MSN Chat Transcript

June 3 1999
Interview with 'Celebrity' star Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh joined fans online to chat about his latest film "Celebrity", which is written and directed by another famous "auteur", Woody Allen. A unique Celebrity cinema poster signed by Kenneth Branagh went to Paula Collins for the best question.

Celebrity is a contemporary comedy that takes place in New York City and revolves around the romantic and professional aspirations of a dynamic group of individuals. It goes on release nationwide on June 18th 1999. It also stars, Hank Azaria, Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Famke Janssen, Michael Lerner, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, and Winona Ryder.

Set within the glamorous worlds of filmmaking, book publishing, fashion and television, the movie takes a wry look at the ways in which love can be lost and found and how, much as we like to think that we can control our heart's fate, in fact we can't. Mr Allen turns his highly perceptive eye and camera on the phenomenon of celebrity, the pursuit of which for many is equal to the quest for love.

John_MSN : Welcome to our chat with Kenneth Branagh. We have had over 900 questions in advance - many from Ken's friends - hi guys :o) [Ken-Friends, not "Ken's friends" :) -ngoc]

John_MSN : Sorry for the wait we can now start asking Kenneth some of the question...he is right here at the hotel with us.

Kenneth Branagh says: Hi's great to be here.

John_MSN : We have had hundreds questions in advance. Here comes the first ...

nick_name3 asks: What was it like to work with Woody Allen?

Kenneth Branagh says: It was a lifetime ambition to work with someone whose films I had seen all of and a big thrill to be asked and not to have to audition for him :o)

John_MSN : You have said that you copied his mannerisms for the role in Celebrity. Was that a strange experience?

Kenneth Branagh says: The part was very much written in his comic voice. Lots of stuttering, lots of nervous energy, anxiety and neurosis :o) Watching his films over the years gave me the preparation for that in life. His is a nervous man.

John_MSN : Are there any similarities between Woody Allen's wordy more literate screenplays and Shakespeare's classics.

Kenneth Branagh says: Woody Allen liked you to say what he had written. He didn't like improvising 'content' jokes. Anthing that interfered with what he was saying as an author, in that regard fidelity was as important as in the films of Shakespeare that we had made.

The difficulty which he meets all the time, l like with Shakespeare, is trying to find a fusion between a language based source material and putting it into a medium which is visually led.

John_MSN : I've written a film script and you'd be perfect for the lead! Where can I send it so you could get a look?

Kenneth Branagh says: The place to send scripts is to Shepperton Studios in England :o)

John_MSN : Did you work much with Leonardo Di Caprio what's he like as an actor and a person?

Kenneth Branagh says: I thought Leo was a nice fellow who is making the adjustment to instense fame very impressively. In fact I saw him in the post Titanic explosion and he seemed very well adjusted. He is an excellent actor and has made many films long before Titanic, for all his youth he has experience of what it is like to handle all that and to be a big star.

John_MSN: Will we ever see you on the English stage again? If so, what role would you like to take on? We also have a question in about if you'd work on the Broadway Stage?

Return to the theatre is something I am considering not in the short term but I would like to work in the theatre again. The part I would like to play is Shakespeare's Richard III quite where I don't know

LJ asks: What's your favourite movie?

Kenneth Branagh says: That's impossible to answer. Favourites include, Brief Encounter, Manhattan, Black Narcissus and Napoleon...

John_MSN : Wow, the big 3 day long black and white epic?

Kenneth Branagh says: Yep, one of the few films longer than our Hamlet It made our Hamlet look short

Paula Collins says: The film "Celebrity" is a commentary on America's sometimes obsessive fascination with stars and stardom. In your experience, is there a big difference in the culture of fame in America as opposed to other parts of the world? Ireland and England, for example?

Kenneth Branagh says: Fame seems more instantaneously possible in America. Though, the fall from grace and return to favour happens with equal swiftness. In Ireland and England there is always some healthy carping all along. You never get canonised fully over here and that is a good thing ... that's the advantage of the tall poppy syndrome

Paula Collins says: Through your character, Lee Simon, you had the opportunity to play a member of the media as opposed to your often real-life experience as interviewee - What experiences of celebrity and the media did you bring to the role?

Kenneth Branagh says: I understood how difficult it can be to get a script to a big star which my character experiences with Leo's character who is surrounded by people who make that difficult I also understand the other side of it .

