“What really struck me was even though I knew how young the brothers were when they first went into leadership and started commanding the English army, I never really knew how young they really were.” He explained, “by the time Richard was 11 years old, he had hundreds of men who were underneath him.”
Barnard, though, also had a surprisingly early start in acting. Even though he grew up in a small coal mining valley in South Wales, which he describes, “like the Shire,” he was performing from a very early age. “I found out recently that when I was four years old I was already walking up and down the street with my father’s coat on, [with] my grandfather’s walking stick, pretending to be Charlie Chaplin.”
Barnard started acting professionally when he was 14 years old. He was performing at a local youth theater when the British television network ITV (whose biggest program today is Downton Abbey) cast him in a television series. Barnard then had to wait until he was 18 years old to audition for drama school, but since then he’s been marked as one of Britain’s top talents to watch. He had his pick of drama schools (and later agents) and his first acting job out of drama school was playing the lead role in the West End production of Spring Awakening.
Oh, and he picked up an Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for that performance.
“It was very surreal,” he says. Not only because he received one of the highest honors in British acting straight out of college, but because he attended the Olivier Awards the year before and had absolutely no designs on even being nominated for one so quickly. “I sat at the table with my agent and I said to him, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if [in] about 10 years to do something that’s good enough for me to come and even be nominated for an award? And then, the following year, we sat at a different table in the same room and this time I was actually nominated and then at the right moment I got…I got the award.”
“It was hard for me to digest it. One, because I didn’t feel like I earned it, because it was so quick,” he said humbly. “But I can’t complain.”