Mark Rylance was the man who said no to Steven Spielberg. In 1987, as an up-and-coming actor who’d already conquered the English stage, he turned down a key role in “Empire of the Sun,” preferring a theatrical project. When Rylance finally said yes, for Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” almost 30 years had passed. The result was that one of the finest and most acclaimed actors of his generation, who’s only deigned to do a handful of film roles, scored an Oscar to add to his two Oliviers and three Tonys.
Rylance must have really liked working with the legendary director, as they immediately reunited for “The BFG,” in which he plays Roald Dahl’s big, friendly giant who meets young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill). That required the strange task of acting with motion-capture gizmos all over him — a process Rylance found strangely liberating.
For an actor, it must be pleasurable to speak the BFG’s bizarre language of misnomers and nonsense: Words like “gobblefunk,” “squibbling,” “whoopsey-splunkers.”
I think you’re right: The word is “pleasurable.” A lot of words now are scientific words, technical words. They’re not constructed for pleasure. They’re constructed for clarity and usefulness in function. Shakespeare and a lot of them are probably read now more than they’re spoken or heard. And Shakespeare certainly wrote to be heard. One of the lovely things about this book is [Roald Dahl] created it by telling his daughters the story at bedtime. I meet so many fathers and children who’ve read it to their children or had it read to them. It’s an oral book, and these words are very pleasurable to say and pleasurable to hear. They’re not like some kind of financial board report. [Laughs]
It’s often said James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is best heard than read. They read it every year on Bloomsday.
That’s certainly what Yeats used to do. Once he’d written a poem he’d read it out loud in order to get the sound right.
Let’s talk about the motion-capture technique, which was a first for you. That must be unusual, especially for someone who’s acted for so long.
It was more like being in a play. It was like being in the last week’s rehearsal of play, when the set is marked out on the floor and you haven’t got all the parts for the furniture. You’re just playing the relationships and the connections between you and the other characters. In that way it was quite liberating. Usually in film you have to hit the X on the floor so [the shot’s] in focus and the lights are right. It’s quite like American football: It’s some scientific strategy in American football, rather than a free-flowing game, like English football or rugby, where the play takes place wildly. Apart from the technical stuff you have to wear, the actual acting reminded me of being in the theater.