British Icon of the Week: Mark Rylance, One of the Great Actors of His Generation

Mark Rylance has just been cast in the super-intriguing cyber thriller series The Undeclared War – his first TV role in six years. To celebrate, we're making him our British Icon of the Week and rounding up 10 things we love about this great actor.

1. He's a top-notch stage actor.

Over the years, Rylance has received eight nominations at the Laurence Olivier Awards, winning two, and five nominations at the Tony Awards, winning three. In 2014, he earned Tony nominations for his performances in Richard III and Twelfth Night, becoming one of only six performers to be nominated in two acting categories in the same year.

2. He served as artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe theater in London from 1995 to 2005.

There's no doubt Rylance and Shakespeare are a dream combination. The great Al Pacino famously said of his fellow actor: "Mark Rylance speaks Shakespeare as if it was written for him the night before."

3. He's an Oscar winner.

Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor prize in 2016 for his performance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies, a powerful historical drama directed by Steven Spielberg and co-starring Tom Hanks.

4. But he doesn't believe in "campaigning" for awards.

Asked if he took part in an Oscar campaign that year, Rylance told Time Out: "No, I was doing my own play about ice-fishing [Nice Fish] in Boston. I wouldn’t have done it, anyway. How embarrassing to campaign for an award, to sell yourself. I would never do that. It seems very demeaning and time-consuming. Fortunately, I didn't have to have the philosophical debate because I was busy. But I'm told it caused quite a ripple in LA."

5. He's a man of principle.

In 2019, Rylance resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company because of its sponsorship deal with BP. "BP has made the third-biggest contribution to climate change of any private company in history," he said at the time, according to the BBC. "I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who willfully destroys the lives of others alive and unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare."

6. He's also a committed activist and anti-war campaigner.

Rylance is a patron of several nonprofits including Peace Direct, an international NGO dedicated to "supporting local people in some of the most challenging conflict environments worldwide."

Last year, he sang the traditional anti-war song "Arthur McBride" as part of his Christmas message for the Stop the War Coalition.

7. He was made a Knight in 2017 for services to theatre, which means he's now Sir Mark Rylance.

Rylance told Time Out had he had a "long think" about whether to accept the honor and ultimately decided to say yes because "somehow, a knighthood makes it a little less easy to write me off." He added: "I've met Prince Charles a number of times now – because he’s a great lover of Shakespeare – and I think he’s a very conscious person and a good influence."

8. He starred in the BBC's award-winning adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

Rylance won a BAFTA for his performance as Thomas Cromwell, a scheming courtier who rose to become King Henry VIII's leading minister.

9. He's still super down-to-earth.

When he turned 60 last year, Rylance became eligible for free public transport in the U.K. – something he clearly appreciates. "Oh man, when you get that free bus pass and you take a ride for the first time on a train or a bus and you realize that that whole system is free to you, it’s an incredible feeling. You feel rich!" he told The Sunday Times.

10. And finally, he's known for his natty hats.

"I've always liked hats, since I was a teenager, and there used to be such wonderful hats in vintage clothes stores in the 70s and 80s, some of which I still have," he said during a 2016 web chat.

He added: "When I took the job at the Globe theatre, and had to do a lot more media work, I wanted to distinguish between when I was speaking as an actor, and as an artistic director. Now, I've just become fond of wearing hats, and of course, as I lose my hair, they keep me warmer and comfort my wounded vanity. I saw Maggie Smith recently – and this is great example of her wondrous talent – and she said: 'What's with the hat? Is it because you're losing your hair?' And there is some truth to that now. But my love of hats began before I started to lose my hair."

Do you have a favorite Mark Rylance performance to date?