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Young actor develops in iconic snapper role

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: January 19, 2012

MANY actors have been known to change their names to make themselves more accessible, but not Aneurin Barnard.

"I think the suggestion came up once and they saw the fire in my eyes and my Welsh blood boil," said Barnard, in broad vowels straight from the Valleys.

"My father and mother would absolutely kill me if I changed my name and I won't change it for no one and no money."

Besides, the 24-year-old is doing fine as he is. He only graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2008 but has already won an Olivier Award for Best Actor In A Musical for the West End production of Spring Awakening, and starred opposite Paul Giamatti in the medieval film Ironclad.

His latest project is We'll Take Manhattan, a biopic in which he stars as a young David Bailey, the brooding and dynamic photographer, who along with model Jean Shrimpton, played by Doctor Who's Karen Gillan, changed the face of fashion.

The drama focuses on the love affair (they dated for four years) that emerged between the swaggering East End boy and the shy girl from Buckinghamshire who met by chance at Vogue House.

There was an instant attraction and in 1962 they travelled to New York for Vogue and photographed what's widely regarded as fashion's most iconic shoot.

As famed as the fashion spread is, at the time Bailey had to fight hard for Vogue to allow him to shoot how he wished. He even had to persuade them to use Shrimpton.

"It wasn't a smooth run. Bailey argued, was fired and threatened with never getting work again but he ran with true belief about his work," says Barnard.

"I think that's really intriguing. I always find a firm attraction in someone if they're completely and utterly behind what they want to do.

"That they have the drive, goal and ambition to fight no matter what to make it happen."

Barnard had planned to meet Bailey before he filmed the drama but the scheduling didn't work out. "He shoots like a monster, just constant, so it was really hard," says Barnard.

Instead he researched everything Bailey had done up until the point we meet him in the drama.

"If you're playing someone who's alive, you want to make sure you've seen how they are, so that was my focus — how he moved, talked, breathed, looked," he says.

For his own part, Barnard hates having his picture taken or seeing himself in photos, which proved tricky during the promotion for Spring Awakening.

"I was just standing somewhere one day and all of a sudden people started staring at me and taking my picture and I wondered why. Then I looked around and I'm standing next to a 5ft poster of myself."

But he needs to get used to seeing himself on billboards as he's starring in a raft of projects including Hunky Dory, filmed in Swansea, in which he plays the lead opposite Minnie Driver; Elfie Hopkins And The Gammons alongside Jaime Winstone, and the psychological thriller Trap For Cinderella.

It's not bad going for the boy from Ogmore Valley. "It's the most Welsh valley you can think of," says Barnard, who went to a Welsh-speaking school.

He became interested in dancing, singing and acting at a young age and from 11 attended a local youth theatre.

"That's where it kind of progressed, with lots of swordfighting and all that because I knew I wanted to be in movies," he says.

By the age of 14 he wanted to leave school and go to drama school but was forced to be patient and wait until he was 18 before auditioning.

"I was lucky enough to get accepted to a few and decided on the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and there I did everything I wanted to."

"Then I left drama school and haven't stopped. It's been fantastic," says Barnard, who was cast in Spring Awakening before he even graduated.

"It seems smooth but there's been a lot of hard work, I can tell you. But I'm a workaholic and would rather have panic sweats working hard than sit on my arse and having everything come to me."

We'll Take Manhattan is on BBC Four on Thursday, January 26.

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