While we may be used to the men whose faces adorn our dollar bills and favorite beer, there was a time before they became those legends. In “Sons of Liberty,” a three night miniseries airing on History, audiences get a glimpse of Sam Adams and John Hancock when they were two young, very different men. Adams (Ben Barnes) was a hard-drinking local with a tragic past, while Hancock (Rafe Spall) was a pampered smuggler uninterested in the rebel cause. We checked in with Barnes about what it’s like for a Brit to play an American revolutionary.
How much did you know about Sam Adams before taking the role on?
I didn’t know anything, basically. I’d watched the John Adams series on HBO a couple of years before, but that character wasn’t really heavily featured. I felt like I knew John Adams, and was confused about whether it was the same person. I knew he was on the beer. I’d drunk the beer and it was too bitter for me. I think when they teach history in British classrooms, we kind of gloss over anything that’s the fall of the empire. (Laughs) So if we lose a colony, that’s not something you want to dwell on.
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Was it weird to film something like this as a Brit?
Rafe and I, John Hancock and Sam Adams, were Brits. There was a little bit of jibing that happened in the beginning. There’s a very cool kind of “Ocean’s Eleven” type heist in it where we heist this gun powder silo and we dress up as redcoats, as British soldiers, and it was the only costume I didn’t need a fitting for! It just fit perfectly, and I was waltzing around all day, just showing off in my red coat, telling people just how great I looked in it, and wasn’t red my color. So that was really fun to do.
Was it fun to film the scenes with Rafe Spall where he’s this very dapper businessman, and you’re this grimy guy in a bar?
Those are my favorite, favorite scenes, just because of the different approaches, and because of the way that relationship develops: They realize they’ve got the same ideals, the same goals in mind essentially, and the effect that they have on one another by the end, as well — him convincing me to be more cerebral and political rather than always diving head first into everything, and me convincing him that money and business and finery and clothes are not what life is about.
Where did you film?
We were exclusively in Bucharest in Romania. Boston is just too modern now, so you can’t really use any exteriors, so they had to build everything and that was sort of a cheaper and more viable option. There were fantastic crews down there. The set builders there were so fast and so detailed. We actually filmed some of the battle scenes on the field where Vlad the Impaler impaled his victims, so that had a creepy vibe.
Did you get to do any of your own stunts?
There was one really cool move, where I was to leap off a rooftop and grab this flagpole with a Union Jack on it and swing around and land and I really wanted to do it and I said, it’s not that high, I can do it! And they said no, you have to let the stunt double do it. And he did it, ran off, grabbed onto the flag pole and it immediately snapped and he fell to the ground. It wasn’t very far and he was fine, but I was like, ah, actually it’s good that they didn’t let me do it.