Aneurin Barnard met a very sticky end in the climactic final episode of BBC1’s The White Queen on Sunday. We caught up with him to talk about playing Richard III, doing his own stunts and how worried he was when the ill-fated King’s body was discovered in a Leicester car park!
Richard III is probably the most infamous villain in English history, what was it like to play him?
“It was a tricky one because of his perception down the years. The average punter knows who Richard is and everyone has an opinion on him. That was a great platform for me to work with as an actor, but I also had to work out how I wanted to play him, how I’d be allowed to play him and what would be the right way to play him!”
Do you think he was as villainous as the history books would have us believe?
“It’s a difficult one to answer, but we tried to play him as accurately as possible, based on actual historical records. After he died the Tudors created a lot of rumours about him, telling everyone he was a villain and he had a hunchback – but actually he wasn’t that bad at all. He was actually a good man who cared about England and protecting his family’s name.”
One of the most famous incidents in his short reign was the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower (his older brother Edward’s sons). Do you think he had them killed?
“We were quite ambiguous about that in the series, but I do think he killed them. He dethroned them because he had to. They were illegitimate rulers and with his wife putting pressure on him, he did what he thought was best for England. That’s when it went pear-shaped for him though, because politically that was the boldest statement he could have made and it was the start of his downfall. He lost a lot of the public respect at that point because of this big political overthrowing.”
Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth is one of the most famous events in English history. What was that like to film?
“To be honest we didn’t have a massive amount of time or the best location, so it wasn’t the ideal conditions for filming one of the most famous battle sequences of all time! The whole team had to work really hard to try and get the best out of what was available to us and I think we did a good job in the end.”
Do you do your own stunts?
“Yes I do. I’m a bit of a daredevil and a bit old fashioned when it comes to the stunts. My job as an actor isn’t just to read the lines but to be the character, so I don’t trust anyone to do my own stunts. The stunt men always get the day off when I’m on the set!”
Did you injure yourself during filming?
“You always get scrapes and bruises, but you just get on with it. The moment you say anything out loud is when it becomes a discussion with the crew. If the producers have any inkling that there’s something wrong with you, you get into a discussion about whether or not you can do what you want. I grew up in the Welsh valleys, you learn to pick yourself up straight away – you have no option!”
You must have been filming at about the same time as the body of Richard III was discovered under that car park in Leicester. That must have been a bit surreal?
“Yes it was a very strange moment for me, because I was like ‘Oh god! What if he has half a leg or something! We’re really going to be in a pickle!’ When they confirmed he had a hunchback I was like ‘Oh Jesus! I’m not playing him with a hunchback. We’re going to be a laughing stock!’ But luckily tests showed that it wouldn’t have been visible under his clothes. That was a relief I can tell you!”