20 Bran-tastic Facts About Ken

By Peter Simmonds, Star Talk, August 2000

There's not really much left to say about showbiz dynamo Kenneth Branagh. At the tender age of 39 the boy wonder appears to have done it all.

By providing the voice of Miguel in new cartoon feature The Road to El Dorado, he has even managed to star in a film without actually appearing in it.

Big Screen pays homage to the man Stephen Fry recently described as "a force of nature" by unearthing 20 Bran-tastic facts...

Born in 1960, Branagh was brought up in Belfast. He moved to Reading with his family when he was nine.

One of his most vivid boyhood memories is his older brother Bill bundling him under the kitchen table when a bomb exploded at the end of the road where he lived.

Anxious at not fitting in at school in England, the young Ken adopted an English accent at school then reverted to his Irish one at home.

At 22 Branagh turned down an RSC bit-part contract to perform Tennyson poem Maud on the London fringe. It was a hit and the RSC returned with an offer to star in Henry V.

At 26 Branagh co-founded the Renaissance theatre company which reinvigorated Shakespearian performance in Britain. At the same time his play Public Enemy, about a small-time crook obsessed with James Cagney, opened in the West End.

Ken's favourite charity is the Ulster Association of Youth Drama.

He was the original choice to play Mozart in the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus, but lost out to Tom Hulce when the producers decided on an all-American cast.

Branagh was awarded the prestigious Gielgud Award in January, when a mind-boggling array of film and stage stars paid tribute to him. Again he was the youngest-ever recipient.

Branagh's first taste of failure came in 1995 when his movie Frankenstein, $15m over budget, flopped at the box office. Amid the fall-out, Ken sacked his agent Patricia Marmont, who had taken him on when he was a student at Rada.

He published his autobiography, Beginning, at the tender age of 28.

Branagh was the first to adapt Hamlet into a movie without trimming Shakespeare's text. As a result it weighs in at four hours.

In America Branagh's countless bard- based projects have seen him dubbed Mr Shakespeare. He's the toast of all Hollywood's "serious" actors.

Branagh is the youngest actor known to have played the all-conquering Henry V, having donned the crown for the RSC when just 24.

Branagh has transformed the career of veteran TV comedian Richard Briers by repeatedly giving him Shakespearian roles. He also frequently casts his favourite composer, Patrick Doyle, in small roles.

Branagh makes an uncredited appearance as an SS official in the 1993 music-loving-kids-take-on-the- Nazis drama, Swing Kids.

Poor Ken has never won an Oscar, but he's been nominated in four categories: Best Actor and Director (Henry V, 1989), Best Short Film (Swan Song, 1993) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Hamlet, 1996).

In May, soccer fan Branagh played in a Belfast charity match organised by his beloved Manchester United.

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