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Rusty Hammond

Mr. Movie: Mark Rylance

This column is about the meteoric rise of a middle-aged actor.


Mark Rylance was born in the UK in 1960. His parents moved to the US when he was 2 years old, and he has worked between the two countries his whole adult life. He was already regarded as the best stage actor of his generation when still in his 30s. He has won three Tonys, a bunch of other stage awards, and has been knighted. 


His movie career was fine but not outstanding until 2015 when he portrayed convicted Russian spy Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies. Abel was exchanged for American pilot Francis Gary Powers. Rylance was just spectacularly good in this role, underplaying the part with a hint of world-weary sarcasm. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this part, besting heavyweights Christian Bale, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hardy. 


Sir Mark’s versatlity is legendary. The next year he portrayed the title character in Steven Spielberg’s BFG (Big Friendly Giant). Based on Roald Dahl’s fairy tale novel, the BFG takes Sophie (unknown Ruby Barnhill) to the land of giants to help him defeat the bad guys (yep, other, bigger giants). The whimsical BFG captures Sophie’s, and our, hearts. 


Dunkirk (2017) is about the frantic, but successful, rescuing of Allied troops from the French coast at the beginning of World War II. There’s lot of shouting, and emotion, about. But Mark Rylance is a simple fishing boat owner who quietly does his part in this historic operation.             


There’s also plenty of shouting and emotion in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). Mark Rylance portrays attorney William Kunstler, a kind of port in the storm where one is needed. Judge Julius Hoffman’s outrageous conducting of this trial is aptly shown. Frank Langella is effective as the judge, a most unsavory part. 


The British Open is sacrosanct to golfers world wide. How can a British novice who has actually never played a round make his way into this prestigious event? Mark Rylance plays Maurice Flitcroft, an impossibly sunny dreamer who manages this heroic feat. He is arguably the worst golfer on the planet. His first round is a resounding 120 among all the pros whose scores are in the 70s. Sir Mark plays Maurice straight up and is so charming he becomes The Phantom of the Open (2021), beloved by the press and the public. And this is, as they say, based on a true story.


Rylance carries the complicated The Outfit (2020) as Leonard Burling, an unassuming British tailor in Chicago who gets mixed up with the criminal mob. All of the many heavies treat Leonard as a timid servant, only to get their comeuppance in a surprising way. I’m giving nothing away; you’ll have to watch it to find out.


Sir Mark Rylance can also be seen to good effect in Don’t Look Up (2021). 


All of the movies in this article are available on DVD. BFG and Phantom are fine for all ages. The rest are for adults. And most of these are available without charge from your library.