The White Queen's Aneurin Barnard on why historical accuracy can be "pretty boring"

The Welsh actor tells RadioTimes.com all about Moonfleet with Ray Winstone, the fine line between fact and entertainment and how he went "method" to play an agoraphobic widower

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The White Queen's Aneurin Barnard on why historical accuracy can be "pretty boring"
Written By
Susanna Lazarus

Aneurin Barnard is busy. The 26-year-old has two films out today and is currently brightening up our Sunday evenings as Richard III in The White Queen. But rather than pause for a breather, the Welsh actor is locked in a frantic filming schedule over in Ireland where he's shooting Moonfleet with Ray Winstone.

"I'm kind of in every scene so I'm there every day with no time to come up for air," he explains to RadioTimes.com. But with his motley crew of co-stars - he describes himself and Winstone as "two peas in a pod" - it sounds like work on the two-part smuggling drama adapted from John Meade Falkner's classic tale is far from boring. "The element of trust within the work that we do is very high so we can do interesting things with one another." Like ad-libbing? "Yes, and sometimes you enter into a really close proximity in different storylines - if you're not getting on with an actor you're doing that with, it can be quite a painful process." 

The pair star alongside Iranian comedian Omid Djalili, brilliantly cast as a diamond merchant in the small Dorset village of Moonfleet. "It's funny because as soon as they know there's a comedian around, people instantly think they're going to be funny no matter what. Omid is a funny man but he's more interesting actually than the comedian. He's a great actor but a very genuine, lovely man underneath it all as well."

The drama is being shot on the sweeping Irish coast - a million miles away from the picturesque cobbled streets of Bruges where Barnard spent seven months filming his role on BBC1's epic period drama, The White Queen. Adapted from Philippa Gregory's novels, the 10-part series follows the wars and woes of the York and Lancaster families during one of the bloodiest periods of British history. Barnard plays Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III of England, a historical figure villainised by William Shakespeare but afforded a fairly likeable portrayal in this adaptation.

"Everyone thinks he's this hunchback, evil man and actually what they have to remember is that only comes from Shakespeare's plays, not from historical content. If you do your research on the actual Richard III, he wasn't a bad guy at all; he did many great things and was very loyal. The only downfall that Richard really had was that his brothers left the country in a bit of a state but people were run by power and they didn't give a crap if he was loyal or not."

Before the series had even started it was generating column inches, largely thanks to the decision to have the men in trousers, not traditional tights which were deemed to be associated with "Robin Hood movies and bad jokes". Surely a relief to The White Queen's male cast? "Personally speaking tights aren't too comfortable for a man to wear," quips Aneurin. "Mind you, the trousers that we did get were incredibly itchy so it wasn't even a good trade-off. At least it wasn't leather." 

Four episodes into The White Queen and the feedback has been mixed, with many critics drawing attention to its lack of authenticity. "This interpretation is based upon historical events but it has to reach certain standards of entertaining the audience," reasons Barnard. "What kind of scene will entertain them more than if we just played the truth? Because the truth can be pretty boring. You have to up the stakes and make something up or twist it to make it a little bit more exciting." 

But with an eclectic CV that has mixed film with television, including last year's BBC4 film We'll Take Manhattan with Karen Gillan, it comes as no surprise that Barnard's latest project, Citadel, is a horror thriller in which he stars as an agoraphobic widower struggling to protect his baby from a paranormal enemy. "I love changing my roles. I think the most important thing that I can do for myself is to keep changing the genres, the periods, the characters themselves." 

Citadel (released today) certainly offers a fresh challenge. "The movie is very documentary based and then it goes into a JJ Abrams psychological horror thriller which is quite appealing. The character really struck a chord because there are elements of that character that I know, past memories of demons, which have affected me and I knew I could bring through.

"I had moments of experiencing fear in that way, not chronic agoraphobia where you're so terrified beyond belief that you imagine the worst thing is going to happen, but there were elements of my childhood where I was affected by certain things which I knew I could recover and bring into the performance. I lived the whole role until the end of the shoot - it was a bit method. I was going to the gym every night and just running because I wanted to feel like when I went home I was still looking after the baby - I really wanted to get that complete exhaustion of dealing with a young child and a condition."

Trap for Cinderella with Tuppence Middleton and Alexandra Roach also hits cinemas today (Friday 12 July) - a psychological thriller following girl-about-town Micky who struggles to recover her memory after surviving a house fire that killed her childhood friend, Do. Barnard plays Micky's boyfriend, Jake, who "gets caught up in this very messed-up story of manipulation" and is "put on the side because friendship is more powerful than a relationship in this story". 

After that you can expect Barnard's star to rise further when he takes the title role in Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box alongside Michael Sheen, Sam Neill, Ioan Gruffudd and Keeley Hawes before Moonfleet airs on Sky1 later this year. Not too shabby for a boy from Mid Glamorgan who doesn't particularly enjoy seeing himself on screen. But with a dedicated work ethic - "I like to be the first person in and the last person out" - and an eye for interesting roles, this young Welsh actor is set to go far. 


The White Queen continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on BBC1
Citadel and Trap for Cinderella are released in UK cinemas on Friday 12 July

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