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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ben Barnes on why the director of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ scared him on set

Acting in a horror show doesn’t seem as scary for actors as it is for the viewers who see the finished product. But for star Ben Barnes, making Pickman’s Model of his own volition was an unsettling experience.

The latest episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Chamber of Curiosities, Airing on Netflix, Barnes sees William Thurber, a talented artist who is tormented by the disturbing creations of fellow painter Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover) after he enrolls at Miskatonic University.

Based on HP Lovecraft’s short story of the same name, Pickman’s Model is a disturbing tale as Barnes’ Thurber navigates one nightmarish scenario after another, culminating in his shocking, gruesome end.

While others may feel comfortable being surrounded by such horrors, Barnes recounted news week that he has “very little experience” with the genre. And though some actors wanted to anticipate spooky moments, Barnes asked director Keith Thomas to scare him as much as possible on set.

“Keith had these flaps that we kind of made up together because I said to him on the phone the first time I spoke to him, ‘I want to be it [scared]. I want you to make me feel insecure because I want to be tricked. I like it when these reactions are organic, so if you want me to be scared, make a loud noise,” Barnes explained.

“And we ended up with this whole system. He had these two pieces of wood that he sometimes banged together when he wanted me to [look around and] be like, ‘What’s up?’

“And when he wanted to shock me and want me to feel intimidated, I foolishly told him that one of the things that stopped me from watching scary movies was when I was a kid I watched this movie have Return to OzThe The Wizard of Oz Consequence. It had these characters, the Wheelers, and they’re terrifying.

“You’re like the kid catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. They are just awful and make that squeaky wheel noise when they would arrive in scenes. I told him I thought that was awful. So he found this noise and played it over a speaker sometimes during scenes just to make me uncomfortable, and it absolutely worked.”

Reflecting on whether it was helpful, Barnes added, “Yeah, we curated it that way [onscreen].

“And Keith said, ‘Just trust Guillermo and me, it’s going to be awful. And I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know anything about this genre, so yeah, do it. Please do it.'”

Del Toro approached Barnes directly for the series. Though the actor admitted he never really watches horror because he “doesn’t like to sweat and be uncomfortable,” he felt he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with him Pan’s Labyrinth Director.

Barnes called del Toro “an extraordinary storyteller,” adding, “I think he always manages to find the beauty in something gross or to love something painful.

“I think he’s interested in those shades, I think the same way I do. He’s also a very hands-on person when it comes to designing and curating monsters himself, just like he curated those stories and chose those directors and actors and put it all together in a very, very creative way [way]. I think that appealed to me.”

It wasn’t lost western world Star that the role of Thurber was similar to a previous troubled artist he’s played, Dorian Gray in the 2009 film of the same name: “I think when I first read the script I was like, ‘Interesting, it’s kind of Dorian Gray 2.0, do I want to play another painter?’ I just played another historical artist in another movie that hasn’t come out yet, and I was like, ‘What is it about my face that looks like an old painter?’”

“I’ve played so many historical painters that I actually lose track. Honestly, when I read it, I thought, ‘Do I want to do this? It feels like I’m stepping on similar ground,'” added Barnes. “But then I loved that the story spanned that 30- or 25-year period and you really had to explore someone’s response to something.

“I think I’ve played a lot of characters over the last few years who were the villain or the villain. And to kind of be on the other side, to be the person that makes things happen, in that kind of way seemed exciting to me.”

He then added: “If you want to do horror and you’ve got a bunch of guys like Keith Thomas directing, who loves and knows this genre so well – and of course Guillermo overseeing it and editing it, putting it together – why not with masters this kind of storytelling work? I thought it would be interesting to learn from them and it was.”

The classic from 1985 Back to the Future is a film close to Barnes’ heart; a DeLorean model and a Marty McFly figurine take pride of place on the bookshelf in front of which the actor sits while speaking to him news week via Zoom. Barnes delightedly explained how wonderful it was to meet Future Star Michael J. Fox made his debut at New York Comic Con in early October. He also detailed how Fox’s son Sam once came to the rescue during filming of his music video 11:11 after a guitarist had to drop out at the last minute – a moment reminiscent of Fox’s Marty McFly stepping in to perform the dance “Enchantment under the Sea” in the film.

And in “Pickman’s Model” Barnes was able to meet another actor from the cult film: actor Crispin Glover. The shadow and bone Star said he was “so excited” to be working with Glover cabinet of curiosities because he loved Glover’s role as Marty’s father George so much in the original Back to the Future, and their first meeting was certainly one to remember.

“By the time I showed up, he was so Pickman-y, and he and the director would rave about their love of all things macabre and gross. They were both so curious and found so much joy in all the gross things,” Barnes said of first meeting his co-star.

“Actually, they were so pleased with how uncomfortable I was rehearsing, looking at the pictures or pictures I was like, ‘How are you guys still looking at that table? I’ll be over here, is anyone? Do you want tea?’

“But they would really enjoy my discomfort, and the director would just keep clapping and saying, ‘This is so perfect. He loves it and you hate it, it’s so great.’ Because he blindly cast it that way with Guillermo, not knowing how we’d feel about it, but it turns out Crispin kinda enjoys it — like Pickman did in the beginning — and you can’t help but pull the thread He knows so much about art and I was the opposite.

“I just went into it with all my heart and hope and said, ‘I don’t want to look at this.’ So it was kind of interesting. I think that’s why the relationship works well in the story, because in a way we bring in our own story about how we experience art and the world.”

Glover’s Pickman is an unsettling character, as Lovecraft intended, although it is his art that torments Thurber, as the gruesome imagery practically comes to life and terrifyingly twists the viewer’s mind. When Thurber looks at Pickman’s art, he begins to see terrifying visions and have cruel nightmares – and in one of them a witch tries to cut off his head.

Reflecting on filming such horrific moments, Barnes said: “The head chopping off was horrible but mostly because it was uncomfortable in the beds so I can’t really complain – but this particular thing was a very hard light box with light, which came out from behind an hour or two to wear, with a slit in it.

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