A Chat with Green Knight Star and Geek God Ralph Ineson

A Chat with Green Knight Star and Geek God Ralph Ineson
Ralph Ineson signing autographs back in 2017. (Photo: Ian Gavan, Getty Images)

Ralph Ineson is at it again. The actor who Gizmodo named as having the “World’s Greatest Geek Acting Career” thanks to his involvement in basically every single major geek franchise of the past 20 years is currently working on another one. While promoting his new film, The Green Knight, Ineson mentioned to Gizmodo that he’s currently working for Lucasfilm/Disney again.

Coupled with the fact that he was speaking with us from the UK, that means it’s likely Indiana Jones 5, Willow, or Andor — all of which are currently filming there. (We contacted Lucasfilm for confirmation but didn’t hear back. Ineson would, understandably, not elaborate.) Whatever it is, it just goes to show that if there’s a major franchise out there, you need Ralph Ineson.

Which is probably part of the reason why The Green Knight director David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon) cast him as the titular character in the adaptation of the Arthurian legend, co-starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, and Joel Edgerton. Talking over Zoom, Gizmodo discussed the new film, what it’s like having worked on so many franchises, and how secrecy has changed over the years. Ineson also revealed one of the major franchises he auditioned for but didn’t get.

Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really appreciate it. I want to start, obviously, with The Green Knight. How exactly did the casting work? Did David Lowery come to you and say you’re the title character in this movie, but you’re only in two scenes and no one gets to see your face?

Ralph Ineson: I got sent the script and offered the part to do it. And David Lowery wanted me to play that part. So the fact that he doesn’t appear that much in the movie or the fact that there was a lot of makeup involved wasn’t in any way going to put me off doing it. I was ecstatic when I was offered it.

Gizmodo: What about the role attracted you to it and what were you excited to bring to it?

Ineson: I’ve worked on Arthurian stuff in the past, and used to love the whole lore as a kid. So I’m always attracted to that kind of thing. And to play the Green Knight was a no-brainer really. He’s a tester of men, as it were. I think the key thing about him, the thing that I wanted to bring to him, was with that kind of design and prosthetics and the size of the monster that he is, you don’t really have to worry as an actor about making it too scary or intimidating. That’s kind of done for you.

So for me, it was more trying to focus on a bit of a playful nature about him. The way he challenges more with a smile and a bit of a taunt than this kind of booming intimidating presence. He has that, but I think there’s something lighter and slightly more fun about him as well, which David agreed when we spoke about it.

Ineson in costume as the Green Knight. (Photo: A24) Ineson in costume as the Green Knight. (Photo: A24)

Gizmodo: Which certainly came across. But the makeup, how long did it take to get on and off? Did it get easier? Tell me a little bit about the process.

Ineson: Well, it was tough, but I kind of knew right from the start. As you said, it wasn’t that many days filming overall. So it was one of those that you just kind of grit your teeth and deal with the early starts and stuff. But it’s amazing prosthetic work designed by Barrie Gower, who did a lot of the Game of Thrones stuff. I mean it’s quite similar to the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. And it took three and a half hours. We got it down. So it was a little bit more at the start, but we got it down to three and a half hours in the morning with Jess Brooks — props to my prosthetic makeup artist. So three and a half hours every morning and we got down to about an hour getting out of it at night. So, yeah, it wasn’t [that bad] compared to…I worked with Adam Nagaitis on Chernobyl…his fireman dissolving body makeup took 13 hours to apply. So I think I got off quite lightly with the three and a half.

Gizmodo: Yeah, absolutely. Now, obviously your two big scenes are with Dev Patel. Did you guys hang out for chemistry or was it just two great actors kind of falling into it?

Ineson: Well, I think…“Two great actors” thank you very much.

Gizmodo: You’re welcome!

Ineson: I believe Dev is a great actor and yeah, we did kind of just fall into it. There wasn’t much time for hanging out, as it were, we just kind of go into it. But he’s an amazingly soulful actor and intent in kind of the purest way. There’s no kind of showy intensity about him and the way he prepares and the way he does his job, he’s incredibly there and present and an absolute joy to work with. I actually forgot about the God knows how many pounds of makeup and prosthetics you’re carrying around — contact lenses and stuff like that. He was absolute joy to work with.

