He may have played the title role in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and he’ll soon be starring as Dorian Gray, but actor Ben Barnes insists he’s not building a movie career around classic literature.

“These stories stand the test of time. They’re good stories and I always look at the script and character first before I look at the director or who else is in it,” said the young actor during a recent phone interview.

“I mean, I’ll do some modern things eventually but it just happens that these are the things in front of me that are exciting.”

You can toss Easy Virtue onto that pile of exciting projects as well. Although the comedy (which hits theatres this Friday) is also an adaptation (it was based on Noel Coward’s 1924 play), Barnes’ latest movie takes a cheeky look at life in early 20th century England.

When young John Whittaker (Barnes) impetuously marries a sexy, free-spirited American (Jessica Biel), it horrifies his aristocratic family and turns his uptight mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) towards sabotage.

“It’s very mischievous,” said London-born Barnes. “We have a loud-mouthed, obnoxious Australian director (Stephan Elliot) who’s kind of prodding us literally with his fingers on the set and (it’s) poking fun at the British really — that’s why I think its done so well in Europe, Australia and other countries where they love to hate us.

“And we have an American heroine as well so I’ve got big, big hopes for it (in North America).”

For audiences, one of the more fascinating aspects of Easy Virtue lies in the music. Not exactly a musical, the film is still loaded with great songs from the period. Elliot embraced the golden era of jazz even more by adapting such modern hits as Tom Jones’ 1999 hit Sex Bomb to sound as if Cole Porter originally wrote it.

Finally, he had his actors sing in the film.

“The singing was part of the story,” said Barnes. “It was supposed to kind of get more annoying as you went through but actually my singing is OK so I think they wanted to make a bit of a thing out of it.”

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