming out at all, because a lot of them don’t. It’s just nice they’re coming out. But it’s good for people who like to see what I do, they are two very different films and very different roles, so it will be nice to see what people think and if they’re done properly. But it is weird when you shoot them at different times in the year or two years apart even and they both end up coming out on the same day, it’s quite surreal. But like I say, it’s just nice they are getting distribution and being released in the cinema. But yeah it’s funny they’re both coming out at the same time.
We’ll start with Citadel, which must have been quite a challenging role for you – how much research did you have to do into agoraphobia?
I did a lot. I spent some time with people suffering from agoraphobia and myself and the director talked about experiences we’ve had that we could take into this and use and manipulate. I spent a lot of time researching into the condition, what happens psychically? Mentally? Emotionally? Breathing wise? You know, a lot of people think that when you have a panic attack you aren’t able to breathe, but it’s the opposite, as you take on too much oxygen and the body can’t deal with it, which can lead to seeing things that actually aren’t there. So for me I had to research it and have knowledge about it, which was critical in making the character believable.
There is a dark and gritty atmosphere to Citadel, and it’s quite dirty too, the sort of film that makes you want to wash your hands after seeing it. Was the set like that at all, or is that all camera tricks?
No, it was definitely there. We were very proactive in trying to be as real as we could and I was pretty exhausted throughout the whole shoot, because I’m playing a single father suffering from agoraphobia, so I had to worry about the condition and a baby to look after. I would go home every day and then go to the gym for a few hours to try and make myself even more exhausted so that on set I was pretty much a dead man walking, I was a bit of a corpse – but that’s what we needed to get and have it captured on screen for the audience to really believe in it. All that grittiness and dirtiness is essential to trying to get people who are sitting and watching to invest in this world we created, and through that, earn the respect of the audience. That way we can take them wherever we decide to go. There was lots of fighting with real hits happening, real glass being smashed, and it was crucial to capture that because if you don’t, the audience don’t believe it.
On to Trap for Cinderella, can you tell us about your role in that one?
It’s a very different role, playing the boyfriend of the lead character that Tuppence Middleton plays. Jake really is a normal guy, level headed, young and enjoying his time. He likes go out and partying with Tuppence’s character but gets a bit annoyed and jealous with the arrival of her best friend played by Alexandra Roach. It’s a very natural and very normal circumstance in a sense, and he kind of takes the back foot really, with all the corruption and the politics that are going on between the other characters and tries his best to give his opinion, but unfortunately it doesn’t really stand strong within their minds and he can’t do much about it.
Given you’ve played a fair amount of roles with fantasy elements to them and films with surrealistic aspects – was it nice playing someone a bit more normal? Because this is set in a very realistic, contemporary London that I imagine feels quite close to you?
Yeah and that is what drew me to the role, completely. For me I have done very different periods and genres and the one thing I wanted to do was be quite normal and neutral, which can often be harder than the more complicated roles. The most simplest things on screen sometimes can be more difficult to play and to be. I’m not saying that chronic agoraphobia roles are easy, but they’re all difficult in their own way and sometimes the more natural, simplistic roles are just as hard. Playing the truth and being natural and real is very simple and there’s nothing to hide behind. The audience either believe you or they don’t. If it doesn’t sound like a natural conversation you get tripped up. When you play period you have different dialects and you learn it, but when you’re being normal it’s much more real and to have those natural conversations and reactions in the modern world can be overlooked very quickly. Plus it can easily become soap opera which you don’t want it to do in certain features.
Talking of which, we can also see you in the BBC drama The White Queen – was it enjoyable to do the period piece, to get dressed up in costume?
Yeah it is, entering a different world is always exciting. Whether that be the 60s or 70s or 1416 or 1215 or whatever it be, it’s exciting to get involved. The most exciting part of that whole process for me was to play Richard III as history tells him rather than Shakespeare tells him. We all think he has thus hunchback and he’s a dark and evil characters, and Shakespeare bastardised him as he used to write for the Tudor household, so he became a natural bad guy, but history tells us that we wasn’t a bad guy at all. He was actually a very loyal man and not very corrupt and was left in a very vulnerable position by his older brothers Edward and George, who spent so much time battling to dethrone one another it threw the whole family off the throne and Richard was there to pick up the pieces, and unfortunately the damage was already done and he had to suffer for that.
It’s your first proper TV role, how did you find that experience, and would you like to do more TV series in the future?
Yeah, I never like to stick to one media, whether it’s a TV series or feature film I enjoy it and I like changing constantly. This was nice as you had longer to portray the character, because there are episodes we get more of a journey. I’m not saying I’d like to be on something for 10 years running, I like to be fresh and new keep challenging myself with new things, but this was the right stretch for me, to play a whole series is the way I like to do it.
Back to films, another one coming up is Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes. I was just wondering, as there are so many British actors on board, did it feel a bit like making a British movie, but in America?
Not necessarily, because Alfred Molina has lived in LA now for 30 years, Frances O’Connor lives there as well, and then you have Kaya Scodelario who is British, but then the rest of the cast and crew were American and LA is so far away from Britain it’s unbelievable, you know. It definitely felt like I was filming in America, and of course it doesn’t rain, the weather was nice so you knew you weren’t in London! It definitely felt like I was doing a real American movie and that was lovely to do, especially playing an American as well. So often people go, “why don’t they just employ Americans?” but acting means to intimate life, we pretend to be other people, and whether that means to come from Mars or America or South Wales, it doesn’t matter as long as you believe the character and don’t think about them as the actor, but the character, then who cares?
Arguably your biggest role yet is coming up in Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box – you must be pretty excited about that hitting screens?
Yes I am. It’s a family action-adventure movie, and we tried to stick to old fashioned storytelling and give it an Indiana Jones feel. I’m not saying it’s trying to be like it, it’s its own baby, but it’s that kind of genre and very exciting and adults and kids will enjoy a nice old fashioned story with a bit of adventure and a good journey.
We’ve run through a whole mixture of films – the big-budget fantasy flicks and the smaller independent films – do you see yourself moving between such movies for the rest of your career?
Yeah, I can’t just do big budget films. For me the small independent movies are most important because in a bigger film, there are more and more people who have their say, and less and less freedom to create a performance and to change things, as they have to go through someone’s lawyer or X amount of other people, and by the time you’ve got through to someone the moment has passed. I like being on a set where you can make decisions and everything is involved and are happy to work together to make the best work. For me it’s all about making the best work and creative people working together and all being respected and all having their opinions of what gives it the best quality is important. I mean, I like being in the big stuff, it’s a big world and there are more things to happen and it’s exciting in that sense – but sometimes that jeopardises the roles I feel. In the independent stuff you can collaborate more, but what does is it gives you less money and less time to film, putting pressure on the schedules and you suffer in a different way. They both have their positives and negatives, which is why I like doing both.
Just finally, we have covered so much today – TV series, big budget films, smaller independent films… It must be a pretty exciting time for you right now? The work seems to be flooding in.
It’s very exciting, and what is nice is that people are starting to know what I’m like as an actor, and I’m not the finished product, and I never will be, so I’ve just got to keep my feet firmly on the ground and work hard as I can and hopefully be given the chance to work with the best people and that is something I will never stop working for and will never completely achieve, so for me there is always work to be done. But as I’m working so hard I haven’t really been able to digest it all, so every now and again I have to stop and think, this is great, and I am very lucky – but there’s a lot of hard work to be put in to have these opportunities. For me, every opportunity is a golden opportunity, so I just need to work as hard as I can to maintain credibility and respect and hopefully people enjoy watching me as an actor.