Mark Rylance

From The Globe To The Gunman.

By Leilani Holmes.

Actor Mark Ryland

Most recently seen on the small screen portraying a serious (and seriously wonderful) Thomas Cromwell in BBC TV’s period drama ‘Wolf Hall’, actor Mark Rylance is perhaps best known for his more classical stage career and decade long tenure as Artistic Director of London’s Globe Theatre.

One might easily pidgeonhole such a man in the more historical realms of performance rather than envision him as a baddie in American action thrillers with the likes of Sean Penn, Idris Elba and Javier Bardem but, with the upcoming release of The Gunman, film audiences will be getting just that and for anyone who doesn’t yet know Mark Rylance’s work it’s a chance to open your eyes to an actor whose skill lies not only in theatrical prowess, but in a deep knowledge of performance that can be turned to any medium.

There’s certainly a curiosity to this man’s acting; a presence, a kabukimono spirit that permeates his work. Raised in Wisconsin from age two to 18 – with annual trips back to England where his parents returned to teach summer classes – Mark is no stranger to American culture and his independent nature perhaps owes much to that upbringing. Little known in the US he has nevertheless worked with a surprising number of Hollywood names and scooped up numerous awards (four Olivier awards, four Tony’s and a BAFTA) that are testament to his compelling work. Moguls of the screen such as Steven Spielberg and Sean Penn have on many an occasion been found sat among his appreciative theatre audiences.

In fact, it was some 30 years ago that Spielberg first came backstage after a performance of ‘Twelfth Night’, to meet and subsequently offer Rylance first a small, then a larger role in Empire of the Sun. The offer at the time clashed with an equally appealing opportunity for a season at the National Theatre and with a little help from the I Ching, Mark chose the footlights of stage over the limelight of screen, at least for a time. As the years progressed a preference for a theatrical community and direct communion with an audience became his primary emotional home with only occasional forays into TV and Film.

Fast forward to recent years where, free from the commitment of running London’s Globe, and having left a lasting legacy there, Rylance’s career choices now have space to diversify. The classic and historical work is still around ( ‘Wolf Hall’ we hope may return for a second series once Hilary Mantel’s books are complete), and the stage work continues with the Globe production of ‘Farinelli and the King’ transferring to The Duke of York’s, London, this September, but with a slew of big screen and big budget movies on his slate and a move into more child friendly projects we can certainly look to expand our view of this actor’s range.

Mark Rylance in the TV drama WOLF HALL

Shot in 2013 this month brings the long awaited release of The Gunman, starring Sean Penn. It was Penn’s involvement, Mark says, that was his main attraction to taking the role, playing a  former associate turned nemesis to Penn’s kickass protagonist. The film, led by Taken director, Pierre Morel, is a fast paced action piece which while not necessarily stretching Rylance’s talents certainly gives us a different angle on him. Rylance followed up shooting on The Gunman with a lighter role in Days and Nights, a comedy drama inspired by Chekov’s ‘The Seagull’, written and directed by veteran screen actor Christian Camargo and starring Katie Holmes and Ben Wishaw.

Rylance then joined another thriller, this time playing Cold War spy Rudolf Abel and finally getting to work with Steven Spielberg. Bridge of Spies, with a Coen brother’s screenplay which Spielberg directs and with Tom Hanks in the lead, is currently in post production and due for release later this year. With stellar team attached and Rylance’s portrayal of ‘the spy who never broke’ likely to make it a real cinematic treat.

Having waited thirty years to get Rylance aboard one of his projects Spielberg isn’t letting him escape at just one movie and has also tempted him aboard his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s BFG to play the titular character. Beginning production this month in Canada, with scenes due to film later this year in England and Scotland, Rylance will apparently be donning motion capture gear, a new foray for him but certainly not first his time working with animation children’s drama as he currently voices Flop in the Cbeebies animated series Bing Bunny. The film also brings Spielberg back together with ET screenwriter Melissa Mathison and with more talent being attached imminently will no doubt be a spectacular endeavour indeed.

How well Mark Rylance will transform from villain to spy and on into ‘the only nice and jumbly Giant in Giant Country’ remains to be seen but given the level of empathy and nuance with which he endows all the characters he plays this gentle giant of the acting world is someone who’s greatness is hard to ignore and who’s range as a screen performer we haven’t even begun to size up yet.

The Gunman is in UK cinemas from 20th March, 2015.

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