Who Is Mark Rylance? The British Actor Goes Toe-To-Toe With Tom Hanks In 'Bridge Of Spies'

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, the Coen Brothers — these are pretty big names to be sharing the same credits, specifically those of Bridge of Spies, Spielberg's newest historical drama. The film stars Hanks as James Donovan, an insurance lawyer tasked by the CIA to negotiate a peaceful trade of captured spies during the Cold War. The mission is simple: trade a Soviet spy detained by the CIA for an American pilot captured by the Soviets, all while trying to avoid nuclear war. With such powerful stars behind and in front of the camera on Bridge of Spies, one might expect a cast bursting with name recognition. However, one major role is played by an actor relatively unknown to American audiences: the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. As played by British actor Mark Rylance, Abel is a key figure in the film and shares most of his scenes opposite Hanks, so who is Mark Rylance? After all, it's a pretty huge role for a somewhat unknown actor.

If the actor looks familiar to you, you're likely a fan of British television. Rylance recently starred in Wolf Hall, a BBC miniseries about King Henry VIII, opposite Homeland's Damian Lewis. He has also appeared in a handful of small films, including The Gunman, starring Sean Penn and Idris Elba. Perhaps most recognizably, he starred as Sir Thomas Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008. But, for the most part, Rylance remains relatively unknown to the film and television-loving public. For those of you still new to the actor, here are a few things you need to know about Spielberg's newest star.

He's An Accomplished Theater Actor

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Rylance is mostly known as a theater star, and has appeared in numerous plays on the acclaimed stages of Broadway and London's West End. He has made a name for himself as a Shakespeare actor, starring in acclaimed productions of Hamlet and Twelfth Night. He is also a Tony Award winner.

He Was Creative Director For Shakespeare's Globe Theater

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Not only is Rylance known as an actor, he is also known for being artistic director of the Globe theater for nearly 10 years, from 1997-2005. Throughout his tenure at the Globe, Rylance made a name for himself as a daring, sometimes risky interpreter of Shakespeare's famous plays. Productions under Rylance's leadership included, for example, a sparse staging of The Tempest, done with just three actors and a length of rope.

"He takes risks in all he does, from his astonishing stage performances to his leadership at the Globe and possibly inflammatory projects about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. He is a maverick and a shining light," theater producer Bill Kenwright told Daily Mail.

He Fights For Audiences

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Rylance is a rare stage star willing to speak up against the increasing prices of theater tickets. According to reports, Rylance doesn't take a job in the theater unless there is a clause in his contract that stipulates a certain amount of affordable seating. Rylance is adamant in his belief that lower prices lead to more diverse audiences, which only benefits the art of the theater.

"A diverse audience of young people and all kinds of mixed culture people in the audience there. I think it makes an enormous difference," he told The Stage.

He's An Activist

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Rylance has lent his considerable talents to Survival International, a global group dedicated to preserving native peoples' cultures and rights. Recently, he spoke out in support of the Kawahiva, a native tribe located in Brazil, and narrated a short film about the Kawahiva for Survival International. According to Survival International, the tribe do not wish to join the outside world, but are constantly on the brink of extinction due to invasions. "If the Kawahiva's land is not protected, they will disappear forever. But if Brazil's government acts fast, they can survive," Rylance told the group.

Eager to see more Rylance? Bridge of Spies hits theaters on Oct. 16, and Rylance will next star as the BFG in Spielberg's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic.

Images: 20th Century Fox