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Acclaimed stage actor Mark Rylance takes Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 'Bridge of Spies'

Rylance played Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in the Steven Spielberg movie 'Bridge.' 'Seldom has an actor been around for so many distinguished years on the stage and yet had not been fully discovered for the screen,' Spielberg said of the actor.

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    Mark Rylance stars in 'Bridge of Spies.'
    Jaap Buitendijk/Disney/AP
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Mark Rylance has won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

He takes the prize for his work in the Steven Spielberg movie “Bridge of Spies,” in which he portrays Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy who is defended in court by lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks). 

In addition to appearing in the TV series “Wolf Hall” and the movie “Anonymous,” among other projects, Mr. Rylance is an acclaimed stage actor and has won multiple Tony Awards, including an award for best performance by an actor in a featured role in a play in 2014 for “Twelfth Night” and the best actor in a play award in 2011 for the show “Jerusalem.” 

In the movie "Bridge," Rylance's character is often asked by James whether he is concerned about his situation and Rudolf replies, "Would it help?" Rylance referenced this during his acceptance speech.

"As a face of the film, I meet many people in the streets and... they're always saying to me, 'Would it help?' and all that stuff," the actor said, adding that "acting with Tom Hanks, 'would it help,' the answer's clearly yes."

Monitor film critic Peter Rainer wrote of Rylance’s performance in "Bridge," “Both Hanks and Rylance, a marvelous British stage actor, are masters at underplaying.”

Rylance told the BBC that playing Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII, in the miniseries “Wolf Hall” was helpful in preparing for his work on “Bridge.” 

“The 17-week shoot, playing a character who was so secret and quiet, was a very intense period of work,” the actor said. “I gained a lot of confidence on that shoot about my ability to register in a camera. That made a big difference.” 

While theater fans know Rylance well, some moviegoers may have encountered him for the first time in “Spies.”

“Seldom has an actor been around for so many distinguished years on the stage and yet had not been fully discovered for the screen,” Mr. Spielberg said of the actor in an interview with the Associated Press

The director found Rylance to be incredibly versatile. 

“[He is] a shape-shifter, a man of a thousand faces and voices who can play any part,” Spielberg said. "Mark understands that the camera records stillness better than in any other media. His transition from the stage to 'Bridge of Spies' was graceful and invisible."

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