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

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.


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.” 


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