The White Queen Q&A: Aneurin Barnard Talks Taking On Richard III

On Starz’s “The White Queen,” Aneurin Barnard has helped paint a new portrait of Richard III, the king vilified in the famous play by William Shakespeare.

Aneurin has helped make the royal — at times — a little sweet, at others brave, and still others compassionate, a different picture to the calculating eventual monarch from Shakespeare’s work.

“That’s not what I set out to do,” the Welsh actor told Access Hollywood when we asked whether he thought his performance may have changed views of Richard in Britain, where “The White Queen” has already aired. “I set out to show my interpretation of Richard.”

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And while the actor pointed out that he didn’t write the scripts (based on the books by author Philippa Gregory) or edit the Starz drama, he hopes people learned a little more about the 15th century eventual king.

“I hope that maybe [people] are a bit more wise to the difference between the real Richard and then, Mr. Shakespeare’s Richard, because the play is a completely bastardized version of who Richard actually was,” Aneurin said. “And we have to remember that Mr. William was writing for the Tudor household at that time who were not great fans of Richard because they had to overpower him to take the throne.

“The average man and woman may just think that Richard III is the hunchback from that famous play, but actually, he was something quite different, and hopefully, through ‘The White Queen,’ it does tell people that they are two very different interpretations,” he added.

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Ahead of Saturday night’s new episode of the drama on Starz, Aneurin hinted at what’s coming up next, his thoughts on the relationship between Richard and his wife, Anne Neville, and whether he really started having crazy dreams after Richard III’s bones were discovered buried in a car parked in Leicester, while he was filming this very television series. I read that when Richard III’s bones were found recently, you apparently flipped out and started dreaming about all of this. Is that true?

Aneurin Barnard: I don’t know how much of that is true. I think this is being manipulated into something that isn’t [actually] factual. No, it was just that I was very intrigued, because I was obviously shooting, so of course I wanted to know straight away as much as I possibly could about this burial, and find out if it was him, if it wasn’t him… what injuries were there. I just kind of did my research on new information that came to hand. The one thing that was great about it was, we hadn’t filmed the battle sequence at the end of the series yet, so what we could do from that is look at the evidence of his skull…. to see injuries he may have had in that battle and then put them [in] with makeup and prosthetics and special effects into the last battle, which is great.

Access: Did it make it harder for you as an actor with history unfolding as you were filming? I know you do a lot of research, but if research is also going on while you’re filming, does it add more work?

Aneurin: Well, when you’re filming a long TV series, it’s quite nice because every episode has a different trajectory. … Sometimes you’re in a different year or decade at times, so when new things come up, you can investigate. It’s quite fun. It keeps you on your toes. I like it because it stops you from just coasting in your role. You can really work hard to make sure that you’re on the top of your game at every moment really. I enjoy that.

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Access: In this week’s episode, Edward is trying to bring the York brothers together and a battle looms with France. What can you hint at?

Aneurin: Coming up now… you see the manipulation of power come into play. Of course, you’ve already had moments of it splitting the family, but what you have here is basically Edward losing his way with his relationship with Elizabeth and forgetting his loyalty to the throne and then you have George, who is a power fiend, who just wants it all and wants to be king and basically captain of the world, which isn’t going to happen, unfortunately. And then, you have youngest brother, Richard, in the middle of it all, really, who just kind of is trying to tell his two brothers, ‘Come on! We need to work together, and the loyalty the three of us can have to one another is enough to overpower anyone who wants to try and command us or try to take our lands. So, if we work together then, one, we can have a happy family, but also, we can do good for the people and take care of the country that we have.’ Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out as clearly as that.

Access: Do you think at this point, Richard might be the smartest?

Aneurin: I thought Richard was the smartest and that changes at a point. I think Richard is the smartest and in the episodes you’ve got to come in America at the moment… you will see that change. That’s not down to his own intelligence. It’s down to people going against him and manipulating him in an untrustworthy way. So then he loses sight of who is faithful, who isn’t and who’s gonna be loyal and who isn’t and, unfortunately, he gets it a bit wrong.

Access: What has it been like being on Twitter while the series has been airing? Have people responded to you, Tweeting to you about your performance to tell you they are thinking differently about Richard or anything like that?

Aneurin: There’s been a lot of wonderful comments and a lot of people taking quite an interest in this point in history and especially in us telling Richard from a more naturalistic point of view. So the positive kind of attention that’s been coming back on Twitter has been wonderful. It’s nice to see that. I’m just happy people invest time to watch it, let alone enjoy the interpretation. So it’s great that not only are they watching but enjoying it and specifically then [putting it out there] that they liked what I did with Richard.

Access: How do you think Richard really feels about Anne?

Aneurin: It’s a very complex relationship, I think, and a lot more complex than what is told through the series, which then came down to a lot of fine tuning by myself and Faye Marsay, the actress who plays Anne, Richard’s wife. I think it was very natural and it was very true and very heartfelt. I think that they did love one another. What I do believe is as the worlds around them were changing, and the politics were going up and down, I think Anne’s persistence in trying to do the bad things, which were against his moral beliefs, kind of dampened the quality of tenderness within their relationship and therefore I think he found himself quite alone in a very vulnerable way, which then created a little bit more space between them. So I think they both just lost their way. At that point, I they probably should have gone for modern marriage counseling. But unfortunately it wasn’t that kind of world at that point.

Access: We could have Dr. Melfi from ‘The Sopranos’ over.

Aneurin: Yeah there you go! I don’t know how that would work out.

“The White Queen” continues Saturday night at 9 PM ET/PT on Starz.

-- Jolie Lash

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