Madrid press conference transcript

Kenneth Branagh and Alicia Silverstone in Madrid, Spain
February 23 2000
*transcribed by Maria Isabel Ortiz

Question for Ken: When you began to work on Love's Labour's Lost, you probably debated between giving more importance to acting or dancing. Did you think about doing it with professional dancers?

Ken: The first idea, the guiding idea was primarily to cast people for their acting abilities. After that they had to be physically coordinated and be able to hold a tune, but I wanted all the singing and dancing to be believable and to come from the actors as characters; not for it to suddenly turn into something different.

Question for Ken: Has "Everyone Says I Love you" influenced you on this film?

Ken: I enjoyed that film so much... the thing I most enjoyed was the end sequence between Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn, because it was glamorous and it was fantastical because she flew, and it was highly romantic and certainly made me think that audiences could perhaps again accept musical work in that kind of way.

Question for Ken: [A question about Olivier and Welles' film versions of Shakespeare]

Ken: Um, well, I think that in their way they were very radical, very radical adaptations and pioneering adaptations. In their times they were themselves pioneers and extremely innovative. But certainly no one has gone as far as actors and producers did in the nineteenth century and eighteenth century in England, so in 1750-1800 not only they cut the plays, they re-wrote them, so that Romeo and Juliet did not die, they get together at the end. King Lear and Cordelia don't die at the end of King Lear. So in fact, no one on twentieth century film has been as radical as the theater in, you know, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

[Isabel's question :)] Question for Ken: Congratulations to Mr. Branagh for his great film. How you decide to cast actors for your films? Does the studio interfere a lot in your decisions? How did you get the idea of working with, for example, Alicia Silverstone? And a second question, how did you get the newsreels idea? By the way, many people didn't notice that but it is really you the voice on those newsreels.

Ken: One at a time! [smile] I do watch a lot of films, I do watch lots of films, I do admire acting, so I am always making a mental note when I see something or I see someone being marvellous, I think, well, that would be someone I would love to be with. The studio always wants to have to some kind of input, but, erm, in fact they usualy give me so little money to make the films that in the end I'm allowed to cast, you know who I want and not everyone wants to be in a Shakespeare film or will be right for a Shakespeare film, so in the end the budget is low enough to let me have the casting influence. And the newsreels, as a device, were a way of avoiding using captions or doing a conventional voice over, but finding a way to let people have information about the plot, with a lot of scenes having been cut and also tonally to tell them that they can have fun and that from the very first word the film was not taking itself too seriously.

Question for Ken: What musical version of Shakespeare is your favourite? Have any of them influenced Love's Labour's Lost?

Ken: [Ken doesn't understand the question and thinks he is asking about his favourite Shakespeare play] Um, I think that my favourite play is probably "Twelfth Night". [The journalist insists, he is asking about musicals] Oh!, musical adaptation... of Shakespeare? Well, music has always played a huge part in the films that we've made: the singing and dancing indeed in Much Ado About Nothing, there's plenty of music in Henry V and indeed in Hamlet, there's choral singing in both of those films, so it's a...I haven't seen many musical adaptations of Shakespeare. I've read about many, and there's a big tradition. I like the operas. I like Othello.

Question for Alicia: How was it working with Kenneth? Is it very different working in the UK from the USA?

Alicia: My experience with Kenneth was unbelievable. We had two and a half weeks of intense rehearsals - the most stimulating experience in my acting carreer, and it was unbelievable. But working on a film in England isn't very different. Kenneth made it different, but the actual filmmaking process wasn't very different. I had worked in France before and the timetables were different, but that's all.

Question for Ken: Have you seen "Shakespeare in Love"? Did you enjoy and share the vision of Shakespeare portrayed in that film?

I did see "Shakespeare in Love" and enjoyed it very very much. Obviously it's a fiction, we know so little about Shakespeare...but it seemed to me to be Shakespearean in spirit, because its spirit, which I feel about Shakespeare, is comic. Shakespeare's essential spirit is comic, I believe. And that film has a real sense of love for the theatre, which I found very very infectious.

Question for Ken: Did you think about using new songs for Love's Labour's Lost instead of standards?

Ken: [Ken can't see who is asking and asks the translator about it] Where is he? Ok, there you are, all right! We did try, we began by thinking in original songs, and the real mistake we made was actually to write them [laughter]. They were terrible [more laughter]. It's very hard to write any words that have to stand next to Shakespeare. We also tried to find songs by Cole Porter, and people like that, that were less well known, which also didn't work. It did feel that the songs which had to be alongside Shakespeare needed to be in their own right classics.