Lowery, Ineson, and Patel on the set of The Green Knight. (Photo: A24) Lowery, Ineson, and Patel on the set of The Green Knight. (Photo: A24)

Gizmodo: Very cool. Now, this is a heavier fantasy genre film, but it’s a fantasy genre film. And recently I wrote a piece about your career and how incredible these roles are in all these franchises you’ve been in. It’s mind-boggling. So I was just wondering, do you choose these roles? Do they choose you? Or do you ever look at the breadth of your work so far and think wow, it’s been pretty good?

Ineson: I mean [laughs] thinking about it, it’s kind of misleading because a lot of things… when you talk about how you’ve been in Star Wars or Harry Potter, these kind of things, a lot of those were in a period of my career where, as a British actor, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re kind of cheating because [they’re] making the films in the UK. So getting actors in to do a week on Star Wars is kind of easy to do, and Guardians [of the Galaxy] and these kind of things. So I did a lot of these franchises in tiny, tiny roles. So I feel slightly guilty claiming the credit for all these huge franchises as if I played Han Solo and Star-Lord. There’s a balance between the two, but over the last few years I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing filmmakers in a few great genre films, yeah.

Gizmodo: What do you get recognised most far out of all the stuff that you’ve done?

Ineson: It depends where I am. The Witch is quite a big one nowadays. Especially now since it’s been through the streaming systems. A lot of people like that. In the UK, the character I played in the original version of The Office is, 20 years later, still quite a big one.

Gizmodo: Yeah that’s when it clicked for me. I was rewatching The Office recently and I was like, “Oh, man, he’s so good. What do I know him from?” Then I just went to IMDB and my jaw just hit the floor. I was like, “Oh my God, Ralph is in everything.” And yeah, some are smaller roles, but they’re great. One in particular I like is Star Wars [The Last Jedi], which unfortunately got cut out and put on the Blu-ray. Were you upset to mostly get cut out of that film?

Ineson: You’re always upset to [get cut out] especially when there was so little there in the first place. But, on the other hand, the whole point was Nina Gold, the casting director, rang me up and said “Do you want to be in Star Wars?” I went, “Of course,” knowing that it was a small part. But like I said, if Nina needs to fill six or seven small parts in Star Wars she can bring most anybody on her Actors She Likes roster and go, “Do you want to be in Star Wars?” and virtually 90% of them will go “Yes of course I do.” So, yeah, it was as simple as that.

I was told I was playing a tall, intimidating British dude — that my information before I arrived on set. So it was absolutely wonderful. I was seven years old when the first movie came out, so it was such a big part of my younger childhood… to actually be there with my own set of Stormtroopers behind me and the black version of BB-8 was around my feet. It was just too ridiculously cool.

Ineson in Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO) Ineson in Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

Gizmodo: Oh I believe it. It’s very cool. Now, besides Harry Potter, Sherlock, all of these things, on Gizmodo we’re also big fans of Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which, unfortunately, isn’t coming back. But your character on it, the Hunter, is so awesome. It’s such a great character. Tell me a little about your experience on that and what you thought of the final show.

Ineson: I loved [that] show. Yeah, it was great. The experience of doing those kind of jobs is, obviously, just doing ADR sessions. You’re working on your own, actor-wise, which is fine. I do a lot of voice work anyway, so it’s not something I feel uncomfortable with. But it was great fun to do, although actually I think I made some choices which weren’t too good for my throat in the first session I recorded. I woke up the next day with it hurting little bit and then thought “Oh, I’ve got about four more sessions.” [Laughs] So yeah, I probably made some slightly unwise choices, but I think he comes over as a pretty otherworldly character, which is the point.

Gizmodo: A lot of these franchises, I know you said you feel guilty claiming to be part of them, but you are part of them and they’re so secretive — Marvel, Game of Thrones, Star Wars — that even if you have a small part, you’re not allowed to really talk about it. So I was curious, what’s that been like? And is there any kind of difference in the level of secrecy between these at all?

Ineson: Yeah, levels of secrecy have developed over the years. I mean, the first time I worked on Harry Potter, it seemed outrageous to everybody that there were random searches at the studio gates for people taking any props or anything off set. That was almost, “Oooh, big studio is getting heavy.” But, you know, at the moment I’m working for Lucasfilm/Disney and the levels of security on that are just incredible. We obviously have very serious covid protocols and all that. But yeah, you have to have private accounts to access any call sheets, all these kind of things. So the security has gone up and the secrecy, massively. We get lectures, we have to attend briefings about security and not sharing things and all of this — security has gone up a lot.

