It’s so good to get a rare glimpse of Mark Rylance on television. The three-time Tony Award-winning actor’s portrayal of Thomas Cromwell in the current Masterpiece series Wolf Hall is mesmerizing; it’s a performance that might finally put Rylance on the radar of U.S. television viewers. Theatre fans meanwhile have been admiring the 55-year-old actor’s work for years.
It might surprise you to learn that Rylance, who was born in Ashford, Kent in 1960, actually grew up in the U.S. when his family moved to Connecticut in 1962. In 1969, his father, David Waters, who taught English, took a job at the University School of Milwaukee and for the next decade they lived in the small village of Whitefish Bay, on Lake Michigan, about seven miles north of Milwaukee. His mother, Anne, was also a teacher and his younger siblings, Susannah and Jonathan, would go on to become respectively an opera singer and a sommelier at Alice Waters’ (no relation) restaurant in Berkeley.
As a boy the young Mark Waters, as he was called then, was very quiet, owing to a speech impediment where he couldn’t pronounce consonants. Until he was five years old only his younger brother could understand what he was saying, so most of the time he didn’t talk at all. Hard to imagine, when you think Rylance has made a living largely speaking the words penned by the greatest wordsmith of all time, William Shakespeare, and is a man of whom Al Pacino once said "speaks Shakespeare as if it was written for him the night before."
By high school, Rylance had discovered his passion. Theatre. He acted in every play, built the sets, worked on the lights and made up the programs. Not surprisingly, he was particularly good at performing Shakespeare and when he was just 16 years old he was chosen to play the role of Hamlet. According to a Milwaukee Sentinel article written in 1978 to promote the show, the school’s drama chairman and director, Dale Guzman, said it was “Waters’ acting talent that resulted in the choice of the play, not the other way round”. Even at such a young age Guzman recognized that the eager young thespian was “a very specially talented person”. He also seems to have had an extraordinary amount of energy. When interviewed for the promotional piece, the diminutive 5’ 8” youngster explained that although he’d been rehearsing 20-25 hours a week he’d also managed to find time for his homework, play on the high school soccer team and design the set for the production.
Rylance’s father was also in the production, as a Gravedigger, along with a handful of other adults who played the older roles. The play was later transported - sets and all - to a private school in Virginia, where the school had been invited to perform. Just a year later, Rylance would be accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London where he honed his craft alongside other trainee actors such as Kenneth Branagh and Sean Bean. Soon after graduating he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, who coincidentally are in New York City right now presenting Wolf Hall at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. I’ll have more on Mark Rylance next week, in the meantime, you can see him Sunday nights at 10pm on Masterpiece.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
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