Mark Rylance on his everyman role
Oscar-winner Mark Rylance didn’t need to method-act his way into “Dunkirk” and his role as a civilian volunteer who crosses the English Channel in his own boat to rescue stranded soldiers.
Rylance could look to his own extended family — the firefighter cousin, for instance, who rushed into the burning Grenfell Tower on June 14 to rescue stranded residents. And the actor has always immersed himself in the stories of ordinary men who find strength and purpose in helping each other.
Rylance, on that note, was just in Pennsylvania — the town of Homestead this month — to mark the 125th anniversary of a 1892 steelworker uprising pitting striking workers against armed Pinkerton detectives. Rylance, former director of the Globe Theatre in London, is turning the clash into a play.
Last week, he was in London at the British Film Institute for a screening of “Dunkirk” and he invited his rescue-worker cousin to attend.
The film, he said, captures the spirit of such people.
“When people talk about the Second World War, they talk about collective spirit, when the frictions of class broke down. You would see the king and queen come out to a bombing site, and everyone was in it together. We fought and we won because we were in it together. We didn’t separate and splinter, and ‘Dunkirk’ is the most dramatic example of that,” said Rylance, whose character is based on the thousands of civilian boat captains who crossed the channel to rescue stranded British troops — more than 400,000.
“Men were saved by the small, humble actions of many individuals going over and joining with military and helping everyone else, at great risk to their own lives. My father was only 6 years old at the time, but he remembers the sense of unity, he remembers hearing that we got the men back, and he remembers the power of that collective spirit.”
For every recent act of terror, he said, there is another example of common folks responding with uncommon courage.
“The bravery of civilians who stood up to those who were attacking people with knives in London. The policeman who held off three of them with just a truncheon,” he said. “Because this film is a rescue story, it’s going to touch that nerve.”
Rylance has long been regarded as one of the world’s great stage actors, but didn’t really find a defining on-camera role until his star turn in BBC’s “Wolf Hall.” That led to his role as a Soviet agent in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and to an Oscar for best supporting actor.
Mark Rylance pilots his wooden boat across the English Channel to rescue trapped soldiers.