Starz’s dreamy War of the Roses soap opera, The White Queen, draws to an end tomorrow evening and it’s all going to come down to whether or not the unlikely king, Richard III, can stave off the invading Tudor forces. Like his character, Richard, actor Aneurin Barnard stealthily snuck up on us and conquered our hearts. We got a chance to talk to Barnard recently about working on The White Queen, winning an Olivier right out of drama school for Spring Awakening and how close he really was to nabbing the lead in Doctor Who…
When The White Queen debuted on Starz in August, we were completely and totally prepared to fall for the show’s star, Max Irons. After all, he had been steaming up all of the show’s trailers and he buttered us up by letting us know how “easy” it had been to play a lover. What we weren’t prepared for was to be absolutely wowed by 26-year-old Welsh actor, Aneurin Barnard.
Barnard had the challenge of playing Richard III from his early days as an earnest teen to a young lover, all the way to king of England. Not to mention the fact that Barnard had to humanize a character who until recently has been wrongfully remembered as one of England’s greatest villains.
“I knew quite a lot [about Richard], but not as much as I thought I knew,” he said in his natural Welsh lilt. Richard is infamous in popular culture for being a villainous hunchback in Shakespeare’s drama, Richard III, which we now know through research and the recent discovery of Richard’s skeleton, was untrue. However that wasn’t what surprised Barnard most about the monarch.
“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.”
Even though he shot to fame in Britain as a musical theater actor, he’s not completely keen on “jumping back into it.” “I tend to invest a little more than I should when I do musicals, so it takes a lot out of me and my personal life. So, it would have to be something quite amazing for me to jump back into.”
One project he would be very keen to jump into is Doctor Who. Barnard quipped earlier this summer that he’d love to be involved in the popular sci-fi franchise and British journalists (and bookies) took this to mean he was up for the role of the Doctor. On the day that the BBC was set to announce the new Doctor during a live broadcast, Barnard was one of the top three picks.
“I was having a very relaxed Sunday and all of a sudden the bookies favored me as second favorite to be [the Doctor in] Doctor Who. I had not had one meeting with anyone about becoming the next [Doctor], but somehow it leaked out that I was a favorite and that’s quite lovely to be put in that situation, but,” he laughed, “I wasn’t going to become it unless BBC Studio was about to turn up on my doorstep and ask me to play him on that day live on television.”
The new Doctor is of course going to be played by Peter Capaldi, but Barnard “would still love to do something with the Doctor Who franchise at some point because I know they have a lot of fun.”
Maybe the Doctor needs a new male companion?
The White Queen’s season finale airs on Starz on Saturday, October 19 at 9 PM. Check back on Sunday to find out Aneurin Barnard’s thoughts on filming the last battle and what he thinks about Richard and Anne’s relationship and the program’s historical accuracy.
[Photo Credit: Starz & Getty Images]