Question for Ken: Shakespeare is a cheap writer now, because you don't have to pay rights to him [laughter] and after this joke, what do you think he would have written if he had been writing for Hollywood today?

Ken: I think that Shakespeare seems to primarily seems that in his own time, he primarily succeeded as an immensely popular entertainer. In each play, there's always, you know, a secret play if you like. So, for instance, Henry V: a patriotic, medieval pageant...but scratch the surface and you find a very ambiguous debate about the nature of war. It's true about all the plays. I think perhaps today he might be doing that same thing: he might be working in very popular things and being in those films, completely subversive.

Question for Ken: I've liked Stefania Rocca a lot, was it your idea to cast her or was that a studio decision?

Ken: My choice or the studio's? In the end it has to be a personal choice, because in this case, for instance, the film was so difficult phisically to make - very short schedule,singing and dancing... o I needed people in the film who I absoluted trusted in, believed would commit themselves to that, you know. So in the end the studio, obviously, suggested all sorts of names, in the end you have to follow your instinct, so Stefania was one of those on my part. If you listen to the studio, and I don't disrespect the names I am about to mention, but if you listen to the studio then this film would star, you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, um, you know, any name of that kind of people.

Question for Ken: After "Hamlet" you've chosen to make the lighter Love's Labour's Lost. Have you thought about doing one of the "big ones" afterwards? What are your next projects, which plays of Shakespeare are you going to adapt? And a second question, what is your relationship with Patrick Doyle, which seems to be essential in all your films?

Ken: I suppose there is an issue of variety, when you spend a lot of time with a piece like Hamlet, you do long for something lighter of spirit. Patrick Doyle is a dear friend. We've worked now for, mmm, 12 years together, in theatre and cinema and he is always with me very early on in the process. About two years ago I spent a day with him in my house with both of us dancing around the house, in order to explain to the other what we wanted for the music. We were using pots and pans from the kitchen to tap rhythm, you know. There's a song "Let's face the music and dance", the classic song, that's in the film. It has this very dirty drum beat, you know, at the beginning. It always had to be sort of very wild. So, that song, that arrangement of that song, began with two saucepans in my house. Also, just to finish, I'm usually for composers...he is always on the set. He likes to drink in the atmosphere of the film for a long time. And I find it very valuable.

Question for Ken: Why are you obsessed with Shakespeare? When did you began reading it? Why don't you make more original screenplays?

Ken: I think part of my interest began with having a bad experience with Shakespeare. I was made to read "The Merchant of Venice" aloud in class. And it made no sense to me, it was like reading the telephone directory. About four years later, I worked with a different teacher, who said that in the English theatre class what we were about to do was going to concern in itself solely with sex, adolescent sex, and gang violence. We were very interested in that [laughter]. About halfway though the lecture, he mentioned he had talked about "Romeo and Juliet", and we went "Oh, nooo!". We've been tricked! [Ken laughs] But it was the first illustration that Shakespeare writes about you, a 17 year old person. That began the fascination with trying to find ways to engage not only myself but other people in a real meaningful way with these great plays, which can seem a very distant. Usually it takes, you know, a year or two between Shakespeare films, so probably it will be a little while before the next one comes up. I've just acted in an independent film, a black comedy, called "How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog" [laughter. He whispers to the translator, "They'll change the title, they'll definitely change the title"]

Question for Alicia: Do you think this film opens a new phase in your carreer? Which are your next projects?

Alicia: I think what is so exciting about this project is that it is so beautifuly made. It is a beautiful story, so magical, there's so much energy and excitement...I didn't have any other option. I read a lot of scripts, but they are all so boring, and this was...I don't necessarily think this changes my career, that's not true. This is what I wanted to do, like a dream, a dream to me. I would love to make any other project with Kenneth because it is so stimulating, so rich, as opposed to what's normally out there. My next projects are with my production company "First Kiss Productions." We are going to make some comedies and dramas with young directors, and I am very excited going on to the next level. I am also in one organization that helps young people learn animal rights, to have heathier, kinder lives. Even when I don't have an immediate project I am always very busy.

Question for Ken: Why do a musical, a Shakespeare musical?

