Meet Mark Rylance, the Next Oscar Winner for Best Supporting Actor

By  · Published on October 13th, 2015

DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

This weekend, millions of Americans will find a favorite familiar face on the big screen, as Tom Hanks stars once again in a Steven Spielberg movie. At the same time, most of those seeing this new release, the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies, will be introduced to an actor they don’t recognize and probably have never heard of. By the film’s end, they’ll all have enjoyed this man, Mark Rylance, more than anything else, and it’s very unlikely they’ll see another performer this year they find more deserving of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

So, who is Mark Rylance, and why haven’t you seen him before? The 55-year-old actor is mostly known for theater, so if you don’t go to a lot of plays on Broadway or in the UK and don’t watch the Tony Awards in spite of that void, you’re not likely to have caught any of his prior work. He has also done plenty of movies, including art-house titles Angels and Insects and Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books and costume dramas such as The Other Bolyn Girl and Roland Emmerich’s Shakespeare-centered Anonymous, as well as the hit British television series Wolf Hall, yet nothing so mainstream Hollywood as stealing scenes from Tom Hanks in a Spielberg picture.

Bridge of Spies will be a breakout of sorts for Rylance, and he’s already followed it with an even bigger and wider-reaching movie. Next summer, the actor can be seen re-teamed with Spielberg for an adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children’s book “The BFG,” in which he plays the titular giant. With his fame about to broaden, it’s time to get acquainted with Rylance through some interesting facts regarding his career thus far.


Rylance is a method actor, meaning he often remains in character between performances and has reportedly been seen in costume out and about in London. He also addresses audience members from on and off stage without breaking from his role, sometimes even to confiscate a cell phone. Additionally, he’s developed flash mobs and performed in public to unsuspecting people. In 2012, for instance, he conceived an event titled What You Will: Pop Up Shakespeare that coincided in part with the London Olympics and Paralympics. Watch a video about it here:


One of Rylance’s most celebrated stage roles is Olivia in a 2012–2013 production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” that began at London’s Globe Theatre (which the actor helped resurrect 20 years ago) and continued on Broadway, for which he won his third Tony Award. He’s been acting in and directing historically faithful all-male performances of Shakespeare for decades, begun during his time as the Globe’s Artistic Director when he controversially took on the part of Cleopatra for a run of “Antony and Cleopatra.” Here’s a clip of his Olivia opposite Stephen Fry as Malvolio:


Speaking of Shakespeare and controversy, in spite of all he has done for and with the Globe Theatre and all his performances in plays credited to the Bard, Rylance is one of the most famous outspoken skeptics of those plays’ authorship. He and fellow British acting legend Derek Jacobi even began a petition in 2007 to campaign for new research on the identity or identities of the true playwright behind these works, and he’s been involved in various projects promoting the fallacy claim, including the Emmerich feature. Here he is at a press conference for Anonymous speaking on the matter:


If you do watch the Tony Awards, you’ve seen Rylance win three of the prestigious honors. The first two times he won, he gave acceptance speeches that baffled audiences at the ceremony and viewing on television. He came off as a cryptic eccentric on stage, but he was merely being humble as he’s apparently not comfortable showing gratitude for awards. In place of the usual thanks, he recited works by Minnesota-based poet Louis Jenkins. In 2008, when he won for “Boeing-Boeing,” it was “The Back Country,” and with his second win in 2011, for “Jerusalem,” it was “Walking Through a Wall” (when he won for “Twelfth Night” he opted for a more traditional speech that honored Sam Wanamaker, who was most responsible for the resurrection of the Globe Theatre). Hopefully he’ll do something equally unique when he wins the Oscar in February. Watch the 2008 and 2011 speeches here:


After your children fall in love with the lovable giant of The BFG next year, don’t let them go back and watch all of Rylance’s other movies. One of them is definitely not appropriate for kids, as it features Rylance receiving actual oral sex from actress Kerry Fox on screen. The 2001 movie Intimacy is noted for its unsimulated sex scenes, though none of the intercourse is genuine. “Kerry and I were pretending,” he told the New York Times of the scene, which was enough for originally cast Gary Oldman to back out, “and the camera was hiding all kinds of things in the room that were not real, and the room itself was not real, and the sex was not real. We did more than other people have done to convince of a reality, but neither of us were ever fooled ourselves.’’ I’ll let you Google this one in order to find the video of the act.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.