AC­TOR IN WOLF’S CLOTH­ING

He will rarely bother the boxof­fice with a Hol­ly­wood hit but there is no bet­ter ac­tor in the busi­ness than Mark Ry­lance

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - TARA BRADY

“Ah aw, ah ou, aw aw.” Mark Ry­lance is per­form­ing Richard III’s “Now is the win­ter of our dis­con­tent” speech, ex­cept in vow­els.

“I was on a pier in Con­necti­cut – I was stay­ing with friends – and I thought, I bet­ter learn this speech,” re­calls the ac­tor. “And I was think­ing about how pri­mal he is and I took away all the con­so­nants and made it into a kind of melody. And slowly I added enough con­so­nants back in so that the au­di­ence could un­der­stand the words.”

Where were we? Ah, yes. “I was just read­ing about Eleonora Duse and the great Sarah Bern­hardt,” ex­plains Ry­lance. “And they de­vel­oped a very melo­di­ous way of per­form­ing so that when they took plays on tour to coun­tries where they don’t speak English, they could still be un­der­stood.”

No, back up. Where were we? “I like that idea. To take away the re­spon­si­bil­ity of un­der­stand­ing the words. I sup­pose as a child I had to learn to speak more slowly and put more con­so­nants and form into lan­guage. That’s still an is­sue for me. I think so fast that when I see in­ter­views with me I start to say some­thing but then I get dis­tracted. I still have trou­ble keep­ing my lan­guage and my think­ing con­nected.”

It’s im­pos­si­ble not to love Mark Ry­lance’s zigzag con­ver­sa­tional skills. There are tan­gents. There are di­ver­sions. There are nooks and cran­nies. He ex­plains books that he loves. Books such as Malidoma Pa­trice Somé’s Of Wa­ter and the Spirit.

He’s a ver­bal per­son, one thinks. Just think of all those Shake­spearean so­lil­o­quys he has de­liv­ered. Or the con­trolled de­ter­mi­na­tion he brings to lan­guage as Thomas Cromwell in

Wolf Hall, forg­ing words like his low-born black­smith fa­ther forged metal.

Ex­cept that’s not quite the Mark Ry­lance story. David Mark Ry­lance Wa­ters, win­ner of hat­fuls of Olivier Awards and Tonys and the first artis­tic direc­tor of Shake­speare’s Globe, did not speak un­til he was six. Does he re­mem­ber his pre-ver­bal life?

“Def­i­nitely. I re­mem­ber be­ing in forests and woods and hav­ing a feel­ing of trees. And en­joy­ing them. I re­mem­ber bring­ing food to trees. Like bowls of milk and other things. And putting them by par­tic­u­lar trees that I liked. Some trees were more res­o­nant with me than oth­ers, prob­a­bly be­cause my com­mu­ni­ca­tion was non-ver­bal. Peo­ple couldn’t un­der­stand me. I didn’t like it when they said ‘What?’ So I was more com­fort­able in na­ture on my own. It was an imag­i­na­tive space, too, to some de­gree.”

Shake­speare truther

Mark Ry­lance is of­ten writ­ten about as a great English ec­cen­tric. To­day, he’s smartly dressed with touches of vel­vet. But he’s equally likely to wear a track­suit and base­ball cap. Many me­dia out­lets have re­ported his be­lief that crop cir­cles are mys­ter­ies that can­not be ex­plained. He is also a Shake­speare “truther” who, in 2007, along­side fel­low thes­pian Derek Ja­cobi, un­veiled a Dec­la­ra­tion of Rea­son­able Doubt on the au­thor­ship of Shake­speare’s work.

Ex­cept that’s not quite the Mark Ry­lance story: he didn’t even grow up in Eng­land. His par­ents, both English teach­ers, moved to Con­necti­cut in 1962 and later re­lo­cated to Wis­con­sin in 1969, where his fa­ther lec­tured at the Uni­ver­sity School of Mil­wau­kee. Ry­lance stayed in Wis­con­sin un­til he won a schol­ar­ship by au­di­tion to the Royal Academy of Dra­matic Arts

(Rada) in 1978.

Kind of Celtic

And yet Ry­lance does not sound re­motely Mid­west­ern. In per­son, his voice is, well, kind of Celtic, but from some dragon-in­hab­ited part of the isles that no longer ex­ists, if, in­deed, it ever did.

“Ac­tu­ally, my grand­mother is Ir­ish and I’ve en­joyed play­ing Ir­ish,” he says. “I love those sounds. I’m usu­ally taken for Ir­ish or Welsh or Scot­tish. There are sounds from

Ry­lance did not speak un­til he was six. ‘I re­mem­ber be­ing in forests and woods and hav­ing a feel­ing of trees. And en­joy­ing them. I re­mem­ber bring­ing food to trees. Like bowls of milk and other things’

Amer­ica that I just couldn’t change. I could never say ‘oh’. I have that ‘aw’ sound in­stead.”

Grow­ing up, the fam­ily sum­mered in Lon­don where the younger Mark de­vel­oped a love of theatre. Did he vary his ac­cent ac­cord­ing to geog­ra­phy? Is that how it ended up with its pleas­ing place­less-ness?

“I think so. I was con­sid­ered an English­man in Mil­wau­kee and I con­sid­ered my­self to be an English­man when I was there. But when I came back, I didn’t like stand­ing out so much. I didn’t like the way that peo­ple made as­sump­tions about me be­cause I had an Amer­i­can ac­cent. It made me un­com­fort­able. I didn’t want to be so eas­ily de­fined. I wanted to be a bit more anony­mous. So that I could talk to peo­ple and be amongst them.”

