Steven Spielberg on the Inspiration for Bridge of Spies’ Gripping, Wordless Opening Scene

The man who has been thanked in Oscar speeches more times than God. Photo: Chance Yeh/Getty Images

Steven Spielberg's Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies opens with a nearly wordless ten-minute sequence featuring British actor Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel going about his very "normal" day in 1960s Brooklyn — schlepping on the subway, painting a self-portrait by the waterfront — before casually picking up a coin under a park bench and opening it to reveal a coded message, and that he is, in turn, a spy.

“The inspiration for that was just the sounds of New York City,” Spielberg told Vulture at the New York Film Festival premiere. “I walk the streets here, I don’t hear an orchestra. I hear the music of taxis and people and dogs and just commerce, and hustle and bustle, and it’s all the sounds of New York, and I’ve never made a movie like this, and I thought, Why not use just what New York offers all of us as an underscoring for the whole first pursuit part of the Bridge of Spies story? So when you hear children screaming on your commute, Spielberg envisions cinematic grandeur.

“Steven always wanted to make a spy story," said co-writer Matt Charman. "He’s always wanted to find a way to do it, and as soon as he realized that this guy Rudolf Abel was living amongst us in New York in the '60s, he wanted to know how he moved around the city. And so he started to picture in his mind: How does this guy move through the subway? And that sequence grew out of that, and I think it’s an incredible piece of cinema.”