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As A Failed Rock Star, Actor Ben Barnes Gives Life To Killing Bono

Posted: 11/05/11 02:10 PM ET

Best known as Caspian X in The Chronicles of Narnia film, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, English actor Benjamin Thomas "Ben" Barnes plays a very different character in Killing Bono. Loosely based on music writer Neil McCormick's 2003 memoir Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelgänger, the film recalls Irish rocker McCormick and kid bro Ivan's attempt to be stars while they see their secondary school mates form U2 and become the world's biggest band.

Fittingly previewed at this year's College Music Marathon and Film Festival, its star Barnes carried on this exclusive Q&A via the smart phone.

Q: Have you ever thought about being a rock star?

BB: Absolutely. Why do you think I made this movie? It's so I could run [around] on the stage in leather trousers and screech into a microphone. Lucky for me, the crowd was extras who were being paid to scream, so it was okay.

I got to spend three weeks recording 12 songs in different styles, and singing is something that I love doing more than anything. It's a great passion of mine.

There's a certain irony in the fact that Robert Sheehan and I were playing Ivan and Neil McCormick in a recording studio in Ireland with some of the best producers you could find, recording these bad '80s songs. There's nothing more that Neil and Ivan would have wanted than to go into that studio and record with those people, but they never got to. And then we got to do it by playing them.

Q: What music are you listening to lately?

BB: I went to school with Marcus Mumford, who's in that band Mumford & Sons, and I've been listening to them consistently for the last two years.

I have such eclectic taste. I can listen to anything, from Motown to hip-hop to rock and roll. When I was shooting the movie, I listened to nothing but '80s music, which was kind of wonderful for about a month -- and then drove me nuts.

Q: If you had to pick an era, would the '80s be an era that you'd want to explore further?

BB: Oh I don't know. I think there's something pretty great about the '50s Rat Pack kind of era. That would be pretty cool.

Q: Have you ever met Bono?

BB: I've never met Bono, actually, but I've heard he's seen the movie.

The band was in Australia touring. One of our producers actually used to be their agent and he took a copy of the movie to them. They sat back laughing at all the ridiculousness.

Q: Were you a U2 fan when you got involved with this film?

BB: Growing up, you're informed by what your parents listened to. My dad was listening to the Beatles, the Eagles, Queen, and the Stones [among others]. I've watched a lot of videos of all these big '80s bands and asked for all of them.

Q: Have you seen U2 live?

BB: I've never seen U2 live.

Q: You've played one kind of hero in Narnia and they're another kind of hero. Wouldn't it be interesting to discuss the whole paradigm with Neil about them?

BB: In [Neil‛s] book, he's very self-deprecating. He places himself in this position and writes about himself in this quite deprecating way. So I figured it was okay to take some license and make him look like a real [bungler] and make some of his performances be particularly awful.

It's a film about failure, a story about how sometimes success doesn't come in exactly the way that you expect it to, or the way you dream it might.

Neil's now a successful rock critic. But he wasn't cut from the right cloth to be a world famous rock star, even though in his brain he thinks he is. That kind of makes an interesting story.
There's some irony to the fact that he's a completely and utterly failed rock star and yet he's allowed to write reviews of a rock band's albums. But he is a really great writer.

He's really passionate about the subject, and he wrote a great book and turned it into something really interesting -- and as you say, placed himself in the role of that kind of awkward anti-hero figure. It all worked out okay in the end, and now someone made a movie about his life. How many people get a movie made about the early years of their life?

Q: With the book as reference, what are the challenges in playing a character that's alive?

BB: It was pretty extraordinary. Actually, my second movie, Bigga Than Ben, was based on a set of diaries written by these Russians who came to scam their way through London in the '90s.

But yeah, this is the first time I ever played anyone I got to meet. And the great thing is that is wasn't like doing Walk the Line or Ray or anything like that, where everyone knows every sort of intricacy of Neil McCormick's life, because he's not all that famous. So I basically had dramatic license to make him as I wanted.

Q: Did you meet Neil and talk to him?

BB: I did. He came to set the day of shooting the scene where I point the gun at Bono. His dreams of becoming a rock star are still very much alive, even now in his late 40s. He still has a band which plays in various pubs sometimes. He emails me and invites me to his concerts.

Q: Is he ever going to write an article about you?

BB: He actually did already. He interviewed me for his newspaper, wrote an article about meeting someone who's playing himself. You should look it up. It's in the Daily Telegraph.

Q: What have you gleaned from this; have you learned about rock and roll?

BB: I suppose the message ought to be that you need to learn when enough is enough. But actually, because you empathize with this character, you're kind of like, "you should never give up on your dreams."

It's a battle of conscience. There are two big, big sayings which are "never give up on your dreams" and "know when to say enough is enough," and those ideas are battling it out in this movie and I think it's interesting.

Neil is very analytical and self-aware, and I think those things probably don't work so well if you're a rock star. It's no good to be too self-conscious as an actor, because you can see it when they're being watched.

Q: Have you ever wanted to do writing, directing or producing?

BB: it's more that as an actor you're so beholden to other people's decisions. There is downtime when you're not working [as an actor so] I've been doing a lot of writing and thinking about directing in the future. But I probably have no idea when to give up. Certainly not yet.

Q: You've been getting into roles that are more ironic which gives you a lot more room to play.

BB: Absolutely. When I finish a role, I'm desperate to play the exact opposite, just to balance myself out as a human being.

You take a little bit of each character that you play with you. So if I'm playing someone very [noble], then I want to play someone more mischievous, tough or whatever. Then I'm keen to switch back again.

I'm a huge fan of a lot of American comedians in movies. Like that sort of exasperated Paul Rudd character, that's something I've always loved and would absolutely emulate given the opportunity.

I just turned 30 so I'm definitely looking to play men with more experience in life and therefore they're usually more interesting.

For an extended version of this story and others by Brad Balfour go to: filmfestivaltraveler.com