Rylance is Spielberg's new best friend

CANNES •You have to feel sorry for Tom Hanks. For nearly two decades from Saving Private Ryan (1998) to Bridge Of Spies (2015), he has been the go-to star for director Steven Spielberg. But now Hanks seems to have been pushed down Spielberg's speed dial by British actor Mark Rylance.

The Spielberg-Rylance bromance is the talk of the Cannes Film Festival, with the director blushingly admitting he and Rylance have become "buddies".

"I have so much respect for Mark," he said.

Spielberg has cast Rylance in four films in a row, including his adaptation of the children's classic, The BFG, that had a weekend premiere at the festival. Critics adored the actor's performance as Roald Dahl's friendly giant.

Spielberg, 69, said: "I have not done that with any other actor since Rod Steiger, who was in everything I did, from Jaws to Close Encounters. Working with Mark on The BFG was one of the most astonishing experiences I ever had in my entire career working with anybody. I just feel lucky to know him. I am even luckier that we became friends."

He added: "I have made a lot of acquaintances over 44 years of directing and I haven't brought a lot of people from the movies into my life. We have so much fun together as friends, as buddies. But that is not why I am casting him. There is nobody better to play the roles."

Rylance, regarded as one of the greatest stage actors of his generation, plays Pope Pius IX in Spielberg's upcoming tale of 19th- century anti-Semitism, The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara, and stars in the director's sci-fi thriller Ready Player One.

But he laughed off any idea that Hanks had been elbowed out of the picture. He said Hanks saw the genius of Rylance's Oscar-winning performance in the Cold War thriller Bridge Of Spies (2015) from his very first take.

"My jaw dropped open at what he was doing," Spielberg said of Rylance's first scene in the movie, in which he plays a Soviet agent being handed back to the Russians in a spy swop negotiated by Hanks' American lawyer.

"The second we finished this long 41/2-minute shot, Tom hustled me to the side of the room and gasped... His eyes were popping out. 'Can you believe him? Can you believe what he did?' he said. Tom was going nuts. It was an incredible day. At the end of it, I asked Mark to read a script for The BFG."

Ironically, Rylance, 56, said he had turned down the chance to work with Spielberg 30 years ago on Empire Of The Sun (1987) when he was still a struggling actor.

He said: "I was offered a theatre job the next day which did change my acting fundamentally and I met my wife. It was a good decision."

"Steven is very sweet," he added. "He said if I had done Empire Of The Sun, he would have cast me in a lot of films. But I don't think I was ready."

Asked what it felt like to be Spielberg's new best friend, he said: "Inexplicable... it's very remarkable for me as an actor to have the chance to hang out with him.

"He has a very good and sensitive heart. He likes to work so the only way you can hang out with him is to work as well. And you gradually become aware that he also surrounds himself with geniuses, so that is very interesting."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2016, with the headline 'Rylance is Spielberg's new best friend'. Print Edition | Subscribe