Ralph Ineson is a veteran of film and television, who has played every type of character over his long and varied career. From blockbuster tentpole franchises to long running television role, he has repeatedly proven his versatility on screen. In his latest project he the plays the eponymous Green Knight in David Lowery’s adaptation of the same name. He recently took time out to talk to Martin Carr about the role and it challenges.
Given your limited screen time but pivotal role in this film, how did you approach playing this character?
It was kind of twofold really. Partly the physicality of putting that on screen, but also getting into the head of this mythical trickster and challenger of men. Then finding some playfulness and fun within the horror and intimidation of this huge half man half tree beast, which tapped into his humanity as well.
What did your creative conversations with David focus on prior to actually shooting the film?
We had to have a lot of meetings with Barrie Gower and the prosthetics team, who were designing the whole thing to see how it would work. On that side of things, from my point of view, it all worked very well. David was very keen to assure me at the start that he wanted it to be a performance, within practical prosthetics, rather than CGI or me wearing a mask and voicing this character. The team kindly gave me a version of the mask and around the eyes, down the nose and across the forehead this piece is actually really thin rubber. The benefit being, that as an actor I didn’t have to pantomime my facial expressions.
You didn’t need to exaggerate anything.
No. It allowed me to make the thing move and basically just perform as truly as I could. The practicalities of wearing the prosthetics and the armour were one side of the job, while this design made the core of my performance easier to put over. What I also spoke to David about was trying to find some humour and a twinkle to him that was challenging to me, but also took it to a place where he could express some warmth.
Which leads into my next question which is, to what extent do you think the Green Knight is a benevolent character?
Personally, I think he is benevolent, although there a lot of ways to take the character depending on the translation you read. Now I think we can honestly say in David Lowery’s version, what it isn’t is Lord Bertilak, because if he were, as in one of the readings of this poem, then Joel Edgerton would have been playing him. But again, I think The Green Knight is a benevolent character. He has been there for hundreds of years doing the same thing, but in the case of Sir Gawain I think he finds him intriguing. A feeling which comes through most strongly in the green chapel, where their exchange is almost paternal. From my point of view, he is trying to encourage Sir Gawain to be the best he can be. He is obviously a very intimidating figure and if you don’t try there will be dire consequences, but I think he is benevolent more than malevolent.
The Green Knight has a very distinct look and feel. How crucial do you think films like this will be in re-establishing cinema?
We need all types of films to keep the industry going which is the thing. I was in a musical which got released last week (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie), while The Green Knight is something else entirely. I appreciate this won’t be for everyone, but realise there needs to be room for great filmmakers like David Lowery to make films, which don’t require huge studios to do it.
Personally, I think The Green Knight is a real return to traditional story telling. But for yourself, having been in the industry for almost twenty years now in film and television, what attracts you to projects? Is it the collaborator or the character?
There are always about five things which influence your choices when it comes to picking a job. However, what I have learned over the years playing every type of role, is that I do my best work when I am with really good film directors. I then give myself over to them as an actor, knowing I am a small part in the process of making this film. So, I tend to approach it like that and try to work with directors I completely trust.
I am going to wrap up with a final question which is really just a bit of fun. Can you describe for me your perfect Sunday afternoon.
Being a Leeds fan, my perfect Sunday afternoon would be going to Old Trafford and watching Leeds win five nil. However, within current realities, if we were to include Leeds, I would go to my local pub and watch them play. Then go to a pub on Wimbledon common with my three dogs and eat a nice Sunday lunch, then fall asleep in the sun.
Many thanks to Ralph Ineson for taking the time for this interview.
The Green Knight is in cinemas and available to stream through Amazon Prime Video now. Read our review here.