Kenneth Branagh: A Shakespeare in Their Engine

Tachydromos, 23 November 2002
by Yannis Mitsakos
*Thanks, Joanne (who also did the translation)

As soon as it was announced that immediately after the first "Harry Potter" film the shooting of "Chamber of Secrets" would begin, the first question that came to the lips of everyone who had read the book was: "Who is going to play Gilderoy Lockhart?". The answer nearly was "Hugh Grant!". The British star was very close to making a deal and he was even prepared to have his hair dyed blonde, since wig trials didn't leave him satisfied. However, he didn't stand a chance competing with Kenneth Branagh, whose "yes" caused many a bottle of champagne to pop inside the Warner studios.

The 42-year-old Irishman from Belfast had shaken the film world in 1989 with his dynamic "Henry V". Having founded the Renaissance Theatre Company and having been acknowledged as one of the greatest shakespearean actors of all times in the U.K., he set out to conquer Hollywood being in front of as well as behind the camera. His thriller "Dead Again" and "Frankenstein", with Robert DeNiro, have been his most commercial moments, yet he has never abandoned Shakespeare. He has directed and starred in "Much Ado About Nothing", "Hamlet" and "Love's Labour's Lost". After the commercial failure of the latter, he returned to the theatre with an astonishing "Richard III" and now he is coming back to the cinema refreshed, bestowing his lustre to a part that many people have said - not necessarily in a complimentary manner - that suits him like a glove. The part of the vain and egomaniacal professor Gilderoy Lockhart.

"Gilderoy Lockhart is the new teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts, a seemingly over-successful wizard and the author of several books that are used as textbooks in Hogwarts", explains Branagh. "The girls adore him, the boys hate him. He is entertaining and intriguing. Is he or is he not good? Is he hiding something or not? He surely is a very peculiar person."

When your name was announced among the cast of the film many people considered you were ideal for the part. They also said that you were going to play yourself after all.

"That's probably not a compliment, I guess ... On the other hand Lockhart is so similar to most actors. A mix of huge egotism and deep insecurity."

He is nonetheless the character who steals the show ...

"In a kids' movie that's yet darker and scarier than one would expect, Lockhart comes in to offer a comic note, a brushstroke of colour. Metaphorically and literally. Among the dark colours and the gothic sets Lockhart looks like a Renaissance figure or a neoromantic poet. There are those "golden curls" that J.K.Rowling describes in her book - and which were quite difficult to achieve - and also all the flashy costumes, all silk, in the most incredible colours. I should congratulate our costume designer, Lindy Heming, for managing to make Lockhart look "manly" in such an outfit. The truth is I was worried at first..."

How do feel about your participation in a production like "Harry Potter"?

"It was a production of gigantic proportions. Imagine that a material relocation mandate I came across once was the size of a telephone directory! However the atmosphere was unexpectedly familiar. We had visitors on the set all the time, the children were always among family and friends, which I hadn't expected, bearing in mind the secrecy that was supposed to conceal everything about the shooting of the film. Colombus was as excited as a little child and he managed to communicate his enthusiasm to everyone. It was like a fun fair and I'm glad I could ride on this particular roller coaster."

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