Gold Digger: in conversation with Ben Barnes at the Montecarlo Television Festival

Gold Digger is the new ITV STUDIO six-part series starring The Punisher star Ben Barnes ( Westworld, Sons of Liberty, By The Gun, Jackie and Ryan, The Words, Killing Bono, Dorian Grey, The Chronicles of Narnia) and Julian Ormond (Witches of East End, Marilyn).

We met Ben Barnes this summer at the Montecarlo Television Festival; it was nearly lunchtime and he was struggling with his lunch order over the phone. He is everywhere on social media and he is so pure he doesn’t mind to show you his mobile phone if he has something on it he wants you to see. As he discovers we are Italian he starts to sing the praises of our country: he is the new Ferragamo Uomo perfume testimonial, he is often hosted at the Milan Fashion Week and he’s ready to travel from Montecarlo to Padova (we struggle a little to understand from him the city he was talking about until the moment he showed it to us on his mobile, but we promise you that was totally on us) for the Lionsgates Con.

The last time we saw him, before the Festival, was in London, nearly two years earlier, at the National Theatre after his friend Andrew Garfield‘s extraordinary performance in Angels of America. He didn’t change much over the years, from the first time we met him, nearly ten years ago, but we are not used to seeing him in a short-sleeve shirt, grey jeans, shades and white sneakers instead of a black suit.

In the Gold Digger, Barnes is Benjamin Green, a 30ish boy with a dark side and an unclear past, who falls in love with a much older woman.

C: Was love at first sight between you and this story?

B: Well, let me tell you this. I started reading the script on a plane. Page after page I was on episode four when I landed. Also because Marnie Dickens’ writing is outstanding.

C: What caught your eye at first about this story?

B: Well, first of all, the fact that there is an older woman as the main character. It’s rare, right now, to find a tv series that has as leading character a woman in her 60s. Plus we are much used to see old man with girls who could be their daughters and we don’t mind about it; but the other way around is still a tabu. Secondly, I love the fact that there are like..how to call them…sub-stories, intimate sub-stories linked to the main one.

C: Imagine you’re talking with someone who doesn’t know anything about Gold Digger. What would you say about the show?

B: Mmm… let me think…without saying too much I’d say that Gold Digger is a story about a woman, called Julia. A lovely and caring grandmother and mother of three who falls in love with a boy half his age just after her divorce. A love that obviously leads to doubts about this relationship authenticity, especially because Julia is a wealthy woman. And one of the best things about this series is that it’s told in a way to put the audience in the same judging position of some of the characters…what are you gonna think?!?! Will your impression be the right one or not?!?!

C: Which was the most challenging thing about being Benjamin?

B: To jump naked into a swimming pool on a cold winter day maybe?

C: Excuse.me?!?!

B: Yes, that was..well, not so fun. I spontaneously…and let me enlight the word SPONTANEOUSLY decided to strip off and jump into a swimming pool, in a freezing winter day. The crew was wearing feather-coats, wool hats and gloves, and termals and they were shivering. It was freezing. Meanwhile I was very much naked, ready to jump over and over again (the beautiful thing about shooting is that there is never a one-take only scene) into a swimming pool…but let’s say that, as I survived, I can now describe that experience as an exhilarating one…maybe a once in a life one.

C: How did you and Julia build the intimacy needed to be credible in the story?

B: We went on a few adventures together before shooting, I’d race her down on country lanes, chatting about life and relationships over dinner in a pub. I was impressed by how quickly I started to trust her. She is…authentic. And that is exactly what made me so nervous about joining Gold Digger. You know, … in Westworld, or The Punisher, or The Chronicles of Narnia, you develope a walk, an accent, and you put on costumes. In a series like Gold Digger, you look into the mirror and…it’s you. There’s no accent. There’s no silly walk, there is no filter. But I jumped, like in the swimming pool I told you earlier and I’m glad I did…and, let’s be honest (he loves so much this expression) it brought me here, at this amazing festival in this paradisiac city…

C: Were you judgemental while reading the script?

B: The truth is…my mum is a relationship therapist and my dad is a professor of psychiatry. They raised me and my brother teaching us to think out of the box, with our own minds and especially to be open-minded and not too judgemental; so, no, actually I wasn’t.

C: On your Instagram, we can see that in your free time you love playing the piano. You are an outstanding actor, a great performer, and a wonderful singer and musician. Your last time on a stage was in 2010 in Birdsong at the Comedy Theatre in the Sebastian Faulks’ leading role portrayed on the TV screen by Eddie Redmayne. Will we see you in a musical sooner or later?

B: Oh, I love singing and playing the piano. It’s the best way to relax. I miss being on stage; I’ll be back for sure…well, hopefully, I’ll be back…A musical? Broadway? It’d be a dream…never say never.

 

Gold Digger starts tonight, November 12th on BBCOne

 

 

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