A Day in the Life of Kenneth Branagh

London Times, October 7 1988
by Kenneth Branagh

I wake completely wrecked. Sometimes I wonder if I'll manage to get up at all. It's entirely my own fault because I get to bed so late. My mother says that when I was five she could never get me to bed, and never get me up, and I've stayed much the same really. This means that when I'm rehearsing I'll stagger out of bed as near to rehearsal call as possible and there'll seldom be time for more than a cup of tea. But mornings vary.

There's such a lot of administration connected with Renaissance that sometimes I find myself having breakfast meetings. This makes me laugh--it sounds so kind of, well, high-powered--but often it's the only time to get to see busy people. Filming is different again. You've got to be up early. When I was making the Fortunes of War the make-up call was 6:30am. The good thing about being on location is that you get extremely well fed. I'd always have something highly calorific for breakfast like bacon and eggs or a hamburger. I'm a real junk food eater.

It was during the making of Fortunes of War that I planned the whole Renaissance thing. David Parfitt and I run the company together. We met when we were in the West End production of Another Country, which was the first thing I did after leaving RADA in 1981. The idea behind Renaissance is quite simple: that Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone. I can't stand the sort of Shakespeare where it's assumed you've seen the play at least ten times already.

When we're on tour, the only morning I can guarantee waking up at home in London is Sunday. You never see actors move as fast as they do out of a theatre on Saturday night. It's like Brand's Hatch. My car is a battered Volkswagen Passat, which is a kind of running gag because I throw everything on the passenger seat floor--old Lucozade bottles, banana skins, the lot. But at least there aren't cigarette ends all over the place.

I really enjoy Sundays. I usually ring my mum and dad and find out how my brother Bill and sister Joyce are doing--she took her A levels this summer and will, hopefully, go to university. I have lunch or supper with friends--sometimes both. John Sessions is a great mate. I directed his one-man show Life of Napoleon last year and we often spend Sundays swopping neurosis stories. Or if I'm on my own I'll maybe read, though nowadays reading is almost always connected with work. But I did get around to Christopher Nolan's Under the Eye of the Clock, and it was fantastic, very inspiring. Another thing I enjoy is messing about with old Beatles songs on my guitar. I listen to the radio a lot too. Shakespeare's all very well, but it's easy to insulate yourself. At least pop music gives you some idea of what other people are doing.

I'm crazy about football and always turn to the sports pages. I used to play all the time when I was a kid. I had this idea that if I was a success as an actor I might be asked to be part of a charity team. Nobody ever asked me. Perhaps they think that because I do Shakespeare I wouldn't be interested in anything as common as football.

Being on tour is extremely hard work, so it's important to look after yourself. Renaissance is a very caring company in this respect. The other day, Jimmy Yuill, another actor, turned up with a box of Vitamin C tablets for me. He's a wonderful Scotsman and a close friend; I'm godfather to his son. It's great having an interest in a wee boy called Calum.

I don't always manage lunch, especially if there's a matinee. There might also be a meeting to attend or someone waiting to interview me. I'm always getting asked about my private life, but I never talk about that because it doesn't involve just me. It's such a dodgy area, once you open that particular door. As far as I'm concerned the nation can think I'm gay.

I make a point whenever I have a spare half-hour of sticking a pillow under my head and just lying down. When I was with the RSC in Stratford I worked with Sebastian Shaw, who's over 80, and he gave me some good advice: when you're working hard, he said, don't stand when you can sit and don't sit when you can lie down. So if I get wound up, I take a few deep breaths and think how lucky I am to be blessed with a really good constitution.

Although London is now my home, I cannot deny the influence of my Belfast background. You cannot just write off the place where you were born. When I go back to visit the relations, you recognize the Irish in you, the things that make you different.

By teatime I'm hungry, especially if I missed out on lunch. So I'll have a poached egg on a slice of bread or egg and chips. When I had the afternoon off recently, I sat down and caught up with all my mail. I felt so good, so bloody virtuous. There's this terrible puritan streak in me that cannot allow me to relax if there's work to be done.

As I'm so busy, the furnishing of my flat has had to take a back seat. Until recently, it was used as the Renaissance offices and was always full of people. Then, out of the blue, I was asked by Carmen Callil of Chatto and Windus to write a book. It's to be about the development of Renaissance, how David and I work things out and how people like Derek Jacobi and Judi Dench came to be involved. The reason I'm doing it is because the advance has actually paid for the new offices.

I love being part of this company, not just to be boss, but because I work with people who are talented and also very nice. I like to think of myself as the catalyst who brings them together. Because, believe me, this is a team sport.

The best part of the day is undoubtedly after the show. We'll all go to the pub and have a pint of bitter. There will be a great giggle about what's gone wrong. The other night, for instance, I walked on stage and dried completely on the first line. Another time I was playing this comic part and there was absolute silence, not a titter. The same thing happened to Richard Briers during our production of Twelfth Night. I bumped into him during the interval after a completely deadpan house. "I bloody 'ate acting," he said.

Come half past eleven, we go and have something to eat. No doubt about it, I have far too many late night Indians and Chinese. But who cares if you don't get to bed till two or half past? I'd love eight good hours, but if I can have six, and have fun, give me six. And I think of the times no one laughed and remind myself what a bloody ridiculous way this is to earn a living....

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