Entertainment & Arts

Chronicles of Narnia actors voyage into adulthood

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Media captionKing Caspian, aka actor Ben Barnes, talks to Tim Masters

The Chronicles of Narnia series returns to the big screen this week - though there was a time when it looked like it might not happen.

Film studio 20th Century Fox stepped in to produce third instalment The Voyage of the Dawn Treader after Disney bowed out in December 2008 citing "budgetary considerations and other logistics".

It was an uncertain time for its young cast, among them Skandar Keynes who has played Edmund Pevensie since 2005's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

"We weren't really sure it was going to happen," says Keynes when we meet a few days after Dawn Treader's royal premiere in London's Leicester Square.

"There were a lot of issues with the script, with the studio. Sometimes there were dark days.

"So it was a real relief on the first day on set to say, 'We are here now - no one can cancel us!'"

Irritating cousin

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third film to be adapted from the fantasy novels of CS Lewis.

It is directed by Michael Apted, whose previous films include Gorillas in the Mist and James Bond movie The World is Not Enough.

Image caption The third film reunites Ben Barnes (Caspian) with Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Henley (Lucy)

The second film in the series, Prince Caspian, made $420m (£295m) worldwide, much less than the $745m (£523m) made by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Disney had partnered production company Walden Media on the first two movies before deciding to drop the franchise.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund and his younger sister Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) find themselves swallowed by a painting.

Along with their irritating cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), they emerge in the sea alongside the Narnian ship of the title.

Once on board, Edmund and Lucy are reunited with Caspian (Ben Barnes), now a king, and the talking mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg).

The 90-day shoot began in July 2009 in Queensland, Australia, where the southern hemisphere's largest external water tank was used for its sea battle scenes.

"Every day we were drenched from head to toe," Georgie Henley recalls. "It got so tiresome.

"The costume department were great. We had to change about eight times a day."

'Crossroads film'

While the story is about a voyage to strange islands, it is also about the young characters' journey into adulthood.

"All our characters face challenges which they have to overcome to mature emotionally and mentally," nods Henley, who turned 15 this summer.

"I think this film is like a crossroads film. All of these people reach a crossroads and have to take the right path, whatever age they are."

Eustace (Will Poulter) on the Dawn Treader with Reepicheep the swashbuckling mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg)
Image caption The film introduces the new character of annoying cousin Eustace (Will Poulter)

"It's very rare that an actor gets an opportunity to play a character that spans three films," Keynes adds.

"In the last film, Peter and Susan learnt they weren't coming back to Narnia because they'd learned all they could. It was our turn in this film."

Away from the fantasy land of Narnia, the teenage actors are making important choices about their lives in the real world.

Keynes has swapped acting for academia, having applied to the University of Cambridge during the film's production.

"I've been a student my whole life," says the 19-year-old, who is now taking a degree course in Arabic Studies. "These films have been supplementing my life, not the other way round.

"It's not as if education is a side thing for me. Going to university is a big step, but doing these films is not the norm."

So has he managed to leave Narnia behind as an undergraduate? "It's really quite separate," he says.

"I don't encounter it much. Every so often you meet someone who wants to talk about Narnia, and normally I zone out."

Academic challenge

Keynes hasn't decided if he will return to acting after university. "I've got four years to go - I'll decide then," he shrugs.

"I've just made a big decision about where I want to go and what I want to study. I'm enjoying the decision I've made."

With her GCSEs to take next year, Georgie Henley is also facing an academic challenge.

"I would like acting to be my career," she says. "I've been given a really great platform with Narnia but I've got to focus on those."

Should the franchise continue, will their characters return? According to Henley, "nothing's ever set in stone."

"We'll always be the last to hear," adds Skandar Keynes with a grin.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader opens in the UK on 9 December.

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