Directed by Steven Spielberg, the Roald Dahl beloved classic tale The BFG tells the imaginative story of a young girl and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. When precocious 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) lets her own curiosity lead her straight to a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) that is 24-feet-tall with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, she quickly learns that he is also quite gentle and charming, unlike all of the other scary and much bigger giants. This new and unlikely friendship leads Sophie to encourage The BFG to come up with a plan to get rid of the other giants, once and for all.
At the film’s press day, actor Mark Rylance spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what it’s like to be the go-to guy for Steven Spielberg, why he was happy to have a successful theater career before now making so many movies, the charmingly quirky moments of The BFG, and why the friendship between Sophie and The BFG is so special. He also talked about what he’s most looking forward to exploring in Ready Player One, where he’s playing OASIS founder James Donovan Halliday, and the realism of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.
Collider: With Bridge of Spies, The BFG, Ready Player One, and then The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, what’s it like to be the go-to guy for Steven Spielberg? When he calls, is it always an immediate automatic yes?
MARK RYLANCE: It’s funny you say that about him calling. That’s been a joke. So often, in my life, when you play a joke on another actor, you say, “Hello? Steven Spielberg? It’s for you.” What’s it feel like? It’s bizarre. He feels like he’s a friend. He feels like he’s some kid in the neighborhood who has a camera and makes films, now and then, and says, “Would you come ‘round and play?” It doesn’t feel grand, at all.
The first time you met him and the first time he cast you in something, could you ever have imagined that your relationship with him would continue as long as it seems like it will be?
RYLANCE: No, I didn’t imagine I would be in films, at all. I’d made a lot of films in England and in Europe, but I didn’t picture myself being in films like this. I certainly never pictured myself even attending the Academy Awards, much less winning at 56. I very, very happily settled into a theater career. I did more than that, but I let all of my agents and people go. I said, “I don’t want to be promoted in film anymore. I have enough to do in the theater, so I’m just going to carry on.” And then, all of this started to happen. It was Sean Penn first, really.
The BFG has that balance of light and dark, and the scary and the redemptive that Disney family movies are known for, but it’s also a bit quirky. What was it that most stood out, for you?
RYLANCE: They are even more quirky moments in the book, but some of them are just literary ideas. It’s a very different story. It’s an English story. I like the fact that (screenwriter) Melissa [Mathison] and Steven both respected the book and kept it pretty close to the book, but just reordered some things in a way that I think Roald Dahl might actually think it was a good idea. There’s more quirky, odd dialogue in the book, but you get highlights of each conversation. They’ve cut out some of the funny things that The BFG says about human beings and how crazy it is that they kill each other, all the time, and kept it more aimed at young people. But, it’s probably as original as the book.
The friendship between Sophie and The BFG is very special. Why do you think they’re such kindred spirits?
RYLANCE: They’re both lonely and isolated, in their worlds. They’re both like only children and they’re both a little bit set in their ways. They’re a little bit the odd couple. They’re blunt with each other, and she certainly is blunt with him, about his language. They really need each other. It’s very lovely, the way he lets her go and encourages her to get on with her own life and grow up, and doesn’t just hold onto her. She’s a mortal person, and he’s immortal. That could make an interesting film about her and her life. If I were to do a sequel, it would be with Sophie as a very old woman and The BFG the same, a bit like that Let the Right One in film. You could see Sophie as a teenager, but that would be a little bit hard. I think it would be more interesting when she’s maybe had a family herself, and maybe everyone thinks she’s crazy and that it was all just a thing she made up, as a kid, but secretly, The BFG comes and visits her, as an old woman. It’s platonic. It’s a love story between an old person, like a grandfather, and a granddaughter. That’s something that a lot of people connect with.
Is there a moment or aspect of the film that you most enjoy?
RYLANCE: I love his craft and his attention to detail. It’s like visiting a granddad in the shed, at the end of the garden. At some point, every kid must ask their parents, “Where do dreams come from? What are dreams?” That’s a beautiful section of the film, their trip to Dream Country.
You’re doing Ready Player One, which is another book that people love and the fans of which are very excited about the movie. What are you most looking forward to getting to explore with that?
RYLANCE: I’ve got some nice wigs! I’m curious about the character, though nervous about it, to be honest. You just land, running. I’m interested in the scenes with Ogden Morrow, when he’s younger, just before OASIS is opened. There are some interesting scenes around the love for Kira and what that type of genius is like. It’s almost Aspergers, they say, and so difficult. Eventually, people think Halliday is insane. It’s an enjoyable book. I tore through it. It seems worryingly possible that all of this virtual reality stuff is going to be so compelling. It’s already so hard to walk down a city street with everyone on their phones. Imagine what it’s going to be like with everyone walking around with goggles on.
Is it nice to have the grounded reality of something like the Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk to balance out such a fantastical world with?
RYLANCE: I’ve only done one or two days on the Chris Nolan film, but that’s really a resonant reality ‘cause we’re on the location of Dunkirk beaches, 60 years past and filming a story about the actual event that took place. There are a lot of boats and lots of soldiers. It’s a very historic thing, which I’ve read about a number of times. You couldn’t get much realer. There’s no motion capture, or anything like that, in there. It’s nice being offered a lot of interesting films and being asked to take part in things that are quite curious. If you hunt and keep looking, there are some wonderful things that come out.
The BFG opens in theaters on July 1st. You can read Matt’s review here.