Mark Rylance: Why I almost turned down Wolf Hall

The actor who played Thomas Cromwell in the hit BBC drama says that he felt the Tudor politician's tragedy was too close to his own

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Mark Rylance has revealed that he almost turned down the role of Thomas Cromwell in hit BBC1 drama Wolf Hall because he felt that a family tragedy suffered by the Tudor politician too closely reflected a tragedy he had recently experienced.

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Initially the actor was reluctant to take on the part because Cromwell’s wife and daughters died from the plague, and Rylance’s step-daughter, Nataasha, died in 2012, aged 28. 

“I read Episode One and thought I wouldn’t do it,” says Rylance in the new Radio Times magazine. “This is something that is just trying to capitalise on what happened to us and get me to act it out; no way; I’m not doing this.

“But my wife Claire said: ‘Do it; read the book and do it. It’s not the main part of the story. It’s not a badge of honour, defining your life — other people have had their tragedies, just as vital and strong; but all artists use themselves…What else can you do?'”

Rylance, whose lead performance in Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novels received huge praise, says he tried to play Thomas Cromwell’s grief rather than his own.

“I used me to play another person, telling a story that is universal. But I understood Cromwell saying he had a ‘stone heart’ after those events…I played out his ‘stone heart’ but part of me now has a ‘stone heart’, like him.” 

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Read the full interview with Mark Rylance by Alastair Stewart in the new issue of Radio Times, available in shops on Tuesday 24th November.