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Exclusive: Mark Rylance Reflects on Acting, Choices, and The Phantom of the Open

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Mark Rylance appears on the Zoom chat with long hair, wearing a black tank top, earring, and a warm smile. I had no idea what to expect from the titan of television, theater, and film. I profess to being an unabashed fan of his work. Rylance has enough acting awards to install new shelves. He’s a multiple Tony, Olivier, BAFTA, and Oscar winner for Bridge for Spies. Rylance is widely considered to be one of the greatest theater actors of all time.

Our interview was primarily about his portrayal of Maurice Flitcroft in The Phantom of the Open. Flitcroft, a working-class crane oper ator who decided to take up golfing, shot the worst score in the history of the British Open in 1976. He was initially admitted by a clerical error, then continued to cleverly crash the tournament in subsequent years. Rylance and co-star Sally Hawkins are superb in the hilarious and heartwarming film.

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I was keen to dig deep into Rylance’s personality. He’s been an accomplished actor for decades but keeps out of the spotlight. It was a pleasure to find him so honest and forthcoming. Rylance has a rich imagination that stemmed from his childhood. Who knew that Rylance was a Star Trek fan and likes science fiction? He talks at length about playing Flitcroft, working with Sally Hawkins, and his choices as an actor. Rylance takes criticism personally. He abhors violence. For him, acting is exploring your imagination with others. He enjoys the dynamic of collective creativity.

Rylance also commented on the gangster film, The Outfit. He was soundly praised by Johnny Flynn, who he’s worked with several times, on another interview I did recently. Rylance speaks fondly about The Outfit experience.

Talking to an artist outside of their commercial facade is always revealing. I’m pleased to report that Rylance surpasses high expectations. He’s a consummate professional with a sincere love of his craft and fellow actors. Please see below our interview in its entirety.

Maurice Flitcroft was such an optimistic person. Did that trait draw you to this character?

Mark Rylance: You named it, that positive attitude. We all have to deal with a lot of people giving opinions about us. From our parents to siblings, to someone at school calling you a dummy, or even worse, someone saying you’re good at this and bad at that. I’m someone that’s affected by other people’s opinions of me, particularly critical opinions. Maurice has such an ability to listen to someone else’s opinion about him, weight it, and say this is who I am, and what I am doing. At times to a funny degree, he’s never going to be the golf player he thinks he’s going to be. He’s not sociopathic or psychopathic. He’s dignified. He honors his own potential and imagination of himself. He keeps faith. I admire that quality a lot and found that endearing. It’s a true story. There’s something mythological about him.

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