Watch: Ralph Fiennes talks to Yahoo about his accent in The Dig
The film tells the story of how the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo revealed a wealth of historical treasures, and was shot on location in Suffolk, which saw the actor returning to his home county. But, because he’d never acquired the accent, he was determined to sound completely authentic in the film.
“There was a very experienced dialect coach on set, but I also wanted a native Suffolk person on site, who would know all the nuances of the accent,” he explained to Yahoo Movies UK.
“There are all sorts of subtle, local differences that an outsider can’t hear. That person was Charlie Haylock, who lives in Sudbury. He’s an expert on the history of spoken English. And I had an assistant on set, Jay Ducker, who is from the East Suffolk area, so I could test a few bits of dialect with him as well.”
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Away from filming, Fiennes continued his immersion in the accent – by going on a pub crawl. “It was Charlie I went on the pub crawl with. I’ve heard Suffolk spoken before, I’m familiar with the accent, but this time I just listened. It was a different thing trying to speak it.”
As both the film and the interview show, he mastered the accent – and visiting those pubs gave him a taste for the local brew as well. Slipping into his Suffolk twang, he admitted, “I like that Adnams. That’s my favourite.”
Watch a trailer for The Dig
Fiennes plays local amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, who was employed by the owner of Sutton Hoo (Carey Mulligan) to excavate the site. The two become unlikely friends, a meeting of minds fuelled by their love of history and the land, and face a race against time to uncover the artefacts and protect the site before war breaks out.
Along with the rest of the cast, the actor also learnt excavation techniques from the archaeologist on the shoot. Director Simon Stone concealed “artefacts” in the soil for the discovery scenes.
“We still had to go through the act of excavating, of brushing the earth away, of trowelling,” explained Fiennes. “We had an archaeologist on site all the time – I was very keen there should be someone there so that we got that side of things right – so every time we had an archaeological scene, there was somebody there to make sure it was right.”
His next two films are still awaiting release. He returns as M in the much-delayed No Time To Die, as well as playing the lead in Matthew Vaughn’s actioner prequel, The King’s Man. Co-star Carey Mulligan is due back on screens in the near future in the highly-praised A Promising Young Woman.
The Dig also stars Lily James, Ben Chaplin, Johnny Flynn, Monica Dolan and Ken Stott.
The Dig launches globally on Netflix on 29 January.
Watch: Ralph Fiennes reveals why he gets 'touchy' about his Suffolk accent in The Dig