How I became Ralph Fiennes' assistant on Netflix's The Dig

Jay Ducker and Ralph Fiennes

Jay Ducker (left) on set with Ralph Fiennes during filming for The Dig - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

There can't be too many job adverts which insist applicants must have a Suffolk accent.

And there can't be many job interviews conducted by an A-list actor either.

But that is exactly what happened when local musician Jay Ducker answered an advert for an on-set actor's assistant - Suffolk accent essential.

Jay had been a gigging musician and hobby filmmaker when he spotted the Screen Suffolk advert on social media in 2019, and applied after persuasion from a friend.

Tranmer House from the mounds at Sutton Hoo

Tranmer House from the mounds at Sutton Hoo - Credit: Paul Geater

As it turned out, that actor was star of Schindler's List, James Bond and the Harry Potter franchise Ralph Fiennes - and the film in question was new Netflix movie The Dig, the story of the famous excavation of the Anglo-Saxon burial at Sutton Hoo, starring Carey Mulligan and Lily James.

Jay soon found himself at the White Lion, in Aldeburgh, being interviewed by Ralph in a Suffolk accent ahead of filming - and was duly hired for two months that autumn as the star's personal and dialect assistant.

Jay was responsible for getting him to and from set, bringing his meals and any other tasks needed.

Ralph Fiennes on set as Basil Brown

Ralph Fiennes in character as Basil Brown in The Dig - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

But another unusual role was to be the reference point for dialogue, with Ralph needing to nail a Suffolk accent for the role of excavator Basil Brown.

The film already had professional dialect coach Jamie Matthewman and Suffolk dialect author Charlie Haylock on board working on the script revisions and overall guidance.

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However, Jay was needed for Ralph to bounce ideas off and correct the accent while Ralph was preparing between takes and practising his lines.

Jay Ducker on set

Suffolk musician and filmmaker Jay Ducker on set for The Dig, where he worked as Ralph Fiennes' assistant - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

"For some reason - and I have no idea what possessed me - I started correcting him from the off in the interview, and he liked the criticism," the 32-year-old said. 

"He was already talking in a Suffolk accent, which kind of disarmed me, but when I met him I could hear the little problems in his accent, and I think with my music background I had a good ear for that.

"He really applied himself to it and in the end I became the reference point."

The Screen Suffolk advert in full: "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."

The musician, who has played the likes of Latitude Festival with his band Cove Hithe and as Skinny Rodgers alongside teaching guitar, also ended up acting in the film in a scene with Ralph in a dinghy when a body double was needed.

Jay still keeps in touch with the cast and crew of the film, and is now in the pre-production phase of a new film he is hoping to make with a friend about his ancestor John Ducker - a poacher who was the last man in Ipswich to be publicly hanged for killing a police officer in 1863.

He also continues to make music as Skinny Rodgers and work on film commissions with his business, Middle Sea Media.

"For me, I have been lucky to be working with wonderful people but I have never been around someone like Ralph," the Wenhaston-based musician said. 

"I would get up at 4am to be on set for 5am and he would already have been to the gym - his intensity and work ethic were extraordinary. His detail to everything was impeccable."

But perhaps the best recommendation comes from Ralph himself, who said: "Jay Ducker gave me a lot of support and help during the shoot of The Dig.

Ralph Fiennes in The Dig

Ralph Fiennes in The Dig - Credit: LARRY HORRICKS/NETFLIX

"I requested from Screen Suffolk an assistant on set who was from Suffolk - someone I could practise my Suffolk accent with.

"Jay adapted very quickly to the gruelling filming hours and really impressed me with his spirit of commitment and dedication. He worked really hard."

There aren't many in Suffolk who have that on their CV.

The Dig is released on January 29 on Netflix.

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