Made in Suffolk: The Dig starring Ralph Fiennes
Interview with Ralph Fiennes’ Assistant on The Dig, local filmmaker and musician Jay Ducker
Like most festival organisers Rachel Aldridge, founder of Suffolk Shorts, has a day job. She works for Screen Suffolk the official film office for Suffolk representing all seven District Councils and Suffolk County Council. Recently the team was tasked with finding Ralph Fiennes his assistant for the Suffolk based feature film The Dig. Ralph’s sister Sophie Fiennes has been involved with the development of Suffolk Shorts since the start, and is on our jury for Best Documentary.
Ralph Fiennes plays Basil Brown, the archaeologist who helps discover Sutton Hoo. The Dig, which stars Carey Mulligan and Lily James and was directed by Simon Stone, is based on the 2007 novel of the same name. It reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo. Screen Suffolk locations used in the film include Thorpeness Beach, Shingle Street, a footpath in Snape on Suffolk Wildlife Trust land and an RSPB site called Boyton Marsh. The unit base was set up in the Snape Maltings.
Oi hint never sin nuth’n loike at
Fiennes was determined to nail down a true Suffolk accent so asked Screen Suffolk to help find not only an assistant, but crucially someone who also had an ear for the true Suffolk dialect.
Film maker and musician Jay Ducker saw the shout out on Facebook which simply read: An actor requires an on-set assistant from mid-September to mid November based in Suffolk and then Surrey area. Ideal opportunity for an entry level crew member. Must have a Suffolk accent.
Jay had been making short films and promos to compliment his music but had little experience on a film set. When he saw the advert a friend encouraged him to apply.
‘I remember being relatively relaxed because I honestly wasn’t expecting to get the job. I don’t have the strongest Suffolk accent and again, I had very little experience in the feature film industry.’
Ducker says that what really put him at ease was that Ralph Fiennes was already using the Suffolk accent, making him feel as if he was speaking to a local or someone he already knew really well. Although Ducker’s accent is certainly not strong, he was immediately able to hear when something was wrong with the dialect. He even corrected Fiennes during the interview, a risky move? Not at all. His instinctive response to Fiennes speaking voice clearly demonstrated his good ear. He believes this, along with his background in music, is what got him the job.
Filming in Suffolk
Ducker’s first day was at Snape Maltings where the crew were filming their first landscape scenes of the famous Suffolk sky, reeds and beaches. The crew filmed in and around Suffolk for a week. His role was to assist Ralph in every way possible to get the best performance; making sure he was fed and watered as well as helping by correcting his Suffolk dialect. Ducker worked closely with the film’s dialect coach Jamie Matthewman, with input from Charlie Haylock, author of In a Manner of Speaking.
‘There was a three pronged approach when it came to dialect coaching with Jamie Matthewman being the overall guidance for all the actors, Charlie Haylock specifically zooming in on the Suffolk dialects, particularly with Ralph and myself being the everyday reference point. I think all our differing approaches really complemented each other.’
Ducker certainly made the most of the opportunity and gained praise from Ralph himself who said of him.
‘Jay Ducker gave me a lot of support and help during the shoot of The Dig. Jay adapted very quickly to the gruelling filming hours and really impressed me with his spirit of commitment and dedication. He worked really hard.’
What next for Jay Ducker?
Since the film wrapped at the end of 2019 Ducker has been continuing to make music under the name of ‘Skinny Rodgers’. He has also had film-making commissions under his Middle Sea Media business. With regards to the future, as with everyone, 2020 has been a strange one and Covid-19 has kept Jay away from film sets but he’s been left with a ‘deep appreciation’ of the experience.
‘It was definitely character-building and I know a lot of people would have killed for my position so I’m very grateful for the opportunity.’
He’s also working with a friend, who has written a fascinating script which is based in Suffolk. The story centres on the fascinating trial of Ducker’s great ancestor John Ducker, the last man to be publicly hung in Ipswich. They hope to develop the script as a feature film, which would obviously be filmed in Suffolk!