Chances are you may not know Mark Rylance by name, but you will definitely know his face. Most recently on screens as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall, Rylance has earned his cinematic stripes in The Other Boleyn Girl, Anonymous and The Gunman after decades spent treading the boards.
The BAFTA, Emmy, Tony and Olivier award-winning actor – 'the best stage actor in the world' according to Stephen Fry, amongst others – is currently leading the Oscar conversation for his role as the mysterious Rudolf Abel in Bridge Of Spies.
We sat down with Rylance to discuss finally working with Spielberg, how everyone's favourite big friendly giant is taking shape and what it's like to be recognised by the Academy.
Spielberg offered you a role in Empire Of The Sun but you decided to stay in theatre. Now it's all come full circle, how did the experience of working with him live up to expectation?
Well, even more. He was so encouraging and like a friend, really. He's become a friend in the best sense of the word with a childlike, very free imagination and a similar love of great story. I really live for stories, I have lots of different stories I am imagining all the time and thinking how I could make them into something that I could then live in the theatre or in film or poetry. And he similarly lives for stories so it's been like meeting a great old friend.
Did you have a favourite film of his?
Schindler's List was a very, very powerful film for me but I like Duel, his very early one is very wonderful. When I was growing up Jaws, and E.T., and Close Encounters. Close Encounters was a very powerful film for me. That theme of someone who has an experience that is different from everyone else's and people think he's crazy, that's been a story I've often been attracted to. There are aspects of my beliefs that some people think are crazy.
You're moving onto The BFG with Spielberg. Do you hope this is the start of a big collaborative process?
I think we are getting on very well at the moment, and we are talking about things like that. We love each other and even if he didn't have films for me we would be friends now and I would help him in whatever way he wanted. It wouldn't need to be a big part. Because it's not just him, there's a whole bunch of people around him that are wonderful guys.
Mitch [Dubin], who is the camera operator's become a great friend, Janusz [Kaminski] is a great friend. [Janusz] is a very funny, wonderful character on set, very wild Polish humour. Really, really wild like a Polish countryman that makes everyone laugh.
The BFG is a rather flatulent fellow. Has Spielberg given you a whizzpopping coach?
He flies with his whizzpopping, too! He lifts up, he lifts off his seat. I remember a flying rig so that lifts me when I whizzpop and then I come back down onto my seat. I remember a couple of big strong Canadian men pulling on ropes so that I'd be lifted up and dropped again with the force of my whizzpopping.
Your name is very much in the Best Supporting conversation right now. Is it hard to separate yourself from Oscar season madness?
It's not something that interests me much, really. It's not a competition, my love of acting. It's a joy and a hobby and a thing I like to do with other people. So I find it very strange that people try and separate me from other actors as awards tend to do. That's not really in my interest or towards my happiness.
I like the celebratory nature of it, it's nice that our work is celebrated. I think I would prefer if awards were for the best scene: the best love scene, the most frightening scene, the best shot, the best sequence. I think awards should be encouraging what makes a good film, which tends to be the space between two actors or the collaboration of different departments.
But saying 'Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor', that encourages, if people think about it, separateness that actors are thinking 'how can I steal this film'. What a horrible thing. People come and compliment me, 'oh, you stole this film', and I think 'that just depresses me, I don't want to steal anything, these are my friends, I want the film to be good'. But of course, I’m being idealistic and romantic because really all these awards are just shop windows to come and get people to see the film, so I should just relax! But I think the shop window could be more interesting.
The Coen Brothers have a great Oscar track record. Did you see the drafts previous to the Coens' script involvement?
Yes, I took the job on Matt's [Charman] script, the script before Joel and Ethan were involved. So I had the delight of seeing what their imagination did to that script.
There's no question that you would make a fantastic superhero villain. Is that a route that interests you?
I haven’t seen a lot of superhero films. I was a great fan of Spider-Man when I was a kid and I saw one of the early Batman films, and obviously many years ago Christopher Reeve; I saw those early Superman films. But I'm afraid to say I get a little bit bored with lots of stunts and CGI stuff, I'm more interested in people really. And some of the things that digital technology has allowed filmmakers to do I think has distracted them from the more interesting aspects of character and story.
Sometimes I'll see a character that I'm really interested in and the last ten minutes of the film will just be long, long fights. The emotions and the thinking around a fight pre and during and after is much more fascinating then the prowess of how many times you can bang somebody's head against a wall or punch them. I just don't believe it and it loses interest for me.
Bridge Of Spies' final standoff is incredibly tense. What movie standoffs would you love to have been part of?
Oh, I think I would have loved to have been in Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and be in that last scene where they got shot. That was a beautiful scene.
Bridge Of Spies is released in UK cinemas today.