Known for his roles in BBC’s The Office, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter, English actor Ralph Ineson is not new to the realm of playing somewhat immoral, albeit colorful, characters--a trend that continues with his character Captain Charles Vane in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Given the popularity of the Golden Age of Piracy, it's safe to assume that many of us know who Edward Teach is, better known as Black Beard. So who is this Charles Vane then? Historically speaking, Vane was a successful pirate captain based out of the Bahamas in the early 1700's, made infamous for the intense cruelty he held towards both his own men and those aboard the vessels he plundered. In the context of Assassin's Creed IV, Vane, who appears to lose little of his nefarious personality in the transition from reality to game, acts as an early mentor figure for Edward Kenway.
In order to help clear the smoke on this enigmatic figure, I sat down to chat with Ralph Ineson. In our interview we talked about Vane, his involvement with Assassin's Creed, mo-cap work, and pirates.
What brought you into the Assassin’s Creed series?
I just really went into it as if it was a TV show or movie and went through agents. So my first contact with it was as if it was a movie, and then I found out it was a video game. I think that’s quite a clever way, the way they did it, because I think there is some snobbery about the video game industry. I don’t think people in the film industry understand how advanced it [the gaming industry] has become with mo-cop and all of this kind of stuff with the quality of the writing.
You said your son played Assassin’s Creed. Was that incentive to do it as well?
Yeah, absolutely. It was just like a few years ago when I got the call from Harry Potter. You can’t really turn that down when you’ve got kids of the right age. And I’m so glad that I did it, on both accounts.
How does voice acting in a game compare to acting on camera?
Well this isn’t just voice acting with the mo-cap and everything, so it worked out. I thought it would be very technical, more like a voice acting job. But then I realized what Ubisoft was doing with it. Mo-cap work is less technical than you’d expect. Once you have it all set up you’re free to do the whole scene in one take rather than doing a lot of different shots and different takes like you do in a movie. You’ve got that one go at it and you’ve got a lot of freedom. You can really express yourself—more like doing theatre than doing a movie. It was a lot more fun than I thought it was going to be.
What were some of the challenges involved with doing the mo-cap? Was it your first time working with that kind of technology?
Just getting over wandering around wearing spandex (everyone laughs) that takes a little time to get used to. There are certain things, like you’ve got a head cam that comes around your head and goes directly in front of your face. When you’re playing a character like Charles Vane you want to be in people’s faces screaming at them, and you can’t do that when you have the two of you and there is a camera blocking you from doing that. So that was a bit of a challenge because like I said, with a character like that you want to be screaming in people’s faces and express that kind of intimidation and that kind of anger. So without physically getting face to face with people, that was a bit of a challenge.
Can you tell us a little bit about Captain Vane?
Yeah. He is a psychopath. In a sense, he’s not a psychopath because there are reasons to why he is so angry, but he is a very angry, very intimidating, bullying man. Everything is very instinctive. He’s almost like a dog who has been bitten. He just fights back all the time, kind of like *does a growling dog impression*. And that was quite relaxing to do.
Well you get it all out! You spend a day in the mo-cap studio screaming and shouting and then you finish and you go and sit down at the bar in the evening and *makes an unwinding motion accompanied by a sigh*. Everything’s cool, I got all that out.
So is that sort of cathartic experience how you approach playing a character like Vane?
Yeah, it’s all about that. Getting that kind of anger going and just operating always at that level. He doesn’t switch off to being kind of nice and chappy. He is always at the level where, you say something wrong and he’ll rip your head off. Just the wrong word and *does throat cut motion*. He has no respect for anybody or for any authority and that’s quite cathartic for me. Because we all kind of love to be the person that’s just like ‘Ah, fuck you. Fuck you.’ He is the epitome of that. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about anybody or anything. It’s all about him and what’s in front of him at that moment—it’s a lot of fun to play.
When you first got the role did you imagine him being that way? The period is very much romanticized so you wouldn’t really expect his character to be so one-sided emotionally.
No, I didn’t think he was going to be. But then the more I found out about him, about how he defied any authority—you know there is a moment when he is about to be hung. He was offered a pardon, took the pardon, and was like ‘fuck you’ and just went on and continued on pirating. Just that kind of thing. He’s just like, ‘Yeah, you know…whatever.’ I didn’t expect any of the characters to be quite as extreme as Vane was. I mean they are a bunch of bad guys, of dirty, dirty, rough characters, but Vane is kind of another level of that.
