Mark Rylance appeared in a several TV and film projects before linking up with Steven Spielberg, but the majority of his career has been spent on the stage, including being the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London for a decade.
Even talking about his latest movie with Spielberg, “The BFG,” has a slight theatrical touch for Rylance. Before he even sits down, Rylance notices the tape recorder on the table and launches into a monologue of how he uses recordings to help him come up with different voices.
The voice he ended up using for BFG was inspired by a recording he made in 1982.
“There was an old, anonymous play called ‘Arden of Faversham’ written around Shakespeare’s time. I went to Faversham to see what it was like,” Rylance says as if telling his tale to a theater audience.
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He goes on about seeing a group of teenagers asking questions of a man who spoke in a strange manner. Rylance’s recording of that conversation helped him get ready for “The BFG.”
Finding the right voice is very important to Rylance because he understands the power of speech. He mumbled so much as a child no one could understand what he was saying until the age of 6. One fellow student recalls him as the boy in kindergarten who never spoke the entire year.
Rylance’s father took him to speech therapy classes but it was a TV show that helped him the most.
“I feel like I learned how to speak by pretending to be James West on ‘The Wild Wild West.’ Actually I didn’t play that role but was Artemus Gordon,” Rylance says.
Once he had the voice, the physical part of the performance started. Rylance spent most of his time filming the title character in “The BFG” standing on top of a scissor-ladder that held him 20 feet in the air. His face was always covered with tiny dots that would be used later by technicians to add the distorted features of the character from Roald Dahl’s book.
All of this led Rylance to tell Spielberg that if he knew making movies would be this much fun he would have started doing them a long time ago.
“Earlier on in my career, in Shakespeare, I used to try and interpret parts. But I think interpreting a part is not so helpful when you’re acting. I think it leads to getting stuck,” Rylance says. “And what’s nice, working with someone like Steven, is he’s very flexible, and he really appreciates you jumping in and having a go, and getting things wrong, and trying things again.”
His working relationship with Spielberg has gone extremely well. Rylance picked up an Oscar in the supporting actor category for their last collaboration, “Bridge of Spies.”
Nothing on stage prepared him to deal with all of the filmmaking processes used to create special effects.
“It’s the most expensive makeup I’ve ever had,” Rylance says. The actor offers a sly smile and then adds that his initial reaction to seeing himself turned into the giant was better than the reaction he normally has to his real face.
Rylance remains impressed that Spielberg could take performances that were shot so far apart and tell a fluid story. Having watched Spielberg work in two movies, Rylance came to understand how deeply the director immerses himself in the story.
What impressed Rylance about Spielberg was the confidence and enthusiasm he brought to the production. He also liked the leeway the director gave him to play the role.
“I felt enormous freedom. I didn’t feel the freedom to (expletive deleted) up his movie but I felt a lot of freedom,” Rylance says. “I had a freedom to play.
“That’s where I like to find things. I felt more like a collaborator than any other films I’ve done. It’s not because he doesn’t know what he’s doing because he comes well prepared.”
Rylance has seen his career shift with the Spielberg films, going 180 degrees from life mainly on stage. The complete change of direction is something he welcomes.
He compares the difference between theater and film to a championship match of tennis with millions watching. He feels like in a movie, it’s like playing the match without warming up. He likes how theater gives him the chance to prepare with six weeks of rehearsal.