There was a moment after the production of British thriller Blitz in 2010 when Mark Rylance completely gave up the idea of being a movie actor.
Rylance, 62, had studied theater at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and had spent decades on the stage, even becoming the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in 1995, while also having tested the waters of Hollywood with roles in films such as ‘Angels & Insects’ and “The Other Boleyn Girl”. But after Blitz, Rylance thought his shot at film was over.
“It was the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had as an actor,” Rylance recalled while sitting in the lobby of the Bristol Old Vic in January, where he was starring in a new production, Dr. Semmelweis.” “I’ve had this my whole career: if you don’t work in television and film, you’re not a serious actor. And I suddenly thought: ‘F— that. F— that!’ Here I am on set getting beaten with a hammer for nothing. So I quit. I let go of all my agents, everyone, and I said, ‘I’ll get enough work in the theater. I’m lucky to be a theater actor. It doesn’t bother me anymore. If someone comes and asks me, I’ll think about it, but I don’t present myself that way anymore.’ And then, a few years later, I won an Oscar.”
These days, Rylance has a more optimistic view of Hollywood — and it’s not just because of the awards show’s attention.
During the pandemic, the London-based British actor was shooting six feature films while cinemas were closed, including Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up for Netflix and The Outfit, which hits theaters on Friday. It pays tribute to Steven Spielberg, who cast Rylance as Rudolf Abel in 2015’s Bridge of Spies and earned him that Oscar for supporting actor, but Rylance’s new Hollywood rise doesn’t come out of nowhere. The actor laughs when it is pointed out that the press releases for The Outfit suggest this is his first starring role on screen. He’s quick to rattle off a long list of films he did before Bridge of Spies, though he quips, “None of them were particularly successful.”
“Whenever I say it to Steven [Spielberg] something about a movie I did in the ’80s — I’ve directed a lot of movies — his eyes get a little cloudy,” says Rylance. “Because he likes to think that he pulled me out of the gutter and turned me into a movie actor with ‘Bridge of Spies.’ And to a certain extent he did. It’s true. But I wasn’t totally naïve or innocent when he found me.”
Since then, Rylance has played a variety of on-screen characters, from the title role in Spielberg’s The BFG to the heroic boat captain Mr. Dawson in Dunkirk. But the real boost has come in the last two years as Rylance seized opportunities in Hollywood while the West End and Broadway remained closed. His first fall 2020 pandemic project was a student film, Black Twist, which Rylance produced for free. He then directed Craig Roberts’ quirky comedy-drama The Phantom of the Open, in which he plays real-life amateur golfer Maurice Flitcroft. It was followed by Don’t Look Up, The Outfit, Terrence Malick’s The Way of the Wind (in which he plays Satan), the Darkness Rising limited series, and Luca Guadagnino’s Bones & All.
Written by Graham Moore and Johnathan McClain and directed by Moore, The Outfit is perhaps the most intimate and subtle of the projects, varying dramatically in scope. Rylance plays Leonard, a Savile Row tailor who has relocated his shop to Chicago, where his shop has become a hub for mob activity. It’s theater-like in nature as all the scenes take place within the walls of the store. In fact, the team built the tailoring rooms on a sound stage in Wembley and filmed chronologically, allowing Rylance to slowly reveal layers of his character as the suspenseful story unfolded. Leonard isn’t the simple man he first appears to be, and Rylance masterfully plays that off with nuanced gestures and lines.
“We talked about the layers of the clothes as much as we talked about the layers of the character,” explains Moore, who wrote the script with Rylance in mind. “As the film progresses, its layers unravel, sort of like layers of clothing might unravel. A question Mark would often ask me when we were shooting a scene was, ‘How much do you want to know what I’m really thinking or feeling right now?’ This turned out to be a really great dial to tune. Mark is such a great craftsman at calibrating this accurately.”
