"Reading the early draft, I was like, 'Oh, man, he does some really questionable things in this movie,'" says Dev Patel, who takes the lead role in David Lowery's mythical, mesmerizing The Green Knight. "We're with this guy in pretty much every frame of this thing, so we need to invest in him somehow, too."
He continues: "That was kind of David's job in the editing room, really, I didn't have to do much, it was up to him to temper the performance, and I would kind of swing wildly. And the great director that he is, you hopefully achieve that."
The role of Gawain, a flawed hero-in-the-making, marks a departure for Patel, who is best known for his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire – and, more recently, the eminently loveable David Copperfield in Armando Iannucci's film of the same name. "I was intimidated by [Gawain's] confidence when reading the script," the actor comments. "So I was like, 'Can we make him a bit more insecure?'"
The film sees the titular Green Knight arrive before the Round Table with a peculiar game. He announces that anyone can strike him on the condition that, one year later, he may return the blow. Gawain, who is not yet a knight and has no legendary tales of his own, steps up to the challenge. He beheads the Green Knight – and the stranger picks up his head and reminds his opponent that they'll see each other again. And so, a year on, Gawain sets out to meet the Knight – and his fate.
Joel Edgerton joins Patel in the movie as an enigmatic character identified only as The Lord. This isn't Edgerton’s first time starring in an Arthurian-themed film – he previously portrayed Gawain in Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur, a more grounded take on the legend. What made him return to this world?
"My being drawn into the old King Arthur film I did in 2003 was a completely different draw to this," Edgerton explains. "And my draw to this was to work with a bunch of fantastic people, to work with Dev, and particularly to work with a visionary director, who's going to bring this very opulent and very unorthodox story to life… I'm very drawn to the aesthetic of movies like this, old world films, that taps into a childhood fantasy of mine in some ways. But on an artistic level, this really, really ticked a lot of boxes for me."
Lowery captures that old world aesthetic with a focus on the stunning landscape (the film was shot in Ireland), and a healthy dose of unnerving, ancient mysticism. The director isn't one to make the expected – a glance at his wide-ranging filmography reveals a Pete's Dragon remake, the Robert Redford-starring The Old Man and the Gun, and the upcoming Peter Pan & Wendy (apparently "The Revenant with flying kids"), to name just three – and The Green Knight is another enchanting entry to add to his body of work.
Though often entirely inscrutable, steeped in symbolism and breath-taking visuals, the film holds the qualities of honor and chivalry as deeply important. But are these concepts still relevant today?
"Absolutely, yeah," Patel says. "I mean, we probably don't speak in those terms, but when I first spoke to David about the script, he was like, 'This is about a young man's journey to integrity.' I was like, 'Ah, that's just beautiful, sign me up for that.' Those terms, it's kind of sad we don't use [them], but it's dealing with cowardice and truth and challenging his ego and his masculinity, and it's all of those things in toxic forms that are ruining society today. So, yeah, I think they're super relevant."
Edgerton adds: "I think personally, that the whole quest for being what we think society thinks of us as being strong and honorable, leads us to not having integrity. And that journey in itself leads us to understand what true honor and true strength really is, and I think the answer is different to what we think it is when we set off on whatever our ambition or our quest is."
The Green Knight launches on Prime Video and is in cinemas this September 24 in the UK.
Until then, here's our guide to all of 2021's upcoming movie release dates.