Mark Rylance: Staying in shape

Mark Rylance: Staying in shape

By Katie Jackson 20/07/11

Olivier and Tony award-winning actor Mark Rylance is currently on Broadway reprising his role as the Rooster in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. He took some time out to tell Katie Jackson how he prepared for the role and why staying in shape is so important to him...

Audiences come to the theatre to be taken out of their own lives and worries for a few hours – to experience something different. 

Going to the theatre should be like going on holiday. It should allow you to experience a little piece of someone else’s life for a while. If it’s really good, when it’s over you should be able to look at your own life and see it with fresh eyes for a while. 

As actors we depend on our bodies being strong so we can do our jobs. Taking dance classes, lifting weights – doing any kind of physical activity is a good thing. It helps you to explore and understand your body and concentrate on the physical world. Having said that, we need a variety of actors, of all different shape and sizes. We don’t want every actor to look like Sylvester Stallone.

An actor’s voice is an important tool. You need your whole physical body in order to make your voice, so it’s important to think about that and understand the ways they’re connected. I go to a chiropractor once a week to have my spine and neck aligned. That makes a big difference to my vocal ability.

I’ve always eaten carefully too. I make sure I eat the right kinds of food to keep myself sustained. I exercise three days a week and I have a trainer who I do some exercises with. I try to keep my whole body fit. I’m 51 now. If I don’t look after myself then my body will just get weaker. I want to enjoy my old age and stay active for as long as I can.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a workaholic. I like to enjoy myself as well. Bringing Jerusalem to the US has been fun because we’re all away from home together so we’ve been getting time to hang and have drinks. It’s great. It feels like we’re in a band or something.

I had to undergo a physical change to play the Rooster simply because he’s had a very different life to mine. He’s been a labourer so he’s physically stronger than I am. He was also a motorbike rider and a daredevil. He broke his back, his legs and most of his other bones too. 

I needed to change my physical presence to be believable. Because of Rooster’s past he also walks with a limp, which is quite awkward. To protect my own back I decided to do a lot of strengthening exercises, which changed my shape a bit too.

We weren’t sure that the US audience would understand everything we’re saying with Jerusalem. They do seem to get the mythology behind it. In both England and the US, governments and big businesses are trying to gain more and more control of the way we live. They want us all to be alike, like battery hens. I think Jerusalem speaks to that, and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have responded to it. 

If you’re an artist, a really useful thing to do is to look for secrets – things that are forbidden to be said. Maybe people are frightened of something, maybe they don’t have the words to express it, but those are the things that need to be said by theatre. That’s what it’s here for.

Look for those secrets in society and inside yourself and give them a voice. That’s the role of an artist in our society.


Mark Rylance was talking to Katie Jackson.

Jerusalem returns to London on 8 October, to the Apollo Theatre. Find out more.

If you have an idea for a creative project that promotes healthy living, check out our Wellbeing Fund.

Image courtesy of Hugo Glendinning.

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