From the beginning, Mark Rylance has been a big swings, big misses kind of auditioner. That’s true of the jobs he got—like when he recited a “Hamlet” monologue entirely in Japanese—and it’s true of the jobs he most certainly did not get—like when he brought an inflatable sex doll into the room, blew her up, and then proceeded to serenade her with a number from “Cabaret.” Don’t worry, he assures: “She did a very good performance.”
How did you become Equity?
I was given my first job at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in 1980. It was a whole season of parts in a repertory company, 60 weeks. It was fantastic.
What’s one performance every actor should see and why?
I think [you should see] what’s happening in your local community. Don’t think that it’s only happening in New York and London. Don’t think it’s not happening elsewhere. If you live in Milwaukee or you live in, I don’t know, Sheboygan, don’t think it’s not happening where you are. That would be my main thing.
Do you have an audition horror story you can share?
I used to be so nervous for auditions. When I act in a play, I’m not trying to impress the audience; I’m telling them a story. So I thought, I’m going to make every audition a little story, and whether I get the job or not, I’ll have succeeded on my own terms with entertaining these poor people, who are probably quite bored sitting and watching. I had to go up for a show called “Candide,” and I decided to sing “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” from “Cabaret,” which I’d done at Roderick Drama School. I was only about 24 and I thought, Well, I’ll really shock them and go to the sex shops in Soho [in London], I’ll buy a sex doll, and I’ll go in with a plastic bag, and I’ll blow her up and sing, “If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t be ugly at all.”
The funny thing was, when I went into the sex shop, I didn’t think at all that it was a sex shop, or that my deliberations about which sex doll would be the perfect partner for this audition would be anything other than that; they would know that I was an actor choosing a sex doll, not some desperate young man who needed a plastic doll to satisfy himself. It was only when I left the shop that I heard one of the guys in the shop turn to his mate and go, “Dirty fucker.” Then I realized what they thought of me, because I’d stood there like a good actor, looking at these top-shelf boxes with some terrible face of a girl. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job—not because of the doll; she did a very good performance. But my voice wasn’t strong enough.
What is the wildest thing you ever did to get a job?
The wildest thing I did to get a job was when I had my first audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company at 22. I’d grown up being taken to the RSC and seeing all the great work of the 1970s. I arrived a bit early by mistake, and so I sat outside the rehearsal rooms, listening to other actors doing their Shakespeare, and I just got more and more depressed. And I thought, No, this really isn’t for me, I can’t do it. So I left. And as I was walking down the street, I heard my voice: “What if it really is meaningless to you? And if it seems just to be something that’s meaningless, then you should go back and do it without being frightened of it. The fact that you’re walking away gives it meaning and power.” And so I thought, You should use it for yourself. I’ll go back and I’ll do something that will be useful for me overcoming my fear, and it’ll be a technically difficult thing to do. I decided to do the “Hamlet” speech that I had prepared: “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I”—in Japanese. And I did the whole speech [speaking Japanese], imitating, very badly, Toshiro Mifune, one of my favorite actors. I was thinking the thoughts, but speaking in Japanese, and that led to me getting a part in the RSC. So that was pretty crazy.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The great quote of Ram Dass, who sadly passed away a little while ago: Be here now.
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