[Note: As mentioned above, I did inquire to which project Ineson was referring to here and he said he couldn’t say.]

Ineson in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Screenshot: Disney+) Ineson in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Screenshot: Disney+)

Gizmodo: Now, I know you said you are kind of shoehorned in to some of these projects because you live in the UK and a lot of these things are filming in the UK. But beyond that, do you as a fan find yourself drawn to these projects? I mean, obviously, you said you liked Star Wars growing up, but do you watch these huge franchises and stuff on your own time, too? Are you a fan?

Ineson: Some of them. More through my kids growing up, to be honest. Marvel and that kind of thing. They’re not necessarily my choice if I was to have the choice. But, as parents well know, you don’t always have the choice. So I’d say I wouldn’t be a genre fan as much as I am other types of film.

Gizmodo: Right. OK, then I don’t know if you’re going to answer this, but you obviously have experience with this. All these franchises have their own kind of fandom. Be it online, be it at conventions… have you seen any kind of difference in the fandoms between the franchises, or are there any that are particularly really, really kind to you that you really appreciate, or anything like that?

Ineson: I think I’ve been treated really nicely by all of them. I think the only one where, I suppose, I played a character that you could really hate would be Game of Thrones. But even with that, obviously, the show’s populated by despicable characters. The fans just love your involvement with it. I’ve had nothing but love from Harry Potter and Game of Thrones and Star Wars, all the franchises. It’s amazing, just the worldwide power of these franchises now to bring people together and inspire them, constantly. It’s mind-blowing, really, and you’re just doing your normal job really. At times you don’t quite appreciate how far the reach of what you’re doing is.

Ineson overseeing Hogwarts in Harry Potter. (Screenshot: Warner Bros.) Ineson overseeing Hogwarts in Harry Potter. (Screenshot: Warner Bros.)

Gizmodo: Out of all the franchises you have done, I think there are two that stand out that you haven’t, which are the DC Universe and Doctor Who. I feel like how have you not been on a Doctor Who at some point? So I was wondering if you want to be in those kinds of things and what are your thoughts on why you haven’t been?

Ineson: Yeah, I mean, I’m not a completist. [laughs] 

Gizmodo: So you don’t have a poster on your wall of a checklist?

Ineson: By accident, I basically have done them all. But yeah I’d love to do something in the DC Universe. That would be cool. And what was the other one you said?

Gizmodo: Doctor Who.

Ineson: Oh, Doctor Who. That’s the slightly weirder one. I did audition years ago for the episode when David Tennant appears as Doctor Who and I think I came close but didn’t get it, but I haven’t actually been called back ever since. So maybe I did a really bad audition and just thought it was good. So no I haven’t been called but obviously, I’d love to work on Doctor Who. 

Ineson in The Witch. (Photo: A24) Ineson in The Witch. (Photo: A24)

Gizmodo: That’s great. And the last thing before I wrap up, and this has been so cool and so great to speak with you. I know that one of the other things you have coming up is reuniting with Witch director Robert Eggers for The Northman, which I’m sure is obviously pretty secretive, too. But I was wondering what you could tell me about that film?

Ineson: Well, we shot in Belfast mostly all of last year… I came in for just a few days towards the end of the movie. I play a Viking from Ukraine, a Rus’ Viking. I think it’s going to be really stunning. I saw a four-minute little segment that they put together whilst we were out there in Belfast and I kind of walked away with about 10 images burned into my mind. It’s absolutely stunning. Having Rob Eggers and [cinematographer] Jarin Blaschke working together — and Craig Lathrop, a [production] designer they work with — the three of them and the world they created, it’s absolutely immense because obviously, they’re working with hugely bigger budgets than when I worked with them first on The Witch. So, yeah, it’s absolutely stunning to see. And I can’t wait for people to see it. Alexander Skarsgård is amazing in the moments I’ve seen. It’s incredible.

You can see Ralph Ineson in The Green Knight, or on basically any streaming service in one of your favourite modern franchises.