'Shadow and Bone': How Ben Barnes Became Archie Renaux's 'Mentor' (Exclusive)

Archie Renaux and Ben Barnes play rivals of a sort in Netflix's Shadow and Bone, but in real life, they're actually quite close. Renaux and Barnes have worked together before, and in an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, Renaux said that Barnes has become a bit of a mentor to him.

Renaux plays Malyen "Mal" Oretsev in Shadow and Bone, while Barnes plays "The Darkling" General Kirigan. The two are framed as rivals for the attention of the protagonist, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li.) As high as the stakes are, the tension pales in comparison to their last TV appearance together — the BBC's Gold Digger in 2019. There, Barnes played a suitor going after a much older woman, while Renaux played that woman's 25-year-old son. Renaux laughed as he admitted the dynamic was "a little bit" similar in both shows — "in terms of — we're still fighting over a lady. The dynamics are a little bit different; the circumstances are a little bit different."

Renaux continued: "It was so nice to have someone that I already knew going onto this project. I guess it was, like, my first really big part in a huge series, a huge project. So, it was so great to have Ben there, who kind of became my mentor after Gold Digger anyway, before Shadow and Bone."

Renaux explained that Barnes had been "giving me advice and helping me out with stuff" since they appeared in that 2019 BBC drama together. The 23-year-old drew on 39-year-old Barnes' experience, even with Barnes "living in L.A., and myself living in London."

Shadow and Bone is a fantasy epic centered around Alina Starkov — played by Jessie Mei Li — an orphan turned soldier who discovers a long-prophecied magical gift that could make her the savior of the world. That grand story serves as the backdrop for her personal drama as she is torn between her childhood friend Mal and her mystical mentor Kirigan. Fans on social media have strong, intense feelings about these opposing "ships," and Renaux admitted that his personal feelings on the tension there are just as powerful.

"I get it," he said. "There is that excitement of the unknown and not being in your comfort zone, and that's kind of what it is with the Darkling. It's like, 'I don't know anything about this guy, but there's still this connection that needs to be explored.' So I get why people are so passionate about it, but then also, in reality, the Darkling is a murdering psychopath! So, in reality, he's probably not the right option to go for — Mal's the right option. But as an audience member? Yeah, it's always fun to watch that."

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For what it's worth, Barnes told us last year that he doesn't necessarily see Kirigan as a villain, despite how things go for him in the show. In an exclusive interview with PopCulture.com, he said: I just don't like to think of any of [my roles] as heroes or villains." Having played Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia over a decade ago, Barnes is a veteran of the high fantasy genre, and he is passing that torch on to Renaux.

Shadow and Bone is now on Netflix. The source material novels by author Leigh Bardugo are available in print, digital and audiobook formats wherever books are sold.