Mark Rylance is currently starring in Jerusalem at the Music Box Theatre in New York. A majestic performance that has garnered him a Tony nomination for best actor. When I worked with him at London’s Royal Opera House on Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he played the non-singing role of Puck – brilliantly. A massive hi-tech pyramid structure was no problem for him physically as he swung and slithered around its aluminium poles with a demonic expression in his eyes. Physicality is important to Rylance.
I like very much the kabuki actors and their physicality – he told The Economist in a long interview about his craft. How clear they are, how expressive they are vocally and physically—the parameters are much wider for them than our naturalism. They have nature in everything they do—the good ones—but they’re allowed broader, simpler strokes. I’ve been taught lots of different techniques through my career by lots of different, clever people. But once I get [an idea about a character], then really the energy, the ideas just come as I play. I’ll think certain things; that I want Valere [in “La Bete”] to be in your face, and someone who I’ll think of who is like Valere has big teeth, and so I’ll think “I’m going to make the centre of his body very much his mouth.” I don’t plan it so much. I’ve tried to make myself a bit stronger because [Rooster’s] someone who’s very earthy; he’s a builder and a countryman.
Rylance spoke of his approach to a text,
I always treat every play, even “Hamlet”, as if it’s a new play that’s arrived on the doorstep. With Shakespeare you always have to cut, so it’s very creative, really. You very rarely hear the whole play, and the cuts you make are like cooking a tomato: what you put it with, and what you don’t put it with, makes a huge difference. Very rarely do you just eat a raw tomato. And with “Boeing-Boeing” when Matthew Warchus and I worked together, we read the 1960s adaptation of the very successful 1959 French farce and then got a literal translation and realised the original was far superior. And so the first two weeks of that process in London was a complete re-writing of that play, one that [each member of the cast] got writers’ payment for. And likewise with “La Bete”, there was great work with David Hirson during rehearsals. So I tend to treat each play as a new play.
The Tony winners will be announced on June 12. Good luck Mark!
Photo: Mark Rylance with director Ian Rickson rehearsing Jerusalem