Dan Peeke catches up with actor Ralph Ineson for a natter about his career – and what’s coming next.
There’s an impressive diversity to Ralph Ineson’s career. His filmography wanders from the pinnacle of TV (the iconic Finchy in The Office and Dagmer Cleftjaw in Game Of Thrones) to an array of films (his starring role in Robert Eggers’ The Witch, the Harry Potter franchise and Spielberg’s Ready Player One). It’s a list of roles curated by an intentionally wide-ranging actor, but early on Ineson didn’t mind being typecast.
“Back when I first started in 1993, I was concentrating on just getting anything. I didn’t really pay much mind to range, because I knew what I could sell at that point: tall, threatening voice – I played a lot of henchmen and gangster sidekicks,” he says. “I was happy to learn my trade doing that, but as I got a bit older I’ve become attracted to roles that stretch me.”
One such role, which came after a good few years of epitomising the ‘burly henchman’, was Chris Finch in The Office.
“It was strange to be associated with a comedy character so strongly. Everybody saw me as that character for a long time, and I’ve got to admit there was a certain part of the pretentious actor in me that thought ‘I’m a more serious actor than this, and all you see me as is this loudmouth sexist,’” he laughs. “For a few years it did piss me off.”
It wasn’t until 2015’s The Witch – possibly the furthest thing from The Office imaginable – that he came to appreciate Finchy’s impact on culture and his own career.
“I was sat with [director] Robert Eggers during a shooting break in The Witch, and I asked him ‘why the fuck me?’ and he told me that he’d always had my voice in his head while he was writing the character. It made me realise that, in a weird way, the lack of self-awareness and the intense pride of William in The Witch and Chris Finch in The Office overlaps. It meant I could look at my involvement in The Office with a bit more pride, rather than the resentment I’d held for a few years.”
Finchy’s arrogance and sexism makes him the most deplorable character in The Office, but in comparison to the abusive Rick in Ready Player One (pictured below) and the child-torturing Amycus Carrow in Harry Potter, he was basically charming. Ineson explains that in order to pull off these different approaches to evil, an actor must “Balance as much darkness and evil as you can with the sheer enjoyment of pain. But the more you have to play with, the easier that is… I didn’t have much to play with in Harry Potter.”
That’s because his character, Amycus Carrow, was effectively reduced to a non-speaking extra in the final three films. Yet Ralph had bigger things in mind when he took on the role.
“When Deathly Hallows came out,I read it to my kids and it had Amycus Carrow spitting in the face of Dame Maggie Smith. Obviously, that’s the reason I took the part in the first place! I thought ‘yeah, I’ll play a non-speaking role as long as I get to do that’, and then when the script came out it was completely different.”
In reality, Ralph couldn’t be further from some of his most well-known characters. Polite and humble throughout our chat, his Twitter feed is adorned with pictures of his dogs and Leeds United transfer news. In fact, we scheduled our chat so that he could watch them play. They lost. I didn’t mention it.
Being so down to earth means he treats each of his roles equally. He entered the Harry Potter franchise with the same attitude as he did going into The Office before anybody had heard of it. “From my point of view, all I do is play what’s given to me in the script and base it off the chats I have with directors. There can be extra pressure, but the job is the same.”
He has the same outlook when it comes to blockbusters versus low-budget projects, but admits that the filming process is worlds away. The year after he appeared in Guardians Of The Galaxy, he took on his leading role in the comparatively low-budget horror, The Witch. In Guardians, Ineson was hidden amongst a spectacular ensemble cast and a barrage of CGI. The Witch had very few characters, was shot using only natural light in a historically accurate set, and was written in an archaic, almost Shakespearian English.
“That was a very special job and I don’t know whether I’ll get the chance to do anything like it again. To have the chance to work with Robert Eggers on his first film where you’ve got exact recreations of the period researched to levels beyond anything I’ve seen before was incredible,” he explains.
“You were there in that world. My stockings were made from the wool of the sheep on the Plymouth Plantation, and when Robert found out that circular saws hadn’t been invented by the time the film was set, he made sure that every bit of wood was cut with a side-to-side saw.”
Eggers’ immersive approach to his debut feature paid off.
“I think the performances he got out of us are really good, and I don’t feel too arrogant saying that. It’s the best work I’ve ever done!”
Ralph’s recently reunited with Eggers for The Northman, his upcoming ‘Viking revenge epic’. Before that, Ineson’s final piece of pre-pandemic on-set work was back in February, filming Joel Coen’s upcoming The Tragedy Of Macbeth. While voiceover work recorded from his home studio kept him busy during lockdown, he remains insistent that “Nothing compares to being on set… I absolutely love working in film.” It shows.
Later this year, he’ll appear as the titular character in David Lowery’s The Green Knight, as well as Wayne New in the film adaptation of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Range has defined Ralph Ineson’s career for the last 20 years, and as he steps into this year juggling a musical about a drag queen with a medieval fantasy based on a 14th century poem, it seems that it will continue to do so for a long time.
The release of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is set for Amazon Prime in September, after several delays.. The Green Knight is due August 2021.
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