Tall, dark, and handsome Ben Barnes is no stranger to roles that push him to tap into the deeper parts of his psyche. Since breaking out in The Chronicles of Narnia, the British actor has played many villains — from Billy Russo in The Punisher to Logan in Westworld. As the nefarious shadow manipulator General Kirigan in Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, Barnes is thousands of fan castings come to life. Somehow, he became the go-to choice for any role requiring a certain level of dark and brooding.
But even though he keeps getting typecast as the smoldering baddie, Barnes isn’t quite sure why.
“I keep asking my agents, I just want to do a rom-com,” laments Barnes. “And then they’re like, Haven’t got a rom-com, but found this psychopath who’s killing a lot of young people!”
Despite being handsome, charming, and having great on-screen chemistry with his fellow cast members (particularly Shadow and Bone co-star Jessie Mei Li, with whom he carved out a deliciously complex romance back in season 1), Barnes’ career has been pretty bereft of truly romantic roles. Sure, he starred opposite Katherine Heigl in limited release romantic drama Jackie & Ryan, and played a supporting role in the Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton raunchy comedy The Big Wedding (which has a 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, so perhaps not the best showcase for Barnes’ acting chops). But a lot of Barnes’ big roles have been, in his words, “these sorts of manipulative, rageful, venomous… or just kind of douchey characters.”
But even when handed these baddies, Barnes can’t help but dig in and try to complicate their perspectives and give them some more depth. Part of that comes from something he’s realized from over 20 years in the industry.
“Who you are as a person will always seep through in the tiniest ways,” elaborates Barnes. “They’re all very broken in their own ways. None of the characters I’ve played have very good relationships with their parents. Even though it’s a fantastical universe with magic and nonsense, you can really kind of dig down and try to believe in the broken truth of any character, even if they’re the antagonist. Even if they’re not the one you’re rooting for.
“But,” he adds, “it would be nice to play someone you’re rooting for next, to be honest.”
And why shouldn’t he? Clearly, Barnes knows his way around a romantic role, and judging by the success of Shadow and Bone, the fans will show up for him. Give Ben Barnes his romantic comedy moment! He deserves to be a character we’re rooting for and to have a big kiss moment in the rain, instead of a toxic villain plotting to murder whole villages to get what he wants. Barnes has made it clear what he wants, which is, as Li puts it, sitting next to him and patting his hand, “A nice rom-com in a nice cardigan.”
“A nice rom-com in a nice cardie!” Barnes declares.
The second season of Shadow and Bone hits Netflix on March 16.