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In Fridtjof Ryder’s debut film, Inland (2023), Sir Mark Rylance plays a car mechanic, Dunleavy, a kindly caregiver – and perhaps a substitute father – to the film’s unnamed protagonist. Rylance plays Dunleavy as a man both of the present and from an older tradition, with a sense of some tragic, elegiac wisdom: “I’m ancient me, now. What you call vintage, heritage. I’ve got giant’s bones.”

Rylance has been associated with left-behind rural characters since his role as Johnny “Rooster” Byron, wood-dweller and local-council antagonist, in Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, first performed at the Royal Court in 2010 to universal critical acclaim. Desperate, proud and loquacious, Rooster was a new face of the countryside in a time of environmental degradation, growing class division, increasing police powers, diminished economic and cultural opportunity and David Cameron’s “country suppers” with Rupert Murdoch’s henchwoman Rebekah Brooks. Rylance, a celebrated Shakespearean actor since his career began in the 1980s, and the first director of Shakespeare’s Globe from 1995-2005, has become representative of a form of national identity far more profound than the banality of the label of “national treasure”, perhaps afforded by a perspective informed by having partly grown up in Connecticut and Wisconsin. His performances, as well as his politics, issue from what seems to be a mystical communion with both the diverse founding myths of England and its contemporary challenges; work that has been recognised with an Academy Award, three BAFTAs, two Olivier Awards and three Tonys. He spoke to TANK about how Inland came to be, the fracture in culture’s relationship to nature, the politics of place, and dancing with 100 men.

Interview by Masoud GolsorkhiPhotography by Hannah Burton

MARK RYLANCE HANNAHBURTON TANK 2
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MASOUD GOLSORKHI I thought it was a misprint when I read that Fridtjof Ryder was 22 years old. He’s shockingly young and a precocious talent. How did you come upon him?

MARK RYLANCE He dropped a script through the front door of my house.

MG So miracles like that do happen.

MR Not often. There are a lot of scripts that come through which I’m just too busy to consider, or within a few pages I see they haven’t really been developed enough. But in this case, it was the summer of the first year of the pandemic, about eight months into the pandemic. There was no work and I thought the script was really wonderful. I was surprised as well that he was only 20, at the time. I was lucky enough at that point not to need the money, so I thought, well, that sounds like it’d be fun, to go down to the countryside where he lives around Stroud, Gloucester, and make this film with these young people.

MG The character you play isn’t a mile off from Rooster, one of your most celebrated roles.

MR I did the film because I believed in it and in what Fridtjof was trying to do. But in the back of my mind, I also felt that the character I played in Jerusalem had been drawn from going down and interviewing and meeting people in the Wiltshire, Gloucestershire area, and I thought, well, maybe this has come to me as a way of me giving something back to that community, particularly to the young people in the West Country of England. I suppose I’m often thinking of harmony or balance. You get a lot of gifts, and it’s important to give back. When you give back then more gifts come your way, if you want to be selfish about it, but it’s more of a dance really.

MG You have a unique sensibility for reinterpreting masculinity, perhaps in a way not done since Marlon Brando. How does this version of masculinity, whether it’s in DunkirkWolf Hall or Jerusalem, tap into masculinity in crisis?

MR Maybe I’m drawn to parts like that; it certainly feels like it when you speak about it that way. I do think the masculine archetype or the masculine side of European culture is attached to this concept, that we are separate from nature, that we are the gardeners in a beneficent way and the rulers and dominators in a more obviously incorrect way. Both are incorrect because we are a part of nature. That creates a lot of stress for the masculine and there’s a lot of people still chasing it with technology, with artificial intelligence, things that could be used in a more partnering way. I’m fearful that it’s going to be used to maintain this way of thinking about the world, and that’s going to cause enormous stress and harm. I don’t think I’d be drawn to a part that had a masculine aspect that wasn’t in some kind of crisis or change, because I think huge change is underway. The script would not ring true to me: I wouldn’t know how to play something I didn’t believe was true. For this young boy in Inland, my relationship with him as his mentor, father, uncle, carer, and his longing for a more intimate connection with his mother, who in a deep sense, is lost in the forest, that had a lot of meaning for me. It was something that I did a lot of work on in the 1990s. Robert Bly and Richard Olivier had a thing called the Wild Dance Movement, where 90 or 100 men would meet for 4 or 5 days with an Indigenous teacher who would work with us. It was about reconnecting the masculine and the feminine in a large, initiatory sense.

