8 QUESTIONS WITH Ben Barnes

Briton Ben Barnes plays American hero Samuel Adams

Ben Barnes did not know who Samuel Adams was before playing the historical figure in Sons Of Liberty. -- PHOTO: HISTORY
Ben Barnes did not know who Samuel Adams was before playing the historical figure in Sons Of Liberty. -- PHOTO: HISTORY

Ben Barnes, best known for his Prince Caspian role, plays American hero Samuel Adams on TV

British actor Ben Barnes had no qualms about taking on the role of iconic American hero Samuel Adams in the mini- series Sons Of Liberty.

That is because he had little idea about Adams, an American statesman widely credited as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, having been a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution during the 18th century.

In a telephone interview with Life! from his home in Los Angeles, Barnes, 33, admits: "I think there would have been pressure, being a Brit playing him, but I was slightly fortunate in my ignorance because I knew nothing much about that time period.

"Obviously, I knew about Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but I didn't realise that this guy called Sam Adams was also involved in the same plight during the same period."

The new three-part historical TV mini-series follows the group of young radicals who banded together to rebel against the British rulers to make America a nation. It premieres in Singapore tonight on History (StarHub TV Channel 401).

Given Barnes' "ignorance" on the subject, reading the script for the show was akin to "reading a fantasy novel", he says with a chuckle. "I got a huge kick out of it. I was so intrigued by the story, I sat down for five hours and read the script from cover to cover, not even stopping for a toilet break."

The show is the actor's first foray into American TV, after having made a name for himself in movies such as the blockbuster The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), in which he played the titular role, and Seventh Son (2015), where he played a young man with magical powers, opposite Jeff Bridges.

Unlike a number of actors who profess a love of stage work, he says he is a huge TV fan.

"I binge-watch a lot of TV. Television these days is as engaging, if not more, than many films. But it being TV, you obviously have to spend a lot more time on the role, so I want to do it justice. I hope to find a TV character that suits me or that I can really breathe life into. I'm definitely actively searching for roles."

1 How do you think Sons Of Liberty will appeal to audiences who are less familiar with American history, particularly viewers outside the United States?

Well, I'm hoping that they'll be like me, and just be intrigued by the story whether or not they know who the characters are. It is exciting and romantic, and there are many interesting dynamics in terms of politics and violence and status and class system. I think anyone from any country would be able to relate to those struggles in some way. The ideology of fighting for your people - that's absolutely universal.

2 In Sons Of Liberty, what was it like working with Rafe Spall, the only other British actor in the cast, who plays John Hancock? The two of you share many scenes.

He's just great. He's done a lot of amazing work on stage as well, and he's an incredibly natural and talented actor. So there's a very rewarding chemistry when you work with him. He's British, but I didn't know him before this. In fact, I didn't know any of the cast beforehand, which is rather amazing, because you usually find that you've worked with at least one person when you join a new project.

3 With a cast that is almost entirely male in Sons Of Liberty, what was that working experience like?

There was quite a lot of beer drinking when you get a cast that's all men, it becomes very "drinkey". Filming was also very, very hot. So for six days of the week, we would be battling in thick cotton and leather and on horses, and then on Sunday, we would be in our trunks, in the pool all just chatting. It was like a fantastic dream scenario really. Work hard and then relax hard.

4 You said in a previous interview that the man on the Samuel Adams beer bottle logo is actually of Paul Revere, another figure in the revolution, because Adams was not considered good-looking enough. How do you feel about that?

I am partly responsible for this rumour, because a few people told me this tidbit and I took it as true and brought it up in interviews. But someone from the company that makes the beer actually called and told me off for it, and said that the painting on the bottle is in fact of Sam Adams. I guess I was too gullible.

5 For your role as Sam Adams, did you have to undergo any physical training?

We did a few quick little seminars about the shooting of the guns, but they really wouldn't let me get that involved. Aside from Paul Revere, who was known for it, they didn't really want to show the Founding Fathers as being violent criminals or murderers. They were certainly careful not to misrepresent real historical and political figures.

6 You have been cast in several period fantasy or historical roles. Do you feel you are getting pigeonholed in period roles?

Not particularly, because I've done movies that had modern settings as well. But I guess my more high-profile roles have tended to be history or period fantasy. It's not a terrible thing to be pigeonholed in these roles if I'm going to have to be pigeonholed in anything, because you get to look at the world through many different perspectives. Playing someone who looks at the world from the eyes of someone in 1776 - that's interesting to me.

7 You became an instant heart- throb after playing Prince Caspian in the Narnia movies. Do you get recognised on the streets a lot?

I don't get recognised very often, actually. I've managed to maintain a profile that's safely and slightly under the radar, which I won't complain about. I've seen people go from anonymity to huge fame very quickly, and that's something that's not easily worn.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I don't really give much thought to how generations would remember me, but it's important that my family and friends are proud of the work that I'm doing. I just hope that I've tried my best in what I do, and that I've done justice to the way I tell stories.

yipwy@sph.com.sg

Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

Sons Of Liberty premieres on History (StarHub TV Channel 401) tonight at 9pm.