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The White Queen - Aneurin Barnard interview (exclusive)

The White Queen

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WELSH actor Aneurin Barnard talks about playing Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who became Richard III) in The White Queen and why he was only interested in playing the real man as opposed to the more commonly recognised Shakespeare version.

He also talks about getting to perform his own stunts during the battle scenes and why he believes in the Steve McQeen’s of the acting world.

Q. You play Richard III in The White Queen, which is a bit of a slow burner of a role. We haven’t seen much of him yet but there is plenty to come…
Aneurin Barnard: Yeah, my role in The White Queen is a bit of a funny one in that sense. I’m one of the only characters who is in the whole series from the start until the end but it’s such a slow burn. When we get going, it’s fantastic. It was great fun to do but I had to be very patient because of those reasons. Early on, there was a lot of time sitting in the background instead of getting involved, so during the first bit of filming I felt a little bit left out. But then Richard really comes to the forefront with Anne Neville, his wife, and the second half of the series really starts to become a bit of a different journey… with what’s already happened and the politics that are involved, the dynamic of the storytelling gets to greater place.

Q. It’s doing really well in the ratings too…
Aneurin Barnard: It’s a good time, 9pm on a Sunday night, for people to sit down and watch a period drama. So, it’s a great slot to be involved in.

Q. How much did you know about Richard III before you started playing him and how much did your view change over the course of doing so?
Aneurin Barnard: Well, I knew a bit about him and I knew about the Richard of Shakespeare. So, for me it was really important when looking at the Shakespeare version and the historical version to make this one real. My interpretation, and it is an interpretation of course, is trying to play the truth of the man who actually lived, not the bastardised version that Shakespeare did for the Tudor household. You have to remember that he was writing for the Tudor household, so what we think of Richard – with the hunchback and the evil motives – is not true. The real man was quite well and very fit. He was also very loyal and quite a good leader. His only downfall was that he had two brothers who were manipulating one another for power and almost de-throning one another. It allowed their enemies to come in and try to poach the throne. So, by the time Richard sat on the throne, the damage was already done and he inherits a bad situation. But he tries to make the best of it.

Q. The role called for a lot of physical stuff with some big battle scenes. But I gather you love that kind of thing, having taken up sword fighting lessons at 13?
Aneurin Barnard: I was about 11 when I first picked it up, but really got into it when I was 12 or 13. And I was doing stunts at 15 and then started horse riding and later getting into stunt riding. All that stuff really excites me. I believe in the Steve McQueen’s of this [acting] world but insurance is so tight nowadays that actors are not allowed to do hardly anything even though there are a few of us that are capable of doing their own stunts, especially among the younger generation, which I’m a part of. It undermines our capabilities in some ways but I’m trying to push forward with that because I love to do it all I also hate seeing action sequences where the camera cuts away and then you see stuntman in the actor’s place… it takes you out of the story. So, it’s important for me to do my own stunts so that the camera can stay on me and the sequence can benefit from seeing a natural reaction. The audience benefits from that too, otherwise it’s just another stuntman on fire or falling off a horse.

Q. Were you able to do your own stuff on The White Queen?
Aneurin Barnard: I was for some of it. There were one or two moments I was unable to and I wasn’t that happy about it, to be honest. But you can’t control every situation. Hopefully, I’ll get to a position later in my career where I can have greater control over those moments.

Q. You’re now working with Ray Winstone on Moonfleet for Sky. How is that going?
Aneurin Barnard: Working with Ray is fantastic. He is one of those actors who I’ve always wanted to work with. We did actually work together briefly once before but only did one scene, whereas for Moonfleet we’re in every scene together and we go on a journey. It’s a bit like a father-son relationship. And he was wonderful to work with. He’s admirable as a man too. You can learn a lot as an actor from him and a lot as a young man too. He’s been wonderful with me and we’ve been able to become great friends. Ray is one of those actors from Britain who has been big in the UK, big in Europe and the rest of world… America has used him time and time again, and there are not many that many actors have those long careers, from a very young age to a mature age. We’ve certainly not got many. So, it’s a privilege to be able to work with him because he’s had that longevity throughout his career.

Q. Is that something you’re striving for in your own career?
Aneurin Barnard: Absolutely, for me it’s about longevity and credibility, to earn respect and to be noted as an actor who is able and capable of taking on many different kinds of roles… someone who people want to see what I do next and how I choose to play those roles.

The White Queen airs on BBC1 on Sunday nights at 9pm.

Related: Aneurin Barnard talks Citadel and Trap For Cinderella