MG The mother is disappeared, violated and accused all at the same time.

MR Yes, certainly, that’s the premise of the film. We never meet this wonderful, very unusual mother, but we hear her. My character was very much in love with her and describes driving to the middle of a wilderness to find her naked, standing like a goddess by the river in a kind of extraordinary harmony. She’s got a wild, earthy, divine quality to her. She has an archetypal meaning to me: she’s not only his physical, mortal mother, but she has resonances of the Great Mother, the mystery of where we come from in our physical form. We’re all born from a mother and the difficulties we may have with our own mother are to do with difficulties we have with a greater sense of where we come from and where we belong. From a certain psychological or Jungian point of view, we all have an internal mother and an internal father. Though we are given a lot of impressions of that mother and father by our actual mother and father, we develop and grow a deeper sense of our mother from watching films, from reading books, from meeting other people’s mothers, from falling in love with nature, and falling in love with men or women. The film is a marvellous introduction to our complex relationship with our mothers. The boy emerges at the beginning of the film from a mental-health institution; he’s had a ton of trauma that he seems to be trying to heal by making a reconnection with his mother. I thought it was fascinating on that front. Obviously, the #TimesUp, #MeToo movement is all a symptom of this disconnect between the masculine and the feminine, at least in our culture. It seems like it was a very resonant film for our times.

MG This idea of the mother representing the natural, and the natural being so embedded in culture, seems like a uniquely English one: the green and pleasant land, Albion as virgin forest. In the film, we see the incursion of the housing estate into the greenery. Development is seen as a threat and a violation of the natural. The characters seem to be lost in this dynamic: they don’t belong to either nature or to the estate.

MR That’s right. Of course, the masculine is part of nature as well, and that’s a little harder to find in modern culture because a different type of masculinity is celebrated. You listen to the BBC News every morning, you have different men coming on proposing different dominating ideas, that pills and technology are going to solve this broken relationship. The way we house ourselves, the way we build residences in the countryside and in cities is also dominated by that idea of economics and money. Utility and human activity is placed over thoughtfulness about the environment – in the most obvious way, like building on floodplains – but even the straightening of streets. You’ll find with old villages, the road comes through a village like a snake. It doesn’t just come straight through a town: that will take the energy in and take it out, nothing will stay. It makes a big difference to the energy of a village or a town compared to say, a city like New York, which is an amazing city to visit, but pretty brutal in terms of that grid, carved onto what was an incredible island, the island of Manhattan. Housing estates and the way these places affect young people, particularly the vulnerable young people who are more porous and a little less defended: that was very much the topic of Jerusalem, as well as this film, which resonated for me when I got involved. They had no money, the budget was £15,000, so I wasn’t paid anything. I covered my costs of going down there. I rented a lovely caravan and parked it on this derelict land next to this old house we were filming in. Every evening after filming, we’d build a big bonfire, and all of the crew would sit up around the fire till three or four in the morning, talking about all these international films, all the great auteurs. It wasn’t like they’d just seen one or two; they’d seen them all. They had definite opinions about where these people had reached the height of their expression and where they'd fallen off. When I was their age, I had to wait until the late-night cinemas would show one or two of these films. Maybe I could eventually get them on video. That’s a wonderful aspect of the internet that you can now see all of the films of De Sica, all the films of Kurosawa; you don’t have to wait for the cinemas to show them. I was really impressed that there was a community there. It wasn’t just this budding auteur director, but he had a community as you know Bergman had. Fridtjof is quite inspired in the way he moves and thinks and does things. They weren’t challenging him that he was changing plans or coming up with things in the moment; they were excited and following him, and they were very skilled. I was excited to meet young filmmakers like that.

INLAND Still8
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Inland, dir. Fridtjof Ryder, 2022

Wolf Hall4
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Wolf Hall, dir. Peter Kosminsky, 2015, courtesy BBC

MG You grew up in and out of England. What perspective has that lent you?