The vary­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties be­tween the fly­over US and Thatcher’s Bri­tain were equally tricky to ne­go­ti­ate.

“Hu­mour was al­ways the main thing that came be­tween the two coun­tries. The irony that dom­i­nated Lon­don in the 1970s and 1980s was very, very dif­fer­ent to the Mid­west­ern sense of hu­mour at that time. I knew fuck all about the world. The news­pa­pers I saw grow­ing up were mostly about where the lo­cal fires had bro­ken out. I never read any­thing about the Mid­dle East.

“I never heard any­thing about Mrs Thatcher. I never heard any­thing about any­thing.”

Dirty hands, pure mind

Mark Ry­lance is of­ten writ­ten about as a great the­atri­cal purist: an ac­tor from the Paul Scofield school who doesn’t like to get their hands dirty with any­thing as com­mon as film.

Ex­cept that’s not quite the Mark Ry­lance story. “I think I have made about 15 films,” says Ry­lance. “But mostly for tele­vi­sion.”

He played John Healy in Gil­lies Mackin­non’s 1991 adap­ta­tion of The Grass Arena, es­sayed the male lead in Pa­trice Chéreau’s con­tro­ver­sial In­ti­macy (2001), has worked with Stephen and Ti­mothy Quay on In­sti

tute Benjamenta and was Natalie Port­man’s dad in The Other

Bo­leyn Girl (2008). This year, build­ing on his turn in Wolf Hall, he’ll fea­ture in Spiel­berg’s his­tor­i­cal thriller

Bridge of Spies, and will take on the out­sized tit­u­lar hero in the same direc­tor’s adap­ta­tion of

The BFG. Is all this screen work a co­in­ci­dence? “Maybe. What is co­in­ci­dence, eh?”

This week­end, movie-go­ers can catch Ry­lance play­ing a for­mer mer­ce­nary in The Gun­man, a new ac­tion thriller from Taken direc­tor Pierre Morel and star­ring Sean Penn.

“Theatre is a much more di­rect kind of sto­ry­telling,” says Ry­lance. “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.

“But any­way, what would you do with it? Be­cause it’s not up to you. You’re ba­si­cally a tool for the direc­tor or edi­tor. You’re part of some­thing much larger. It’s much more like craft­ing. Like mak­ing a paint­ing.”

Is that frus­trat­ing when you’re ac­cus­tomed to writ­ing and di­rect­ing for stage? “Well, as I’ve got older I’m less in­ter­ested in con­trol­ling things. You’re more in­ter­ested in go­ing with the flow. That’s – I think – why I’ve be­come more com­fort­able with film­ing. I can’t con­trib­ute as much as some­one like Sean can.

“But I do en­joy it much more than I used to. And I can turn up and act, I sup­pose.” The Gun­man is out now and is re­viewed on

THE GUN­MAN ★★

Di­rected by Pierre Morel. Star­ring Sean Penn, Javier Bar­dem, Mark Ry­lance, Idris Elba, Ray Win­stone, Jas­mine Trinca. Cert 16, gen­eral re­lease, 115mins Sean Penn is Jim, a bulked-up age­ing as­sas­sin who, to­gether with a crack team of mer­ce­nar­ies, uses an NGO as a cover story to ef­fect po­lit­i­cal skul­dug­gery in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo. A clumsy and murk­ily plot­ted pro­logue in­tro­duces the gang, in­clud­ing tough guy Mark Ry­lance and tougher guy Javier Bar­dem, who, we learn, has his eye on Jim’s do-gooder vol­un­teer medic girl­friend, An­nie (Jas­mine Trinca).

There comes a One Last Job scene and we skip for­ward to the present, where Jim has be­come a real NGO worker in or­der to atone for sins past. He re­tains the pop­ping veins on pop­ping veins that were use­ful in his ear­lier, murkier ca­reer, which is just as well, as sud­denly lots of peo­ple are try­ing to kill him.

In­ter­est piqued, he flies to var­i­ous film-friendly tax-break des­ti­na­tions in Europe where his for­mer col­leagues now live. In­evitably, they all live with tourist at­trac­tions con­ve­niently lo­cated in the back­ground: Mark Ry­lance’s of­fice space over­looks Lon­don’s Shard; a jaunt to Barcelona brings us to a bull­fight. Even more in­evitably, Javier Bar­dem is now living with An­nie, who soon takes on the un­happy sta­tus of dam­sel-in-dis­tress. As the wa­ver­ing plot splut­ters to­ward an unlovely con­clu­sion, she’s so ob­jec­ti­fied, she might as well be a suit­case with a vagina.

Many other tal­ented ac­tors – Ry­lance, Bar­dem, Ray Win­stone, Idris Elba – are wasted, of­ten lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively.

By at­tempt­ing to parachute in weighty geopo­lit­i­cal themes to a suc­cess­ful ac­tion for­mula, the film sinks, leav­ing lit­tle to savour be­yond Penn’s ad­mit­tedly im­pres­sive hand-to-hand com­bat skills.

The Gun­man wants to be Taken with a brain and with­out Liam Nee­son. One might have imag­ined Pierre Morel, who di­rected Taken, would re­alise such a ven­ture is like try­ing to make Frozen with­out princesses or Id­ina Men­zel singing Let It Go. But, no. This is un­likely to be mis­taken for a John le Carré joint.

MU­SIC, MOVIES THEATRE, ART, FES­TI­VALS, MAR­KETS & FAM­ILY EVENTS

Wise words

‘As I’ve got older I’m less in­ter­ested in con­trol­ling things’. Be­low: Mark Ry­lance as

Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall

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