Ken: You know, in all of Shakespeare's plays there are songs, there are dances. He uses both devices absolutely consistently through all his plays. He uses it all the time particularly in terms of the love ritual. So, so I think the very idea of doing something that heavily involves music is Shakespearean in spirit. You know, "As You Like It" has songs, there's a dance at the end; "Much Ado About Nothing" has songs and a dance at the end. Um, so, my instinct was that that was organic. In the case of this play and in the case of the songs that we use, the characteristics were to be at the same time both sympathetically light, and yet, at the same time, to surprise one with the degree of poignancy that they contain, and I love that combination and that sort of spirit of both, the songs and the music and the actual text, that played itself seemed to me to be, to use a musical phrase, "in harmony." And I love musical films from...I love musical films full stop actually, not only from this period.

Question for Alicia: Now that there are not many good roles in Hollywood, when you find a role in which you have to really act, and not only fight against aliens and so, is that a special role or a trap?

Alicia: When I arrived in England, with some problems with the jet lag and in a new country, I had to face two weeks and a half of intense rehearsing and learn lots of dances. In this way, the role was very stimulating, but easier than other physical roles in other films. And it was great, because I don't know if I will ever have an opportunity like this again.

Question for Ken: Are you going to go on adapting Shakespeare to contemporary times or are you thinking in a much more conventional period adaptation? And, do you need much time to adapt actor's voices to the Shakespeare's rhythm?

Ken: Yeah, with each film I've done the period setting seems to move closer to our time. I'm not quite sure why that is. I suspect the next one would have a contemporary setting, because that creative challenge interests me and sometimes I find period clothes distancing and the setting is always somehow lost. This is the most specific we did, with this film. However you do it, the idea for me is to release the play, not to reduce it to a single idea. And that's the danger, but for me it's a fascinating challenge. And when it comes to the acting, on this, you know, they sang and danced, they did Shakespeare, every day was packed. But at the heart of it was absolute dedication to the language itself. It became even more important, because we cut so much of the play that we made sure that what remained was clearly spoken - observe the structure of the verse or prose, and that was effortless and real. With this film, all our effort in a way was put into making it seem effortless and that's what I feel about Shakespeare. He worked very very very hard and then, hopefully, you produce the art which heightens the art.

Question for Ken: How do you see yourself as a dancer?

Ken: Um, well, I don't have to review the film, so it doesn't matter. I enjoyed it enormously. I'm neither a natural dancer or singer. I'm sure people will tell me what they think. [Ken laughs]

Question for Ken and Alicia: What was more difficult: the dancing or the acting part of the role?

Ken: The most difficult thing was trying to remember the dance steps. You work so hard for months and months that when you are about to say "turnover, stand by, action" and then you suddenly remember "Fuck, I'm in this as well! [laughs from the audience, especially because the translator said "oh! I'm in this as well" and Ken looked at her surprised and she translated it literally again :)] Natascha McElhone particularly was very very patient with me, but she has very bruised toes [laughs from the audience]

Alicia: the experience was exactly like that for me!

Question for Ken: About Don Armado, one of the funniest characters in the film. Do you see Spanish people like that? [laughs from the audience]

Ken: Well it's funny, you know. Don Armado is both one of the most satirized figures by Shakespeare and also one of the most loved. There's no question that he mocks him, but ultimately, I think, Shakespeare in the play points out that the real people who are humillated are the boys. But personally, one of my favourite moments in the film is when Don Armado tells Jacquenetta he loves her. Because that character is capable of a sincerity and a constancy that the other men do not achieve. And I've seen this film now in various countries in the world and the biggest, most generous and loving reaction is for Don Armado's number "I get a kick out of you".

Question for Ken: What is your relationship with the Shakespeare Film Company?

[Ken looks for the one who asked the question and asks the translator about him "Can you see him?" she says and he answers "No, no I can't"] I find that if I can't see you I can't answer you, it's funny. Oh, there, I see! What was the question? [the person and translator repeats the question to Ken] Oh, well, it's a company that was set up by Intermedia, the overall producers of this film. I thought hopefully allows us, in partnership, to do as we did here and with other colleagues around Europe too, to continue to make some Shakespeare films and I hope other films, and films with other directors and other producers, so a sort of umbrella for what we hope over the next years might be some exciting work.

Question for Ken: I have noticed that Berowne's hair is always a that intentional?

Oh, you see I've spent my life doing this [runs his fingers through his hair, laughs from the audience]. Um, I've always had untamed hair. So, um [Ken laughs] yeah, it features like that [laughter again]

Translator: That's all, thank you!

Ken: Thank you very very much!

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