MR It’s a particularly lovely thing to do to come in and out of things, like we do when we come in and out of our dreams and our waking hours. My father would get a job teaching over here in the summer to enable us all to be brought back. I would go down to a little village in Kent and stay with my grandparents while mother and father worked, and I got to know the village boys who are still some of my best friends. The meeting of the two cultures was very liberating. America seemed a much more constricted culture, interestingly, but we were in the suburbs of Milwaukee, in quite a Protestant, conservative part of the city. The working-class boys I became friends with in Sissinghurst were so liberated and imaginative and fun. England had developed quite a romantic rosy-spectacled view for me. Gradually, as I got older, I was taken to the theatre a lot. That was amazing for me, to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show on King’s Road when it first opened. There used to be such a variety of wonderful things happening in the theatre at that time, with a lot more subsidy, a lot more attention to theatrical sensation. When you go back and forth between two cultures, you develop as an observer – you’re able to step back and see.

MG You’re permanently an outsider in both places, which can be a privileged position.

MR My parents flew the British flag on the Fourth of July and held a tea party. We were very much known as the British family there. When I came back to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, I had a Midwest accent and I was immediately the American. People who loved American culture wanted to be friends with me and talk about Robert Mitchum and Spencer Tracy, Montgomery Clift and Jimmy Dean, and Elvis and Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra and all this American culture, when I’d really been focusing always on English culture. I was really awakened to a lot of the beauty of American culture, particularly American film, when I arrived in London.

MG The end of this week is the coronation of King Charles, quite an interesting personality, aside from the institution. It is a moment when a lot of Englishness comes out of the way we perform, Englishness is defined by the way we perform Englishness. Last week, the prime minister of Albania made a comment in response to something Suella Braverman had said, that the English are having a nervous breakdown. How do you think this idea of being English is trying to resolve itself beyond this current nervous breakdown?
MR If you’re not having a nervous breakdown on this planet at the moment, you’re mad. Perhaps just the glove of society, of governance, of culture just doesn’t fit the hand any more. I meet a lot of people who are not having a nervous breakdown, but they’re making some fundamental changes. People realise they don’t want to work so much, that they don’t need to work all the time to make more money. The pandemic awakened them to the fact that what they need is intimacy with their beloved, with their partners, their children, their family. Behind that, of course, is the appalling lack of intimacy with animals and plants. The sense of this nervous breakdown has to do with questions of belonging. The system we’re sold just doesn’t make sense and keeps being promoted harder and harder. It’s just going to collapse; it’s not going to work. That said, I meet a lot of people who are not so wellknown or are not in the public, and who are listening to different news that the internet makes available, and different truths. There’s an enormous amount of love and compassion and service in this country. I’m very pleased that that’s something that the King celebrated last Christmas. I’ve met him a number of times, so I know it’s not just a kind of spin; he is a devoutly spiritual man and has a very keen sense of service, and of fate, what his role is. I love the way during Christmas he celebrated so many of the unions that have been struggling lately for proper recognition and proper remuneration. At that level, there’s a lot of hope, but it does appear like a nervous breakdown. When you get a cold you say, I’m sick, but you were sick before you got the cold. We should really be saying, I’m getting better, but I still need to rest for a while.

MG It’s very interesting. I interviewed Jeremy Corbyn for our last issue and he was talking to me about his political consciousness raising, which happened partly through walking in the countryside as a boy. I thought that was just an incredibly English thing to say, because uniquely in England this kind of traditional radicalism is connected with the idea of land. It’s interesting that traditional radicalism in this country has so much to do with the rural – even the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris are a means of confronting modernity, even in the mid-19th century. English radicalism was a way of preserving elements like crafts, linked to ways of life and means of production in the countryside. Did you reconnect with that when you were in Gloucestershire filming?

MR I was only there a few days, so I wouldn’t be able to say with confidence. I will say how much I love Jeremy Corbyn, and it doesn’t surprise me that he is inspired by nature. I’ve met him on a number of occasions, he and John McDonnell. People may be surprised, but in my whole career, 40 years in the theatre, they’re the two who have come to the theatre, to Shakespeare plays, more than any other politicians. They’re the most sensitive and cultured people. When I meet with them after the play, they don’t sit and talk with me. They sit and talk with the stage managers or with the people playing spear carriers. They absolutely walk the walk of equality and egalitarianism. The attacks on them were completely unfounded and very misguided, almost random. It kind of ended my interest in politics. But then, I often think when I’m praising King Charles, Jeremy and John must be thinking, Oh dear. But then I think King Charles has always been a radical among the world leaders. He must be up there in the top numbers in terms of his consciousness of Extinction Rebellion, conservation issues, and the challenge we face to fall in love again with the planet that we live on.

