TONY Tony Countdown: Talking with Mark Rylance of Jerusalem

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Photograph: Simon Annand

We caught up with the awesome Mark Rylance recently, to congratulate him on his Tony nomination for Jerusalem. Also, to comment on his character Johnny "Rooster" Byron's morning cocktail: milk, vodka, a dash of speed and a raw egg. (We spoke to him before the New York Drama Critics' Circle voted to give Rylance a special citation for his work in Jerusalem and this past fall's La Bte. We look forward to seeing him again at the May 16 ceremony.)

Time Out New York: We tried your cocktail, and it's crap!
Mark Rylance: Really? Even the speed?

We have our sources. That's not a real egg you use, is it?
It's a real egg. One night I thought, All this cholesterol's bad, so I separated out the egg white, but it didn't get as big a reaction.

The yolk gets the laugh. Good to know. So, congratulations! How are you finding the audiences, now the reviews are out?
Audiences have been growing. I don't think the producers are making their money back yet, but it's growing. And I'm meeting people at the stage door who are coming twice on a Saturday, when I come out in the evening. And there's so much on too for people to see. I wouldn't get to see everything, even if I had the time or money. These people come to New York and see 15 shows in ten days. Amazing, isn't it?

Are audiences here as responsive as in London?
Basically, they're the same as English audiences; they laugh at almost all the same things. They're very quiet in the last act: They get caught up in the suspense of it. With English audiences, in the first act it was bang! this is us, and it was topical, it was in their hearts right away. With Americans, I think they're more, Those eccentric English people, aren't they funny?, same as when an American play comes to London. And gradually, by the third act, the play comes home to the whole issue of every human culture eventually getting the shit kicked out of it by the next culture, and that's what's happening now in terms of our connection to nature, we're being removed from nature, more and more isolated from it.

I also couldn't help thinking that Jerusalem speaks to arguments we're having in Washington or in the media about compassion for the less fortunate. Health care, the social safety net, tax cuts for the wealthy. It seems like there's a new lack of compassion for the poor, the criminal, the squatter.
Yeah, it's a new class thing, isn't it? It's not new money; it's the corporate bourgeoisie. I have friends who work in the corporate world. It's amazing! I have a friend who has just been relocated to San Francisco. They sell their house, they move their pets.... You live in a completely different world if you work for a corporation. It reminds me of the barons in the Middle Ages in France and England whose corporate entities were more powerful than the central nations. And in a little village like the one in our play, if they didn't want Tesco to put in a big supermarket and basically destroy the high street, it wouldn't legally be possible for them to stop it. Because the European Union says that Tesco has the right to go in without resistance of the local people to do that. And I think that's what happened already in America, but that's what's happening right now in Europe.

Speaking of monopolies, if things turned out differently, you might be competing against yourself for La Bte. You were eligible for two nominations, and some people feel you should have been nominated twice.
I tried to talk to myself about it; he was very resistant. The guy's a fucker to be honest with you. I don't care that he hasn't been nominated. He can rot in hell for all I care.

And where were you when this actually happened, when you got the news?
I'm embarrassed to say I had forgotten it was even going to be announced that day. My father was in town and I was worrying about how I was going to find time to see him. My wife called me.

Were you shocked then?
I was shocked that I didn't get nominated for La Bte! The play was a ball. The whole [Tony nomination] thing is rubbish! In La Bte, I talked 30 minutes straight, eight times a week. What more does a fucker have to do?!?

People wonder how you manage to do this three-hour show, twice a day—
Never mind three hours; Rooster gets breaks.

Yeah, during intermission.
He gets breaks, he gets to eat eggs and food...and stuff. I got melon in La Bte! Melon.

You're having us on, Mark. Seriously, Johnny "Rooster" Byron is being hailed as an instant classic character. What do you think?
He's a very demanding character, and I find people project onto him more than other characters that I've done. Offstage, more people want me to be Rooster, and I'm not Rooster. I can play him, and there are parts of me that fit, but I'm actually quite a careful person and he's wild and reckless. I have that side in me but I tend to rein it in. Some people also see him as a kind of father figure, a Falstaff figure, someone with enormous appetites and great stories and humor. And with this part more than others, I have to make more of an effort to keep myself to myself. At first I thought, Oh, I have all these new friends. But actually, they were friends of Rooster's—not friends of me.

Jerusalem is playing at the Music Box Theatre through July 24. Get your tickets here.

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