Mark Rylance

Mark Rylance Biography

Television Actor, Film Actor, Theater Actor (1960–)
Mark Rylance is a television, film and Shakespearean stage actor. His most recent film credits include 'Bridge of Spies', 'The BFG,' 'Dunkirk' and 'Ready Player One.'

Who Is Mark Rylance?

Mark Rylance (born January 18, 1960) is an actor who's found success on stage and screen. In 2016, he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a Soviet spy in Bridge of Spies. Prior to this, he was known for appearing in plays — including many successful Shakespearean roles — as well as his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in television's Wolf Hall (2015). From 1995 to 2005, he served as artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe in London. He is married to composer Claire van Kampen.

Mark Rylance Photo

Mark Rylance arriving at the 'Dunkirk' World Premiere at Odeon Leicester Square on July 13, 2017 in London, England.

‘Bridge of Spies,’ ‘Dunkirk’

In addition to his Oscar-winning role in Bridge of Spies (2015), Mark Rylance has worked with director Steven Spielberg on The BFG (2016) and Ready Player One (2018). Rylance was also seen in Dunkirk (2017).

In 1986, Rylance walked away from the chance to work with Spielberg when he turned down two different roles in Empire of the Sun (1987). The second offer was for a bigger part, but Rylance had also been invited to join the National Theatre, with his pick of roles. To make the decision, as he later told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Rylance used the I Ching (a Chinese system of divination). The answer he received via the divining dice was "community," so he opted for the community of theater instead of moviemaking.

Though Rylance has appeared in films throughout his career, and loved going to the movies as a teenager, he said in 2017, "I wasn't a good film actor when I was young. I was much too conceptual about it, much too cluttered up with ideas of what I should be doing." His earlier films include Hearts Of Fire (1987), Angels and Insects (1995), Intimacy (2001) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). He also failed to land parts, such as when he missed out on a role in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man in 2008.

His Oscar win for Bridge of Spies came as a surprise, as Sylvester Stallone had been considered the favorite that year. Rylance hugged Spielberg, with whom he's developed a friendship, before accepting the award. In his speech, Rylance said, "I’ve always just adored stories, hearing them, seeing them, being in them, so for me to have the chance to work with, I think, one of the greatest storytellers of our time, Steven Spielberg, it’s just been such an honor."

Wife and Daughters

Rylance's decision to work at the National Theatre led to him meeting Claire van Kampen in 1987, as she was conductor and musical director for a production of The Wandering Jew. On the winter solstice in 1989, the two wed at an ancient stone circle.

Rylance embraced van Kampen's two daughters (he also formed a friendship with architect Chris van Kampen, his wife's first husband). Rylance's stepdaughters are Juliet Rylance (an actor herself) and Nataasha van Kampen. Tragically, 28-year-old Nataasha died on a flight from New York to London in July 2012; the sudden death was attributed to a brain hemorrhage. Due to this loss, Rylance withdrew from a role in the opening ceremony for the London Olympics.

When Was Mark Rylance Born?

Rylance was born David Mark Rylance Waters on January 18, 1960, in Ashford, Kent, England. As there was already an actor working with the name Mark Waters, he became Mark Rylance.

'Wolf Hall'

In 2015, Rylance was seen on the BBC and PBS as Thomas Cromwell in a television adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. He'd hesitated before joining the project: Cromwell lost his wife and daughters to the plague, which reminded Rylance of the loss of daughter Nataasha. However, his wife encouraged him to take the role.

Rylance was lauded for his performance, winning an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Prior to Wolf Hall, Rylance was seen on television in The Government Inspector (2005), for which he also won a BAFTA.


In 2007, Rylance appeared in the farce Boeing-Boeing on London's West End. He transferred with the play to Broadway, where his performance landed him the 2008 Tony Award for Best Actor. Audience members and viewers were surprised when Rylance's acceptance speech consisted of a prose poem by Louis Jenkins.

