Mark Rylance: “I didn’t particularly aim to be a Shakespeare actor, but I suppose I had a certain gift for it”

Actor Mark Rylance

You’d be forgiven if you weren’t familiar with actor Mark Rylance prior to his Oscar-winning performance in 2015’s Bridge of Spies.  However, any student of Shakespearean theater is undoubtedly familiar with Rylance’s incredible body of theatrical work. In the 1980s, Rylance performed wit the Royal Shakespeare Company and then, in 1995, became the Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe (a role he held for a decade), and has won two Olivier Awards and three Tony Awards for his stage work. Speaking with The Guardian, Rylance reflected on his long association with Shakespeare and why it has meant so much to him as an artist.

Believe it or not, Rylance reveals that he didn’t intend to become known for performing Shakespeare. He says, “I didn’t particularly aim to be a Shakespeare actor, but I suppose I had a certain gift for it; I certainly got offered lots of it. I liked Complicite and Shared Experience and Kick Theatre, and all the small theatre companies that were getting going. I wanted to be like that, making original theatre. And I liked Buster Keaton and silent, physical stuff. I’d grown up with the RSC, but in the early 80s it wasn’t really my ambition to be so much part of that. And then I got pulled into it, and it was a fantastic company of actors and plays. And then one thing led to another and I ended up at the Globe.”

He considers his role as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe to be a highlight of his career. He elaborates, “It was a very intense period but very exciting, with some of the happiest times I’ve ever had in the theatre. On a good evening or afternoon there, you know, there was nothing like the connection of the audience and the actors. I remember at the end of Antony and Cleopatra. It’s raining, a cold Sunday afternoon, and I look down and I see four or five old women, 60s, 70s, 80s – I shouldn’t say that’s old now, I’m nearly 60 – but they’re not like 20-year-olds, and I see, my God, they completely believe that I’m Cleopatra. And yet I’ve got nothing – there’s no lights, I’m standing on a rough platform, about to kill myself, and they’re all still. It was amazing. It was like surfing, or gliding. What’s holding us all? Just imagination. The story has taken us all to this place. All the scaffolding’s gone, all the training wheels, everything that was to get us there has gone. It’s just us, floating in these last moments of the play. It was a very extraordinary experience to be inside that.”

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