Better known for his work on the English stage than for his onscreen roles, Mark Rylance made a name for himself on the American art house circuit in 2001 with his performance in Patrice Chéreau's controversial melodrama Intimacy. For his portrayal of Jay, a self-destructive bartender engaged in a torrid affair with a married woman, Rylance was required to strip off both his clothes and his emotional inhibitions. He earned raves for his efforts, as well as ribbing from the press in London, where he was the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Born in Ashford, Kent, on January 18, 1960, Rylance grew up in Milwaukee, where both of his parents were English teachers. Although he was raised in the U.S., the actor felt a strong sense of British identity and returned to his home country at 18 to study theater in London. Accepted into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Rylance was soon making a name for himself in productions of Hamlet, Henry V, and Much Ado About Nothing.
Rylance first made a notable impression on audiences on both sides of the Atlantic in 1995 -- the same year he became the Globe's director -- when he portrayed an explorer/scientist who marries into an insidiously dysfunctional family in Philip Haas' Angels and Insects. The film, adapted from a novel by A.S. Byatt, earned critical kudos but limited recognition, and Rylance didn't appear onscreen again until he starred in Intimacy. Picked for his starring role opposite Kerry Fox after Chéreau saw his performance as an alcoholic boxer in the 1991 BBC drama The Grass Arena, Rylance turned in a strong portrayal that tended to be overshadowed by the film's graphic content. Its frank sex scenes, which included full frontal nudity and unsimulated oral sex, caused a sensation among the British press who criticized Rylance, a public figure in the theater world, for his willingness to let it all hang out for the public to see. However, Intimacy went on to win critical raves at film festivals across the globe, and in the process allowed Rylance to be recognized as an actor who added up to more than the mere sum of his parts.
Rylance continued to take on-screen roles in between theatre jobs, such as playing Thomas Boleyn, the father of Anne Boleyn, in The Other Boleyn Girl, and in the British drama The Government Inspector. In 2015, he was thrown into the American awards circuit for his work in two projects. First, he played Thomas Cromwell (opposite Damian Lewis' King Henry VIII) in the BBC/PBS miniseries Wolf Hall, earning Rylance an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination. Then, he played captive KGB spy Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, which nabbed Rylance his first Oscar nomination and win, for Best Supporting Actor (Rylance became only the second actor, after Daniel Day-Lewis, to win an acting Oscar for a Spielberg film). He continued his association with Spielberg for his next big-screen role, playing the title character in The BFG.