Thrillist: Did you get to watch the finale?
Ben Barnes: I did! I actually watched it last night. And Shannon [Woodward, who plays Elsie] sent me a screen capture during the finale of me by the pool, and she said, "You'll always be my Ferris Bueller," because I look exactly like him with those sunglasses on! That made me smile to no end. I somehow managed to avoid all excited cast members' spoilers, and everything I shot was so, so out of sequence, so the rest was all fun surprises for me. I remember the night we were shooting the balcony scene with the drugs, Evan [Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores] was very excited about having recently sort of figured out the Charlotte Hale of it all, and the escape from the park, and she was bouncing around, trying not to tell me about it. That's one of her most endearing qualities, her passion and wanting to share. It's kind of a barometer for how good the twist is, how effervescent she's behaving. But I wanted to watch it week by week, and enjoy the ride, and face those episodes with the same look of awe and bafflement that everyone else has to.
You could have said, "Since I'm playing an all-knowing A.I. entity, you have to tell me everything."
Barnes: [Laughs] To which they would just say, "Well, if you're all-knowing, you already know!" There is no trickery to be had with [co-creator/showrunner] Jonah [Nolan]. He's far too smart to manipulate in any way, even with humor. I tried that tactic in Season 1 -- if I'm funny enough, they'll give me little breadcrumbs. I remember sidling up to them at the monitors at one point, and saying something like, "So I was thinking of referring to myself by my second name. What's my second name again?" And they just sort of looked at me with one eyebrow raised as if, "We know that you don't know your second name, and you're not going to know until the second season, which, by the way, you don't even know you're in yet." So yes, that was certainly a fruitless quest. I imagine playing chess with our showrunners is very frustrating. They're always three steps ahead.
So what did they tell you?
Barnes: A few things, because I was playing this System, but now it makes much more sense, having watched it. They gave me enough information to help me service the story, without having me know too much, and get too much inside my own head and feel like I have to deliver a performance that encapsulates the history of human consciousness. That would be a terrifying prospect for anybody!
Honestly, I didn't have anything to model it after, because I didn't really know that's what I was going to be doing until a day or two before. So it was more about listening to Lisa and Jonah about their separate expectations -- but I did make sure that I called one and then the other, because you always get something different. They're such a perfectly balanced and complementary pair of people in terms of their approach. Often I'll find that I'll get the more cerebral, scientific, straightforward-if-you-can-keep-up explanation from Jonah, and then I'll have to call Lisa to get the kind of slightly more empathetic, human version from Lisa. Although they do both switch over! They're both prolific in both regards.
But normally, I'll have to look for both sides. Jonah was explaining to me about the collection of human consciousness, and Lisa was explaining more about how they wanted it to come across, which is a sentient version which has a decent slice of the Logan that we knew. The System was obviously designed by his father's company before his father's real death, and that's why the System takes the form of Logan, because his son was his core drive by the time he died. And so they wanted enough of old, real Logan, not the fun park Logan. Old, real Logan mixed with a sort of grace and sort of confident expository knowledge of a godlike, all-knowing creature who had studied millions of years worth of data about human consciousness. So they basically just said that, and, "Go!"
What did you think about how the System views humanity?
Barnes: I'm still reeling from how it's possible to argue that the hosts are more truly free than the human beings because they have the potential to change their core drive, and humans can't seem to get away from their magnetized, determined path. I find that fascinating, because as the human beings watching, we are the hosts. And there's got to be some sort of teachable moment about how we've got to work harder to change our drives. That's what I've been thinking about since I woke up this morning! [Laughs]
I was pleased that I shot the scene where my father decides to abandon me for good a little while before the scene of the System observing them. I remember shooting those scenes on the same day that I shot the scenes with Dolores in Episode 2, where I'm sitting taking the futuristic heroin or opiate or whatever it is, so it was nice to have that perspective when we came back to shoot the Forge, when we were up on the same balcony looking down at the pool. If you had told me at the beginning of the series that I would be doing scenes with Bernard, that would have been something that would have shook my brain to the point of despair, because I wouldn't have been able to work out how it was possible, because of the timelines! It's confusing enough to try to piece together the timelines after watching it, so you can imagine what it's like trying to do it when you're filming something out-of-sequence which is already structured out-of-sequence. It's a real Rubik's cube.