7 Questions with… Ralph Ineson: The Green Knight looked suspiciously like me before I got the role

The actor speaks exclusively to BT.com about playing the title character in The Green Knight, working with director David Lowery and the pain of wearing his costume.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 24 September 2021 - 10.27am
Getty Ralph Ineson plays the title character in The Green Knight

With roles in the acclaimed Chernobyl, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter, Ralph Ineson has proved his mettle in heavyweight TV shows and films in recent years.

And heavyweight is certainly one way to describe his most recent role in The Green Knight – released in cinemas and Amazon Prime Video on September 24.

Find out more about that costume and working with David Lowery and Dev Patel in this exclusive interview with BT.com.

1. How did the role of the Green Knight come about? Were you approached?

I was sent the script and the offer through my agent, which was absolutely flattering because it was obviously a fantastic project. To be offered the title role was a first for me.

2. Why do you think you were approached? Do you think it was your voice?

I assumed that was it. But I think looking at the initial designs for the Green Knight – it looks suspiciously like me right from the start! So I do think that David might have had me in mind before I’d actually been officially involved.

I think it probably started with the voice, definitely. And also, hopefully I added other things like being able to ride a horse whilst wearing a suit of armour. But I’m sure it started with the voice.

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3. How long did it take to get those layers of prosthetics on? Could you eat and drink when you were wearing it?

Well, it was three-and-half hours every morning. And then about an hour to take it off in the evenings - that's the killer, actually, it’s not the getting on because you're excited getting ready for work and everybody's doing all the creative stuff.

But by the end of the day, when you've been in it all day, you just want it off your face, but obviously it has to be taken off very carefully and slowly so it doesn't take half your face. So at that point of the day you just want to be in the pub with a cold beer.

You could take a drink through a straw. Also, you’re enclosed in a whole headpiece – over your ears all the way down to the chest. Then you’ve got your suit of armour on. I really didn't feel hungry, to be honest! I’d eat a big breakfast before I started. I really wouldn’t be hungry until the evening when you’ve been carrying all that stuff around. It was quite an uncomfortable experience.

But I was really well looked after while I was doing it. There's no way of doing a part like that with practical prosthetics without being uncomfortable. It’s just impossible. But everybody was wonderful whenever I needed to take a break… we had a dentist’s chair to hold the head up, because of the weight of the prosthetics, it gets your neck very tired. 

David Lowery, Ralph Ineson and Dev Patel on the set of The Green Knight A24 Films/Amazon Prime Video

So physically it was tough but I was also grateful. David’s a great director, he runs a very happy set as well, which is my sort of joy. It's a joy to work on that, and I also had the extra bonus of all the hard stuff being learned from previous roles.

So I was riding horses, getting knocked down, had my head chopped off. The great joy at that two weeks was that I was working with Kate Dickie as well - a great friend of mine who was my wife in The Witch. So we got to spend two weeks in Dublin together, which was really nice, every evening I was going out for dinner being well looked after, after my 13 hours in armour and prosthetics.

4. The film is visually spectacular. How surprised were you when you first saw it?

I was blown away. I thought it was absolutely incredible. I've only seen it once, but I don't want to watch it on a link, I want to go back to the cinema to watch.

I watched it in a reasonable size screening room and everything about it - the sound design, the biggest thrills I think I’ve had watching myself on screen was when the Green Knight’s horse enters at the start, when he enters into Camelot. The ground of the screening room was shaking with each horse’s footstep. It made the character seem so huge and immense.

As an actor, to know that your work is being enhanced to that extent by all these incredible people – sound design, everything – it’s really exciting.

5. It feels like this film has been a long time coming after Covid delayed its release. Have you been quite frustrated just waiting for it to come out?

It was due to go out at SXSW right at the start of the Covid outbreak – it was one of the first festivals that was cancelled. At the time, I was frustrated because I was very excited about it, but since everything that’s gone on, obviously it was completely the right thing to do.

I think it worked out very well for the film because David did a lot of work on the film and in lockdown. I didn't see his original cut, but I believe it was very different from what it is now. I think he's a lot happier with this film as it is now. So that was kind of a blessing in disguise, I think.

Ralph Ineson as The Green Knight Getty

But it has been frustrating, especially in the UK when about a month ago, I was doing all the press for the US release going "It’s great but none of my friends are going to be able to see it". It’s nice that it’s finally being released in the UK.

It’s wonderful to right to see how it's been released over there. There’s the inevitable – I find slightly confusing, amusing - thing of people going to see it thinking it's a Marvel movie because of its title, and being not very happy that it isn't a Marvel movie. I can’t have too much sympathy for people who’ve paid for a film and not done a little bit of finding out about it.

So I hope that doesn’t happen in the UK as well. I hope that people understand what they’re going in to see because it is a wonderful, wonderful film.

6. Dev Patel puts in an incredible performance as well - what was he like to work with?

Dev Patel as Sir Gawain in The Green Knight A24 Films/Amazon Prime Video

He’s amazing. He’s mesmeric. He’s so beautiful to look at in the purest of ways. His performance in the film I think is incredible. The way he takes this character that makes so many bad decisions, and you’re still on his side at the end, it’s a masterpiece of both acting and directing. To take a character that should be so unsympathetic and make him so essentially loveable, is brilliant. I think it’s a great performance.

I especially love the stuff in the green chapel, watching him build up for those scenes of utter fear and tension, was great to watch. Just intense and pure and brilliant.

7. How much did you know about the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Was there a danger of doing too much research?

Absolutely. I knew lots about the legends overall – I’ve worked on a lot of things over the years.

I know the Green Knight story but I hadn't read the poem [the story began life as a 14th century chivalric poem]. And we made a conscious decision not to do too much research – David Lowery’s already done that. He's already gone down all his rabbit holes and this is the story that he’s decided to tell from that legend.

So the Green Knight text I’m working off is David Lowery’s script. I'm working within those those kind of boundaries. I didn't go into lots of research on it. I'm just trying to find some kind of human connection between the Green Knight and Gawain and Morgan le Fay.

The Green Knight launches on Prime Video and in cinemas on Friday, September 24.