Rylance, who only saw the film for the first time the night before this interview, is still working on this calibration. “I’m still not entirely sure if I made the right decisions there,” he admits, adding, “I still feel, as an actor probably always feels, that Steve McQueen could have done better can play.”
The actor prepared for the role by spending time at an actual tailoring shop on Savile Row, Huntsman & Sons, where he learned the art of cutting and sewing – two very different professions, as the film points out. There was a process to the work that Rylance appreciated, and he believes there’s a common thread that connects Leonard to his other characters in the film.
“I get a lot of special roles,” Rylance muses. “I see that I’m doing something very special, quite detailed. It is interesting. This spy character. The Don’t Look Up character – very meticulous. This character is very meticulous. And even Bones & All, which I just did some ADR on, is another very special person with rituals and routines. It’s not what I’ve always played in the theater. But that’s the beauty of being someone who’s done a lot of theater just before getting into film. I sort of have a lot of back catalog that I haven’t published in a bigger place.”
Rylance claims that Steve Coogan or “so wonderful [Steve] Carell” could have been cast in his place in Don’t Look Up, but McKay knew Rylance would be ideal for the role of tech billionaire Peter Isherwell. The director had seen Rylance years earlier in a Broadway production of “Boeing-Boeing” and recalled the actor’s comedic timing, which he calls “breathtaking.”
“It’s one of the toughest roles in the movie,” McKay notes in an email. “The actual tech billionaires are already beyond parody. I needed an actor who could bring original choices and nuance. And, oh yes, an actor who’s also hilarious. The big pleasant surprise was how amazing and fully cooperative Mark is. We had hours of fascinating conversations about the character and he was open and enthusiastic about the idea of improvising on set. In summary; he was a total delight. Sometimes actors this size can be very picky, but Mark was fun, curious and playful the whole time.”
Rylance, whose role in The Phantom of the Open, which airs in June, also veers into comedic territory, if rather heartwarmingly, was also a fan of McKay. But the actor, who has stayed out of the online discourse surrounding the film, also welcomed the opportunity to shed light on an issue without jumping on a soapbox.
“I’m a very passionate environmental activist – I mean, we’re all very concerned about these things – so the analogy was really interesting,” he says of the film. “My role is to be a storyteller and if I want to move people, let them move of their own free will after hearing a story that opens a path for them [to think about it]. And look how many people this film has reached.”
Like his characters, Rylance embraces a process when preparing for a role or preparing to go on stage for a performance, noting that he is always very time conscious. He showcased some of his techniques at rehearsals for The Outfit, including playing the children’s game Four Square (the actor brought his own ball) with his co-stars and Moore. While Rylance says he tends to be “wandering” in his day-to-day life, his precision as an actor runs deep.
“I remember the first time Mark came on set long before we started filming and he looked at it [cutting] table and said, ‘That’s an inch too high,'” Moore recalled. “He knew exactly how high the original should be. We said, “Oh yeah, we know it’s a little off, but it’s better for the lighting this way.” And he said, ‘No, it has to be the true altitude.’ And he was absolutely right. That was the level of craftsmanship that he put into the character and into his work.”
Rylance constantly questions the process of trading, often referencing things he hears others say about the craft. He’s fascinated by how actors do what they do. For Rylance, who is set to reprise his iconic role in Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ in London from April, the unbroken lineage of his own work is simply a sense of mindfulness. He wants to react to the moment – more difficult in film than in play – and he doesn’t want “self-concept” to get in the way. It is this awareness that allows him to choose the most interesting roles and then discover something new.
“Robert Duvall said in an interview I heard the other day that you have to learn to play within your personal range,” Rylance muses. “We are not all. We are special. I really admire that. I don’t think playing a lot of different roles and playing the same thing is a better form of acting. The most important thing is your ability to be present in a given situation in a timely manner. But right now I enjoy having the added challenge of being present and then channeling my presence through certain disciplines.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-03-18/mark-rylance-the-outfit-explained Mark Rylance explains how he tailors his role in The Outfit