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Rebel Heart: An Inteview with Mark Rylance

26 July 2016 | London Calling

Twenty years before he made his TV breakthrough in the BBC’s period piece Wolf Hall, Mark Rylance was the first ever artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and a successful presence on the London stage. With a life dedicated to finding freedom on stage and off, London Calling finds out what makes the man tick…



Although Mark Rylance has been a major player on the British theatre scene for decades, it was just last year that the veteran thespian made the long-awaited transition to the world of TV and film – and he hasn’t looked back since.
 
Beginning with a critically-acclaimed turn as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s popular adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Rylance’s recent resurgence not only saw him team up with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies, but also grabbed him an Academy Award and universal recognition as one of Britain’s finest cinematic exports along the way.
 
In spite of finally crossing ‘The Pond’ and conquering Hollywood, Kent-born Rylance’s roots still remain firmly entrenched in the rich culture of his home country’s capital city. He is a familiar face at London protests – and he remains as proud of this as his Academy Award-winning achievements.
 
“Some of the big Stop the War protests in London, we really thought we were going to be able to stop Blair,” says the 56-year-old. “We really felt that we were going to change things. There were two million people in the streets. It was unbelievable. I never even got to the end of the march and heard the speeches because there were so many people. We felt like it was going to change things.”
 
On-stage, Rylance’s revolution was also about finding freedom and having his voice heard. As well as holding the prestigious title of the Globe Theatre’s very first artistic director in 1995, Rylance’s high standing on the London theatre scene meant he was able to mix with the crème de la crème of contemporary British talent – experiencing first-hand the effect of overbearing directors.
 
“I started a co-operative theatre company because I felt like the actors weren’t being involved very much; everything was run by the directors,” he says. “When I worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the actors weren’t as involved. Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, all these incredible actors in the company, they were full of voracity and stories and characters and life. But in rehearsal, it was like, ‘Stand there. Do this. What does this line mean?’ You could see all the spirit of the actors was squashed.”
 
This desire for artistic autonomy makes the modern-day big-money combination of Rylance and legendary film-maker Spielberg understandable. As well as Bridge of Spies, the English actor was Spielberg’s choice to front his recent take on Roald Dahl’s children’s classic The BFG and the pair are set to team up again in 2018 with sci-fi adventure Ready Player One.
 
“He’s incredibly enthusiastic and I felt enormous freedom,” he says of the master director’s approach during the filming of The BFG. “I don’t know how he directs other people, and I suspect that he’s changed since he was a young director, but I felt I had the freedom to play – that’s where I like to find things.
 
“Not that the actors should run things, necessarily, but that’s where the life is. You need a director like Spielberg who encourages the oddness in the characters and the involvement of actors in what we do.”
 
Interestingly, despite the vast experience accumulated by both men over lengthy careers on stage and behind the camera, The BFG also provided Rylance with a new challenge: CGI.
 
“It was the most expensive make-up I’ve ever had,” he laughs. “Whenever I see the film I’m amazed at the way it works because I remember the parts – and for this film, because of the scale, we were on different sets. So the fact that it looked like and felt like we were having a fluid conversation, I was amazed by that.”
 
Looking back on an astounding acting career that’s taken the Brit from Southwark to the City of Angels, however, Rylance’s rebellious streak means he’s unlikely to ever rest on his laurels or settle into the stagnation of similar roles, and a return to the stage will never be out of the question.
 
“Doing complete 180s is what I’m in it for – it’s liberating,” he enthuses. “To look at life from a different perspective and slow your heart down or speed it up or change the way you speak or the way you walk, all that’s much more comfortable for me than going around as myself. In another case, I’d be in an insane asylum – but as it is, I happen to make a living off it!”

The BFG is in cinemas from today.
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