Mark Rylance is widely regarded as one of the greatest theatre actors of his generation and found new admirers in 2016 with an Oscar-winning turn on the big screen after a much-lauded performance in the BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall.
But it is his work on the stage that has earned him a knighthood in the New Year Honours list, less than a year after he accepted a best supporting actor Academy Award for his portrayal of KGB agent Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge Of Spies.
Hailed as a natural chameleon, he ran Shakespeare’s Globe for a decade, transforming from a severe Henry V to a feminine Olivia in Twelfth Night, but the defining performance of his stage career to date remains that of his strutting, brutish Johnny “Rooster” Byron in Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, which originally ran at the Royal Court and earned him a Tony Award in the US.
He has also won praise for his ice fishing play Nice Fish, which he stars in and co-wrote. It played to sell-out audiences in the US and is on at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.
Mark, 56, has never shied away from controversy, launching a petition in 2007 to officially challenge whether Shakespeare’s works were all exclusively penned by the Bard himself, and adding his voice to criticism of Government intervention in the BBC when he received a Bafta for his role as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall this year.
However he seems uncomfortable in the spotlight when receiving praise, often quoting poetry while accepting awards.
After he won his Oscar, defeating favourite Sylvester Stallone for his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed, he said: “People say things about competing as actors and I know that is necessary to make a show out of it but those actors are so good I feel I’m more of a spokesman when I win rather than better than the other nominees. I don’t take it too seriously.”
Born in 1960, Mark acted in Shakespeare plays at school before enjoying a rise through the theatre, joining the Globe as artistic director in 1995.
But he only found fame outside the theatre when he was cast as Henry VIII’s fixer in Wolf Hall, an adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels.
The role scored him a Bafta, as well as nods at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards in the US.
Accepting his Bafta earlier this year, he said: “We’re a nation of storytellers, we’re admired around the world for it and long may it live and long may it be a privilege to the people here without having to watch commercials.”
He will build on his recent big-screen success when he reunites with Steven Spielberg, who also directed him in The BFG, for both The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara and Ready Player One.
He will also appear in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in 2017.