By now, you’ve likely had the distinct pleasure of meeting Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag’s hot-tempered Charles Vane. He’s a foul-mouthed brigand, seemingly incapable of remorse or empathy. Yet somehow he has stolen the hearts of the fans. Why do we love this villainous figure so much? Charles Vane’s voice actor Ralph Ineson – seen in Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy – stepped in to fill us in on the character and answer this question.
What kind of research did you have to do in preparation for the role of Charles Vane?
A lot of it was just learning about the man. Charles Vane wasn’t the most famous of the pirates. Obviously Blackbeard is the one everyone kind of knows. I had come across Vane’s name before but I didn’t really know much about him. So getting into the history of the period and finding out what part he played in all that was fascinating. He’s not the man who single-handedly brought down the pirate republic, but it was him and his type that messed up all the ideals of the pirate republic.
I actually did a lot more research than I necessarily would have done otherwise because I wanted to know where he was from. Nobody seemed to know. But you want to place his accent correctly and all that. I searched and searched and couldn’t find it anywhere. We decided to make him be from Whitby, which is a kind of smugglers’ town on the northeast coast of England, and is not far from where I’m from so I didn’t have to work too hard on different accents.
I also didn’t know much about the nature of pirates. I had no idea that on a pirate ship the captain is elected and can be removed from his position by the vote of the crew. I just pictured them all as a bunch of hoodlums running around robbing people. I didn’t realize there was a real democratic structure to the way the ships worked. Also, the way Nassau, the Pirate Republic, was set up was almost like the precursor to the American Revolution. Of course, the pirate revolution failed because of alcohol and syphilis and various things, but the motivation behind it was much more highbrow than I thought. They are a rough, nasty bunch, but there’s an honor to it that surprised me. That gave me something to play against because Vane is not like that at all. He doesn’t share the honor and loyalty that a lot of pirates did.
What kind of a man was Charles Vane and how did you bring that to life in your portrayal?
I think he was probably the worst of the pirates. He’s almost the definition of the phrase Doesn’t give a f-k. He just doesn’t care about anything or anybody. He’s kind of the ultimate hedonist. He reacts instinctively to everything that’s in front of him. He’s always on the front foot. He’s always attacking. He’s violent, nasty and aggressive, and he loves it. He enjoys it. He enjoys the intimidation and the violence.
He enjoys causing pain. Charles Vane is never happier than he is when he’s causing someone else pain. He enjoys all these things in a way that you could say is almost psychopathic, but he’s not psychopathic because there’s obviously some reason behind all that.
Charles Vane is never happier than he is when he’s causing someone else pain
He’s a very bitter, nasty man. There’s one little scene in the game where he’s talking to Edward and he talks, strangely, about his dad and how much he hated his dad and how his dad was pathetic. That kind of gave me a bit of an in. There was something in there. He despised his father’s weakness and lack of action. I think there’s a bitterness that was there from when Vane was a child. He knows people will do what he wants if he scares the shit out of them. That’s what he does. He intimidates and bullies. He’s a real nasty piece of work with no respect for authority and no loyalty to anything. You can never rely on him for anything, but in a sense you could follow him and become quite rich because he’s a skilled pirate. He’s good at his job, but slightly too impulsive. You don’t want to be around him for too long, but for a short trip you could probably make quite a lot of money.
I couldn’t find much out from the people of that period that helped much in the way I played him. It’s more about taking the building blocks from history and learning what he did and trying to find out what the motivation behind that was. The more I read about him, the more this image of him appeared. He is a force of nature. Everything he does is on instinct. He never stops and thinks about anything. He doesn’t even think to attack first and ask questions later. He just attacks first. No questions. I think that’s the key to his character.
How did you play a character like Charles Vane against the likes of Edward and Blackbeard, who are decidedly less crazy?
There’s a slight bit of mutual respect between him and Blackbeard, and I think he kind of likes Edward Kenway, in a way, but beyond that he’d kill anyone in a heartbeat. In fact, he’d probably kill those two in a heartbeat if he had the chance. I think he’s slightly wary of Blackbeard because he knows he’s an intelligent man and he’s a good fighter; it’s the same with Edward. But there’s no real love or respect for anyone.
He’s actually an interesting juxtaposition to Blackbeard. Blackbeard was a very thoughtful man who didn’t actually like killing. He just created this persona to scare people to the point where they just give up without him actually having to fight them. With Vane that just took the fun out of it. For Vane, the fun was in slitting people’s throats and taking their ship and taking their goods. He dominated and intimidated people. He’s very different to Blackbeard. I think they both have a certain influence over Edward in the game. He’s got these two charismatic pirates around him acting as influences.
Did you learn any interesting stories about Vane while you were working on Black Flag?
The first time he was marooned on a desert island, the first ship that came by – theoretically to rescue him – wouldn’t take him on board. The captain just went, No, you’re not coming on my ship. You’ll get my crew to mutiny and you’ll f-k me up. So that captain just left him on the desert island. He managed to convince the next ship to come by that he was someone else. So he joined that ship and worked as a crewmember. Just by chance, the next time that ship docked, the captain of the first ship comes to have dinner with the captain of the ship Vane is on, and the first captain recognizes him and says, Woah, hang on. That’s Charles Vane you’ve got there. Then Vane is arrested and sent off. He was mistrusted and well-known by everyone in that period.
He’s the one that accepted the King’s pardon and said, Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m done. I’m not going to be a pirate anymore. and then he went right back to it. He did this over and over. It’s his lack of respect for anything and anyone that’s kind of exciting to play.
What is it that draws you and, of course, fans of the game to a character like this?
There’s something quite therapeutic about playing all that evil and all that badness. It almost gets it out. Playing Charles Vane and doing the motion capture, the way the piece is shot with 50 motion capture cameras all around means you capture the scene in one take and then they take whatever shots they want from that one take. That means you’re not tied down to continuity and those kinds of things as you would be if you were shooting in a movie. You can really let go.
If it’s a violent, angry screaming scene you can really get everything you want because you know that’s the one take and you’re never going to have to match that again. You would just do the take again if it’s not right. That really gives you the freedom to really let go. So by the end of the day after playing Charles Vane in the studio, the evening is incredibly calm because I spent the whole day screaming and shouting. It was very cleansing. It’s like primal scream therapy; I think that’s what it’s called. You just get in a room and let it all out.
I think we’d all like to have a bit of his F-k you, I’ll do whatever I want attitude in us. Of course, not to the same extent as Charles Vane. He just has absolutely no respect for anyone. He has a love and relish for violence and intimidation. Now that I think about it, that’s present in a lot of characters I’ve played…
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