After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Rylance made his professional debut at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in 1980. He appeared in the West End productions of Much Ado About Nothing in 1994 and Jerusalem in 2010, winning the Olivier Award for Best Actor for both. He has also appeared on Broadway, winning three Tony Awards: two for Best Actor for Boeing Boeing in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2011, and one for Best Featured Actor for Twelfth Night in 2014.
On television, he won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor for his role as David Kelly in the 2005 Channel 4 drama The Government Inspector and for playing Thomas Cromwell in the 2015 BBC Two mini-series Wolf Hall. For Wolf Hall, he also received Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations. Rylance is a patron Survival, the International movement for Tribal Peoples He is also a patron of the London-based charity Peace Direct, which supports peace-builders in areas of conflict, and of the British Stop the War Coalition. In 2016, he was named in the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.