Ralph Ineson is 2023’s video game “it” guy. The English actor, who’s made a sizable career out of supporting roles across television and film, managed to nab leading roles in two of this year’s biggest games, Diablo IV and Final Fantasy XVI.
The games released within two weeks of each other, and Ineson is front and center for both of them, playing the gravelly voiced Lorath in Diablo IV and the equally gravelly voiced Cid in Final Fantasy XVI. Eagle-eared listeners noticed the overlap immediately, wondering how he managed to score roles in back-to-back summer gaming blockbusters.
In an interview with The Verge, Ineson told me the story.
Ineson’s done a little bit of everything one can do as an actor. He studied theater in college, worked as a drama teacher for a few years, and started acting in earnest in the mid-’90s. He was in the British version of The Office, had small roles in The IT Crowd and Coronation Street, and played a Death Eater in the Harry Potter films before he got his big break.
“I’d been plugging away, and about eight years ago, I got a big boost in my career when Robert Eggers cast me in The Witch,” he said. “It was my first kind of leading role and the first part I’d had where I could show off a bit as it were.”
Ineson credited his role in The Witch as well as his impossibly hard-to-miss voice as the reasons why he was sought out for Diablo and Final Fantasy. In speaking with Ineson, I was shocked to hear that the deep, warm, purring rumble that emanates from both Cid and Lorath isn’t an affectation he puts on when acting — it’s just how he talks.
“I always had a very deep voice. I got it from my grandmother, a really big woman from Liverpool,” he said. “When I was a kid, people would turn around and look at this little kid like, ‘Why is that voice coming out of that little boy?’ So yeah, [my voice] was always a little bit freaky.”
“I always had a very deep voice. I got it from my grandmother.”
Though Ineson has done voice work in the past, he doesn’t have very many video game credits. Before playing Cid and Lorath, Ineson voiced the video game version of his character from Deathly Hollows and played a notorious pirate in Assassin’s Creed Black Flag.
Since Diablo and Final Fantasy came with a scant 16 days between them, I imagined the recording sessions for each game being just as tight, with Ineson flitting between different voice recording studios like Robin Williams in the climax of Mrs. Doubtfire. The reality, however, was much more mundane.
“They never crossed that close,” he said. “I’d go in for three-four hour session on each game once every three months, over three years.”
To Ineson, voice acting and traditional acting are two different beasts that tax different parts of his skill set. For a physical performance, Ineson talked about how he might do one or two takes over the course of several hours because filmmakers have to account for the quirks of production, like setting costumes correctly and getting camera and lighting in their correct places. But for voice acting, there’s only the actor and a microphone.
“It becomes quite hypnotic in a way,” he said. “You can play with the lines and redo things so easily without the whole set up [that comes] with film and television. It can be quite freeing in a weird way.”
As Ineson described, voice acting is typically done in a vacuum — just an actor talking in a booth. But for his work on Final Fantasy, Ineson spoke about how it had a different setup that impacted both his performance as Cid and the relationship between Cid and the main character Clive — voiced by Ben Starr.
“It’s very unusual to get to work with another actor in the session,” he said. “But for the first six months to a year, we did things together.”
Clive and Cid have a special relationship in the game, one that you can earnestly feel in both Starr’s and Ineson’s performances. “We got on really well as mates, and we just fired off each other well as actors. The real relationship of the characters mirrors our own,” he said. “The way they got the two of us in the studio together, it was a really good decision; it added a lot to the relationship between the [Cid and Clive].”
“The real relationship of the characters mirrors our own.”
Hearing both Lorath and Cid, one probably couldn’t tell one character from the other. Though I imagine it’s difficult for Ineson to make himself sound different between roles, he said there was a more practical reason for why Cid and Lorath sound the same.
“I didn’t want to have to come back to [each recording session] with a different voice with these characters,” he said. “So I made the choice just to give them both my Yorkshire accent, just to give some kind of definitive continuity.”
That strategy worked in his favor, as there’s really very little narrative difference between the two anyway. In Diablo, Lorath is a gruff member of the Horadrim, a society dedicated to combating the legions of hell, who also combats a notorious drinking problem. He guides the player throughout the story, occasionally picking up his sword to fight demons alongside.
In Final Fantasy XVI, Cid is the gruff leader of a loose affiliation of freedom fighters dedicated to combating the oppression and tyranny magic users face. He guides the main character Clive, occasionally flexing his lightning powers as the avatar of the Eikon Ramuh.
Because of the two characters’ striking similarities, I wondered which of the two Ineson identified with more.
“I think, because I’m probably slightly in the middle of them age-wise, both,” he said. “In a weird alternate reality, I could see Cid being beaten down to the point where Lorath is, and I could see Lorath having some of the vim and verve of Cid when he was younger.”
Though Ineson finds himself between Cid and Lorath personality-wise, overall, because of his work on movies like the forthcoming prequel to The Omen, a Nosferatu remake, and conducting research through multiple readings of the Book of Revelations, he gravitates more toward Lorath and Diablo’s world of demons.
“A lot of the work I’ve done over the last few years, it feels like I’m always either being or fighting Satan.”
With Diablo IV and Final Fantasy XVI now out, Ineson’s getting his first real taste of the video game fandom.
“I’m getting lovely comments, specifically about my performance, which is obviously what I’m all about, so it’s been great.”
However, Ineson is not a gamer. During our talk, he said he played a bit when he was younger and again when his son was small, but that he’s largely remained outside of the video gaming world.
But even then, despite not knowing the massive reputation of two franchises he was working on, he knew his performances would be unlike anything he’d ever done before.
“Cid’s anarchic political nature immediately clicked with me as a much younger man, and with Lorath, because I’ve lived in that world as an actor, the writing for him felt great, too,” he said.
“So both jobs felt special even before I stepped into the booth.”