Can you talk about Edward's relationship with Vane? Edward himself seems to be a complicated character, whereas Altair, Ezio, and Conner where a little easier to grasp.
Edward is, to me, a more interesting character than the other assassins.
He seems to be very layered.
Yeah, he does. And I think he is torn between a lot of worlds. And he is influenced particularly by the extreme charismatic pirates that he works with. Blackbeard, for instance, and then Vane. And I think both of those influence him a lot, but very differently. Blackbeard is much more intelligent and considered, like almost a politician.
He seems very manipulative rather than aggressive.
Yeah, definitely. In a sense because he is a much better person. He doesn’t actually want to kill people, whereas Vane does. It’s just different ways of approaching the same thing.
How much research did you do coming into the role?
You can only do research, I think, on the historical pointers. You can’t read firsthand accounts of people who met him and all those other kinds of things. You find out about his character. You feel the points to see what he has done to tie in things you need to know about that period, as well as the extreme things he does—the very cruel things that he did to the natives of the island. He was a terrible, terrible man. So you can find out those kind of things, that give you the clues and then you’re working with the writer and the directions in the writing to create the character. The research is only historical pointers.
It’s kind of like what Ash was saying about “credibility” over “historical accuracy” in terms of having those points. With that in mind, what would you say you personally brought to Vane?
I’d like to think that, when I read all of the historical pointers I realized that you only do those things [Vane's cruel actions] if you enjoy it. You’ve got to have some kind of joy out of doing anything that way. So there’s something wrong—there is some switch that is wrong in Vane’s head—and hopefully I brought that to it.
Do you think mo-cap helped you in capturing the emotion when playing Vane?
Yeah, it’s a completely different thing to voice acting because you’re there and really giving it the full experience, almost more than a movie because you don’t have the in-continuity, you don’t have to hit marks for focus, so you’re really free to just do it. So it’s a full performance and I’m really able to just let myself go like you would in the theatre—it’s so much more than just going and sitting in a booth, and hopefully it brings a hell of a lot more to the performance.
It’s lovely to do all of the character moves as well. You can be very conscious of what you’re doing. It’s almost as if he [Vane] is ready to fight at any moment so he’s always leaning forward in these certain positions. If it was just done with a different mo-cap actor and then I voiced it, you know, that would bring up completely different ideas of the character. It wouldn’t really work.
So do you have a preference now between the mo-cap and voice acting to acting in shows or movies?
I always just like to do good stuff, and I’m very, very lucky that I do almost everything. I do theatre, radio, TV, film, and also comedy and drama as well. I’m usually the bad guy, you know, but I do a lot of different genres of acting. But I think doing mo-cap on something as good as Assassin’s Creed is as good as it gets.
You play a character on Game of Thrones, Dagmer Cleftjaw. He is a seafaring guy as far as I know… and then you play a pirate in Assassin’s Creed. Do you have any sort of affinity for pirates?
Well at the moment I’m doing a period drama involving pirates in 1680 Boston and I’m also playing a space pirate in the new marvel movie—so everything is pirate at the moment.
What is your opinion on piracy? *laughs*
All for it! It’s a marvelous thing. You can’t go wrong with pirates. I mean, they're pirates. It’s what everyone wants to be when they’re a kid. Ninja, assassin, or a pirate—and now you can kind of be all three.
I love my job. There is show called Mr. Benn, it was a cartoon that came on in the 70’s in England. It was about this guy and every day he goes into this costume shop at the end of his row and he meets this mysterious man who takes him into the back, puts a costume on, and takes him on an adventure related to the costume. After about five years of acting, I suddenly realized that, because that was my absolute favorite show as a kid, that’s why I chose to be an actor. It’s just like one long episode of Mr. Benn.
You can catch Ralph Ineson (and his amazing Yorkshire accent) as the dreaded Captain Vane when Assassin's Creed IV hits the shelves next week.
Katy Goodman is a freelance writer and graduate student at Auburn University. When she isn’t busy training birds of prey , horses, or freshman composition students, she can be found playing video games. She also really likes chocolate milk. Follow her on Twitter @InvizzyB or on her blog, Pixel Hearts.