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Ben Barnes Was Done Playing The Bad Guy Before Shadow And Bone Came Along

Among the things that could constitute an established actor's worst nightmare, being recurrently typecast as one single kind of character has to be one of them. Although being out of a job and unable to find anything would certainly be worse, typecasting can be discouraging for an actor whose motivation is fueled by the challenges thrown their way. Furthermore, one of the best attributes an actor can possess is versatility, so limiting them to a single type of role could snuff out their potential.

For Ben Barnes, there was a period in his career when he was tired of playing characters that could be deemed "problematic," if not utterly devious. One of his first such roles was that of Dorian Gray in the movie based on Oscar Wilde's classic novel, although it saw little success. Half a decade later, he played a rising criminal in "By the Gun." But arguably the pinnacle of Barnes' villain-playing career was between 2016 and 2019, wherein he played Logan on "Westworld" and Billy Russo on "The Punisher."

Although distinct, these roles share a nature that made the actor believe he needed a break from those kinds of characters; that is, until Netflix's "Shadow and Bone" came along.

The books convinced Barnes to become the Darkling

Ben Barnes does not see a career in acting as being representable by a metaphorical escalator. "It's not even stairs. There's no up," he told Variety. Barnes found significant success playing Prince Caspian in the "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise, but the few years thereafter were rough for the actor since none of the movies he starred in were incredibly successful. This made him understand that there isn't a single direction but constant waves of ups and downs.

Although Barnes' villainous roles on "The Punisher" and "Westworld" were his most significant since playing Caspian, their similar dark vein made the actor think that he'd had enough of playing such problematic characters. That would change once he picked up Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels. "I just found this world so appealing when I was reading the book and I haven't played a character that was sort of so high in status in terms of the hierarchy of the world," he told People.

Problematic and manipulative, yes, but not beyond redemption

Ben Barnes recognizes that the narrative of "Shadow and Bone" is about identity and discovering where (or with whom) you belong, and that greatly contributed to his interest in the series and the role. In the fantasy genre specifically, Barnes had been the "boy with sword" character before but never the complex and morally questionable sorcerer type. "The rescuing the damsel and fighting the monster was played out a bit for me," he explained.

The British actor understands better than anyone that his character does unforgivable things — like manipulating and using Alina to further his own secret agenda — and thus should not be pardoned. However, he also believes, "There's a kernel of hope for redemption for everybody. Even if we can't forgive them [for] their particular actions." Hence, Barnes focused on finding the humanity in Kirigan in order to portray him with the complexity and nuance the character deserves.

Judging by the opinions going around on the Internet, most fans seem to share this perspective. Some, like u/summersolstice7, go as far as perceiving the show's Darkling to be more interesting than the books'. On another thread discussing Barnes' character, u/fanged_croissant wrote, "I feel like Ben's ideas are just what the Darkling needs to reach his full potential as a complex and exquisite villain."

Barnes' ability to bring out the humanity in the show's antagonist is likely what earned him IMDb's Fan Favorite STARmeter Award the year Season 1 was released. And now, with Season 2 premiering on March 16, many are very much looking forward to seeing what new dimensions and facets of the Darkling Barnes will bring to light (or shadow).