Interview with Kenneth Branagh

Studio Magazine, December 1995
By Michel Rebichon
**Thanks to Isabelle for the article and translation

Did you make this film in reaction to your American experience?
No, I have been working on this idea for four years. When I was on a world tour with "King Lear", I felt like making a film to celebrate this strange companionship, the life actors lead when they are on tour. A film-hommage to actors, to their passion, to their faith. And to their courage. Even if, of course, this courage doesn't equal that of those who struggle against cancer or fight in Bosnia. I wanted to make a mocking and grating comedy, a fiction based on personal observations. Of course, as time went by, I added some reflections about my experience in Hollywood with "Frankenstein" (which, in fact, I shot in England!). By the way, I'll use this occasion to say that all the same "Frankenstein" has brought in 106 million dollars, so it has not lost money!

Can you explain the origins of the title "In The Bleak Midwinter", and why you shot in black and white?
My producers had asked me to make a colour film with American stars and a title more relevant for a comedy. As you can see I did the exact opposite of what they recommended doing. [Laughs.] I have always loved winter, snow and this time between Christmas and New Year's Day, when people let themselves go, let their feelings, their melancholy and their sadness show through. This "emotional" season was the ideal thing. All the more so since this company performs "Hamlet", which is also a great "vacuum cleaner" for emotions. Moreover the title of the film is a quotation from a Christmas carol that Christina Rossetti, the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sister, wrote a hundred years ago.

As for black and white, I didn't chose it for budget reasons but just because I find it extremely beautiful, nostalgic, not too realist, and a bit in the style of 1950's-comedies, the ones with Mickey Rooney ansd Alec Guiness.

Why don't you act in the film?
Before I had acted quite a lot before! I wanted to stand a bit apart and to give myself completely to my actors.

Can we see Michael Maloney, the director, as your alter ego?
In a certain sense, yes, but I think that all the actors share these moments of euphoria and despair, of naïvete and bloody stupidity. The only difference is that I personally was lucky enough never to have been unemployed.

Afterwards you made "Othello", [directed] by Oliver Parker, as an actor this time.
Once again I said yes because... it was a holiday for me as a director! I play Iago in this film and I could give myself completely to this character who is very isolated, without any contact with the others, to my work as an actor opposite Laurence Fishburne and Irène Jacob.

You are inevitably connected with Shakespeare's work; isn't that burdensome?
Well, you know... Have you heard about all the various screen Shakespeare adaptations which will be released in the next months, "Othello", "Richard III", "Twelfth Night", "Romeo and Juliet", "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Well, it is because "Much Ado About Nothing" made money, to put it bluntly, and also because Shakespeare's work is the greatest melting pot of good stories you could ever find!

And just wait and see the "Hamlet" I am shooting just now. I have transposed it into the 19th century and it will last over three and a half hours, it will be a "wintry" version, something between "Doctor Zhivago" and "Alexander Nevsky", all that in 65 mm! For me "Hamlet" represents the total work, because this long journey to happiness is just a succession of questions everybody asks themselves every day, and the play gives us some answers, too. Lastly it will be the ultimate way of facing my demons as an actor. Afterwards, if I don't want to go barmy, I would do well to take at least one sabbatical year so as not to completely lose contact with reality. Because ever since I went on the stage I have been always on the go. And it will also give the English scandal sheets a holiday.

Why, in your opinion, is British press so aggressive about you?
Because I was born in Belfast, because my blood is first and foremost Irish, because I am ambitious, because I have been married to a highly talented actress with whom I will most likely work again despite the circumstances, and above all because it is hard for the English to forgive success!

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