'BFG' Star Mark Rylance Explains How His Childhood Struggle Strongly Influenced His Portrayal Of The Giant
Mark Rylance is a rare breed. He’s one of those Hollywood stars who couldn’t care less about the glitz and glamour, because he’s just so in love with (and good at) his craft. The 56-year-old UK native came off the intense, thrilling Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies (alongside Tom Hanks) last year to take up something much lighter, yet bigger. I’m talking giant. Rylance is the star of Spielberg’s latest family-friendly venture, the big-screen adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic The BFG .
According to Spielberg, he immediately knew that Rylance was the one to play the giant. “I knew it the first day I worked with him on Bridge of Spies — anybody that could disappear into that Soviet agent where I didn’t see any of the transitions of how he did it, and then come right back out of it with those very happy eyes,” the director told Variety . “I also looked at Mark’s eyes and thought, ‘He has the BFG’s eyes! I bet he can do the rest of it, too.’” After watching the film, there’s no doubt that Rylance was the perfect pick to bring BFG to life. But along with those kind eyes, there’s another element of the actor that heavily influenced the giant’s character, adding something crucial Dahl didn’t originally envision.
When speaking with Rylance days before the movie premiere, his pure love for acting, including portraying the giant, just radiates through. “Doing complete 180s is what I’m in it for,” he says. “I enjoy that, it’s liberating to look at life from a different perspective, slow your heart down, speed your heart up, change the way you speak, the way you walk.” But there’s something else about taking on a character that is freeing for the actor. He explains: “All that’s much more comfortable for me than going around as myself. In another case, I’d be in an insane asylum. I happen to make a living at it.”
He laughs while saying this, but there’s underlying reason of why he’d prefer to be someone else than himself. He goes on to explain how fortunate he was to work with Spielberg and screenwriter (unfortunately now deceased) Melissa Mathison, because of their openness to collaborate. When Rylance suggested infusing a struggle of his past into his character (without straying too much from the original BFG), it was luckily well-received. “I feel enormous freedom to play,” he says. “Everyday I was bringing words from the script, from the book.”
Dahl’s language Gobblefunk can be intimidating, but being threatened by words was nothing new for Rylance. “I think Gobblefunk looks rather challenging on the page to read, but when you hear it in a sentence… it’s not as frightening as when you read it,” he explains. “That’s my argument. Steven and Melissa allowed me to try more Gobblefunk words. If he thought it was too much, he’d take them out,” he says.
Rylance’s fight for experimenting with the challenging language is what led to the giant’s difficulty with speaking, and a specific scene where Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) compliments him on his speech as he struggles — which wasn’t originally in the script. “That was something I pleaded for,” he explains.
He reveals that he fought so hard for the added layer of the giant’s speech because he had such a hard time with words as a child. “I couldn’t be understood by anyone ’til I was about six,” he says. Trying to explain, he blurs a bunch of words together for about 10 seconds and says, “I think I spoke like that.” He tells the story of encountering one of his previous classmates around the age of 10:
He said, ‘I remember you. You were the kid in kindergarten who didn’t speak all year.’ And I do remember that, just shutting up, because when I did speak, people always said, ‘What?, What?’ and got annoyed with me. And my father took [me] to speech therapy, courses and stuff like that to learn how to speak.
Rylance goes on to laugh thinking back on how he learned to speak by “pretending to be James West in The Wild, Wild West” with the help of his friends. “What a great show that was,” he says while reminiscing.
With the infused element of speech (which made me incredibly empathetic while watching), there’s more about the giant that Rylance appreciates and relates to. “Someone who’s lonely but develops a craft, develops a thing to deal with being on his own. Someone who’s doing his best,” he says. He says he like’s BFG’s sense of humor and the way he speaks. “I like pretty much everything about him."
My heart’s still warm at the thought of how Rylance embraced his past challenge for the sake of relating to and enriching his character, a fellow outcast, on an even deeper level. That, friends, is a true actor.
Images: Disney (2)