In 'BFG,' Rylance takes on a new role: Spielberg regular

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Posted: Apr 28, 2016 10:05 AM
In 'BFG,' Rylance takes on a new role: Spielberg regular

NEW YORK (AP) — The first time Steven Spielberg offered a role to Mark Rylance, the actor said no. That was 30 years ago for "Empire of the Sun." Now, Rylance can't stop saying yes.

Fresh off their Oscar-winning collaboration on "Bridge of Spies," Spielberg and Rylance have booked not just another film together, but a trio of them. Along with joining the cast of Spielberg's "Ready Player One," a science-fiction thriller due out next year, Rylance has signed up to star as Pope Pius IX in the Tony Kushner-scripted "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara."

But first, Rylance stars in "The BFG" (out July 1), Spielberg's adaption of the Roald Dahl classic. Rylance plays the titular Big Friendly Giant in a motion capture performance that the actor promises will impress in its technological wizardry.

"That's the big leap forward in this film," says Rylance, whose character befriends an orphan girl, played in live action by Ruby Barnhill. "The trickery of it will be hidden. But make no mistake, the trickery was incredible."

Before "Bridge of Spies" and PBS's "Wolf Hall," Rylance was known primarily as arguably the greatest stage actor and Shakespeare interpreter of his generation. His commitment to theater remains (he recently finished a run of "Nice Fish," a play based on Louis Jenkins poetry, in Brooklyn) but his newest role is as Spielberg regular.

"It comes from him because obviously I'm not in a place to offer him work," Rylance says, chuckling. "It makes me a little nervous that I'll fail him at some point! But at the moment it's quite enjoyable."

Rylance says he relishes becoming a member of Spielberg's community, which includes other mainstays like composer John Williams, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the late Melissa Mathison, who penned the screenplay to "The BFG." Rylance believes Spielberg may be eager for a company of actors, too.

"Because I was doing 'Nice Fish' and busy in New York, at first I contemplated not going to the Academy Awards because I'd have to miss some performances," he says. "But I thought, well, I'll ask Steven what he feels about it. He said it would mean a lot to him if I went. He's only ever had one other actor win an award in one of his films: Daniel Day-Lewis in the Lincoln film. I think he feels there is a slight opinion that he's not an actor's director. I don't have that opinion, quite the contrary. But I think he feels he's known more for other aspects of filmmaking."

Essential to the making of "The BFG" was having the two stars together in the same room, despite their characters being separated by scale in the motion capture process.

"There was no camera. There was no lighting apart from the general state. There were no marks to hit," Rylance says. "It was like doing a play in a small theater studio where the audience is all around you. Steven, who wasn't (electronically) suited up, could stand right next to us on the set, which he often did, laughing and looking at us."

The 56-year-old Rylance is used to being part of some of the most celebrated plays in London's West End and on Broadway, but his newfound prominence in Hollywood is novel. He's soon to begin shooting Christopher Nolan's WWII film "Dunkirk."

At his first Oscars, he went home a winner, all the while with a bemused but gracious attitude about the affair.

"It was fascinating to go through for the first time," says Rylance. "I don't think it's any kind of true reckoning of the quality of anything, so it was a little sad to me that the African American community put such stock into it as a way of determining their worth. I don't think any artist should be determining their worth on those things."

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP