Ben Barnes is the talented actor responsible for the depth-filled and humanizing performance of General Kirigan (AKA the Darkling) in brand new Netflix fantasy series Shadow and Bone. The man has starred in everything from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian to Dorian Gray — both of which in THE TITULAR ROLE, no less! — so why isn’t he a household name already?! Well, whatever the reason for this insanity, we want to throw the guy a bone and highlight the great work he’s done thus far in addition to showing why his turn as the Darkling is going to gain Barnes a whole new legion of adoring fans.
Before he started acting, Barnes got a taste for performing as a singer and musician, building up skills in musical theater, playing multiple instruments (most notably piano and drums), and even singing in a boy band. Barnes’s music and acting careers were bridged by an appearance in 2005 The Kooks’s music video for “The Sofa Song” before his professional onscreen acting debut in a 2006 episode of classic British medical soap opera Doctors. Barnes’s feature film debut came just one year later in star-studded romantic fantasy adventure Stardust, a small role that still had a significant impact by helping to show that the young actor had what it took to make it on screens big and small.
2008 was a big year for Barnes, with three feature film roles that all proved “Hey, not only can this guy act, but he should be the lead!” His work that year as Cobakka in black comedy Bigga Than Ben, John Whittaker in romantic comedy Easy Virtue, and Prince Caspian is high fantasy The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian all culminated to showcase a budding talent who could handle anything from quirky smaller-scale projects to big-name franchises.
One of the wonderful things about Barnes, though, is that he never got complacent or let himself get pigeon-holed into a particular kind of role or genre. The man has done horrors and thrillers like Dorian Gray and Locked In, historical and adventure projects like Seventh Son, Sons of Liberty, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and romances and comedies like The Words and The Big Wedding. Not only does he have range, but still photos and short clips of him are so powerful that the whole Harry Potter fandom has practically agreed upon fancasting him as a young Sirius Black (largely based off his work in Dorian Gray).
Although his recent work in Shadow and Bone will hopefully change this, Ben Barnes is severely underrated as an actor and performer. He brought it as real-life music journalist Neil McCormick in 2011 comedy film Killing Bono and he showed off his singing (and guitar playing!) chops as Ryan Brenner in 2014 romantic drama Jackie & Ryan. These are movies that may not have gotten the most attention, but they show off that there isn’t much that Barnes can’t do (in fact, we’re pretty sure he can do it all).
Perhaps most interesting of all has been Barnes’s onscreen turn in recent years as a bit of a bad boy. While he seems to be a cinnamon roll and utter delight in real life, Barnes isn’t afraid to make himself Master of the Morally Gray in acting. And yet, if his roles as Logan Delos in Westworld, Billy Russo/Jigsaw in The Punisher, Benjamin Greene in Gold Digger, and, of course, The Darkling in Shadow and Bone have showed us anything, it’s that Barnes cares about his characters and going the extra mile to make them human. Even a douche (pardon my French) like Logan can be pitiable and broken, and a super-villain like Jigsaw unravel as layered and deeply scarred inside and (eventually) out.
Fans of Leigh Bardugo’s popular Shadow and Bone book trilogy will remember the Darkling as a manipulative, murderous, and evil character whose canonical handsomeness and charm initially woo us (and our heroine Alina Starkov) before giving way to the harder, power-hungry Grisha within. In the Shadow and Bone Netflix series, Barnes takes what we think we know about the Darkling and turns it on its head. His appreciation of Bardugo’s books shines through in how well he knows his character, and this knowledge, in turn, makes the General feel more lived-in and human. He still conveys the ruthlessness and strength we remember the Darkling for (there’s this great moment in the third episode where he’s talking to Ravka’s king and moves his foot onto the royal red carpet in a very deliberate little power move) but matches these moments in conveying the character’s vulnerability, pain, and loneliness we didn’t always see (or, at least, fully believe) in the books.
As a reader and fan of the Grishaverse, I was a bit nervous to see how a layered (and, at times, polarizing) character like the Darkling would be brought to life, but boy, did Barnes deliver and then some. If anything, this and the rest of his diverse filmography should prove that Barnes has (and always HAS had) what it takes to play any kind of character, lead big franchises and adaptations, and be the overall kind of lovely human being you’d want to have on a set or as a friend in real life. So come on, world, let’s manifest Ben Barnes getting even more exciting film and television roles (or even the chance to release an album) in the future, and that we see him continue to kill it for many years to come!
Originally published at https://decider.com/2021/04/29/throw-ben-barnes-a-shadow-and-bone/ on .