MG I don’t see any weirdness in that. I talked to Corbyn about the 2019 Labour manifesto. It’s full of such absolutely fantastic ideas.
MR If I were elected to lead the Labour Party, we would look back to a document like that, as we were drafting our own ideas. But the forces are ranged against it. The fear out there of the people who have benefited from the monopolies and the whole market forces towards monotheism and everyone eating the same hamburger, everyone driving the same car. The fear of losing that and returning to something much more unique and the sense of the true meaning of anarchy, which is not chaos, but people having more governance in small areas of their lives. It’s not just a theory of selfishness; it’s the theory that we find our own governors inside ourselves and make our own agreements in a small way, rather than these big economic dukedoms, these feudal systems. The forces ranged against people who are trying to change that are very strong. It is inevitable that we will come together and we will be more connected with the planet. Because the planet as it is guiding us that way. Unfortunately, it’s going to happen through some tragic events, the way we’re going, but I do feel hopeful that it’s inevitable, we will get to a better relationship.

MG The glove doesn’t fit, as you brilliantly put it, yet they keep changing the hand. The ending of the film was quite enigmatic, with the main character’s return to the forest, going back to nature.
MR It’s good to have an ending that doesn’t pin down one meaning, but opens the audience to an imaginative afterlife. For me, there are two aspects to that scene. There’s the car, and there’s him standing with a very long perspective from a hill and seeing dawn coming up. It’s this place of height and a long view and light. In the classic sense of masculinity, you know, we’re meant to rise to the top.

MG The Arthurian quest.

MR Exactly. He has this general perspective of the town, of civilisation and then there’s a flash of light and the rising sun and all that, and that he turns away from that. He’s turning away from that and going into the darkness, into the damp of the woods, the darkness. Something that is full of the cycles of change and the old beings. It’s this very fertile opposite to the light and the ascent; it’s going down into a valley, and he’s going nakedly into it without identity or the protection that clothes give you. Now I’m a positive person, so I don’t imagine him going in there to die. But interestingly, you remind me of a story that happened to a friend of mine. A relative of his had been diagnosed with cancer and she was in a treatment centre, having chemotherapy. Sometimes it saves people, but it’s a very brutal technique, the last resource. She went missing and my friend, with 30, 40 other people, searched all the woodland and all the countryside around this hospital, and they eventually found her after three weeks. She was lying on her back in a woodland and had died looking up at the sky and the trees. Many of the people were very sad she died, and I was sorry for them for what they’d lost, but I also thought there’s the possibility she made a kind of wonderful choice, that rather than dying with a lot of pain in a facility, she thought, no, I’m going to go out; I’m going to lie down in the trees and under the stars, and let myself go into the greater mystery in that way. We’ll all come to that point at the end. So if the boy is thinking that, I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing. I think he’s going into the woods to heal himself.

MG You’ve done plays at which you have spent weeks and weeks and months and months inhabiting the same role. Then you do a film like this, which is made in a matter of weeks. How did they compare? And do they affect you differently?

MR You can’t go as deep as an actor in a film, because you don’t get the longevity of life with it. I’ve played Hamlet 420 times, at age 16, at age 28, and at age 40. That means there’s a great depth of connection if eight times a week you’re going in, like doing exercises or meditation or eating a certain medicine regularly, compared to just taking one dose. On the other hand, the liberation in film, the spontaneous moment, that’s all you need. You just need to capture some things once and then they’ve got it. That’s very interesting and challenging. You arrow at a target. It’s enjoyable. There isn’t so much of a sense of a community on film, but Inland did have that. It was nice because we would film it and then Fridtjof would say, right, now can you play him bringing up more of his compassion for the boy? Oh, wonderful. Now, can we play it again? Can you be more judgemental? He will give you a point of concentration, which is a very nice way of playing, because he’s liberating you to play it as you wish, but he’s guiding you into different fields, so to speak. It’s closer to someone like Terrence Malick, who’s very imaginative in the way he instructs; he’s not interested in continuity at all. Maybe I remember the film, partly because of that, because it wasn’t a machine – it was something more organic and creative. ◉ 

Inland is released in UK cinemas June 16 www.inlandfilm.co.uk

MARK RYLANCE HANNAHBURTON TANK 1
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