Rylance had an Olivier- and Tony-winning turn as the riveting Johnny "Rooster" Byron in Jerusalem (London 2010; Broadway 2011), and once more recited a Jenkins poem when accepting his award in New York City. In 2015, Rylance appeared in Farinelli and the King in London; he also starred in the play when it went to Broadway in 2017. The piece, about a Spanish king whose disordered mind was soothed by the singing of castrato Farinelli, was written by his wife.

Rylance has written plays himself, including Nice Fish (about ice fishing and based on Jenkins' writing), and has worked as a director. His theatrical career began with the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre in 1980. With wife Claire, Rylance formed a theater company called Phoebus Cart in 1990. Comparing screen and theatrical work, in 2015 he told the Irish Times, "You learn a lot from audiences. What’s funny or what isn’t. When to go faster or slower. In film you don’t get any of that information back."

Rylance and Shakespeare

Rylance, who is viewed as one of the world's leading Shakespearean actors, has played roles from Hamlet to Cleopatra. A couple of years after leaving drama school he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He won an Olivier Award for starring as Benedick — opposite Janet McTeer as Beatrice — in Much Ado About Nothing in London in 1993.

In 1995, Rylance was named the first artistic director at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. This was built in the style of the original Globe Theatre, close to where the first two Globes had stood. The idea of replicating a Shakespeare-era Globe, including an open space for audience members to stand and watch performances, was derided by some, but Rylance helped make it a success. He was aided in this by his wife, who served as musical director.

Globe presentations of Shakespeare sometimes featured period-appropriate costumes and, as in the original productions, men in both male and female roles. Rylance starred as Henry V when the Globe opened in 1997. In 2002, he portrayed Olivia in Twelfth Night. He would revisit Olivia at the Globe in 2012, alternating performances as the title role in Richard III; in 2014, after the two plays went to Broadway, he received Tony Award nominations for both parts, and won as best featured actor for his work as Olivia.

Controversially, Rylance, despite his ability to bring Shakespeare to life, has debated whether William Shakespeare actually authored the plays attributed to him, positing that "William Shakespeare" could have been a front for writers who couldn't reveal themselves. Rylance wrote a play — I Am Shakespeare — that featured chats with possible playwrights.

Under Rylance's guidance, Shakespeare's Globe was popular and financially successful, but he chafed at some of the management and administrative duties (his questions about Shakespeare's authorship also presented difficulties). In 2005, he left the directorship.


On December 30, 2016, Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s Honors List announced that Rylance would be knighted in recognition of his services to the theater. The ceremony was held at Buckingham Palace in April 2017.

Early Life

Rylance moved to America in 1962, as his father became a teacher at Connecticut's Choate School. A few years later, the family relocated to Wisconsin due to his father's job at the University School of Milwaukee.

Rylance, who has two younger siblings, didn't really talk until he was around six, giving voice to mostly vowels. It was thanks in part to his enjoyment of performing while playing with friends that he started to communicate.

Rylance began to participate in theatrical productions while in school, happy to work behind the scenes as well as act. During summers in England he was able to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform.


While attending the University School of Milwaukee, Rylance got the chance to play Hamlet as a high school junior (in preparation, he spent a summer studying the play). He went on to use one of the Danish prince's soliloquies in his successful audition for the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts (RADA), an acting school in London.

Rylance attended RADA at the same time as Kenneth Branagh and Timothy Spall. However, the experience was a big change from his life in Wisconsin: he felt alienated for sounding American, and for being unfamiliar with everything from pubs to British politics.


Rylance has often used his voice to bring attention to causes and concerns. In 2012, he joined calls for the Globe not to work with an Israeli theater company that had performed at settlements in the West Bank. He has also spoken out about climate change, criticizing organizations for accepting support from oil companies and calling for an actors' pension fund to no longer invest in fossil fuels. And with Survival International, he's tried to bring attention to the threats faced by indigenous tribes around the world.

However, it's as a storyteller that Rylance has had the greatest impact. Regarding the importance of stories, he told The Telegraph in 2015, "I think that is all we want as human beings. That is why there are religions and philosophies. Without stories, life would be overwhelming."

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