Paula C_says: Mr. Allen is known for his anti-rehearsal directorial style, along with often sending "incomplete scripts" to most of the cast. That must have been a unique if not slightly terrifying experience. As a writer, director and actor, what are some of the insights that you will take away from the process of making this Woody Allen film?

Kenneth Branagh says: The anti-rehearsal thing I think for him captures spontanaity. He worries about losing if actors are over prepared or they fix their performances too rigidly. A certain amount of freedom was interesting to experience , to have given that he has produced fantastic work under those conditions for many years now.

Peter_M says: What do you think of Liam Neeson's decision to retire?

Kenneth Branagh says: Well...I have since read that Liam is not returning to films and that he had been misquoted or the remarks taken out of context...I don't know about actors being treated as puppets by directors...Undeniably film is a director's medium but that being the case I have found myself enjoying giving myself over to the director's vision. In the end you have to do that and my experience has been a positive one.

John_MSN : I've heard you speak of both being an actor in a film, and being a director... if you could chose one, which would it be and why?

Kenneth Branagh says: If I had to choose I would be a director because you have a chance to have a more significant influence on the atmosphere and on the whole the atmosphere of our films has been happy.

Emma_inderby says: Here's a rose for the most talented and incredibly sexiest man alive @-{ my favourite films are much ado about nothing and hamlet ,whats your favourite film that you've starred in and would you like to direct, produce another film?

John_MSN : I don't like making choices like that ...

Kenneth Branagh says: Me neither..

lol [laugh out loud]...

I have a soft spot for 'Much Ado About Nothing' because it puts a smile on the face

Jude_ Tessel says: You have spoken of your habit to collect souvenirs from your movies, such as Henry V's throne and Theory of Flight's airplane...what are the souvenirs you've kept from other movies?

Kenneth Branagh thinks: Woody Allen's corduroy jacket complete with arm patches.

John_MSN : Does he know? :o)

Kenneth Branagh says: No, [laughing] I sneaked that one through customs so to speak. :o)

Jude_ Tessel says: Are you aware that the 360 degree, traveling camera shot that appears in movies you've directed has been dubbed the "BranaghCam"?

Kenneth Branagh says: No...I am surprised they have dubbed it that and not the 'irritatingly flashy shot' .

Patrick_Krause says: Hamlet was such a beautifully shot film, are there any plans to release it on DVD?

Kenneth Branagh says: I am not aware of that at present. That's question would be best asked of the people at Castle Rock Entertainment.

Isabel says: My question is: "Hi Kenneth, Isabel Ortiz from Spain here. "The Betty Schimmel Story". Are you finally going to do it? Thanks from a Ken-friend!!!"

Kenneth Branagh says: At present the project is on a back burner while the script is worked on.

John_MSN : Being a director yourself, did you have any problems working with Woody Allen?

Kenneth Branagh says: As an actor, I didn't feel any conflict with a director. I am always greatful for the load being lightened ... I found the experience enjoyable because there was no rehearsal and a very swift shooting style. Working with lots of different actors and the scenes having different characteristics is very stimulating.

John_MSN : Several people have asked this - Would you consider doing an action picture next.

Kenneth Branagh says: Wild Wild West is an action adventure but I haven't been asked much to do a conventional action picture. There are great action picture and there are terrible ones. I think Wild Wild West would be called a comedy adventure.

John_MSN : Do you use the Internet, is this your first time online?

Kenneth Branagh says: This is not my first time online. I did an interview with Entertainment Asylum in America and I am getting more into it and I am getting to be more computer literate but not a net surfer.

Larry2 says: Hi Ken, Whats the next big project ?

Kenneth Branagh says: I am finishing off a film of Love's Labour's Lost, a musical version of this play which will hit the screens at the end of November or December this year and beyond that I hope to take a holiday

John_MSN : finally to date what has been your most satisfying experience as director or actor.

Kenneth Branagh says: The most challenging was making our film of Hamlet. It was the most taxing thing to do and as something it was satisfying to try and create an artistic everest.

John_MSN : It has been ten years since you made Henry V...what is the most important thing you have learned about acting and directing movies?

Kenneth Branagh says: Keep practising .

Host John_MSN says: Kenneth...thank you very much for joining us tonight it has been a real pleasure...thank you also to our audience...

(((((all of you)))))...

Kenneth Branagh says: and thank you all very much, it has been a pleasure.

Host John_MSN says: Good Luck with the opening of Celebrity and best wishes with all your future projects.

KENNETH BRANAGH (Lee Simon) was born in Belfast, Ireland and raised in Reading, England. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, in 1982, shortly after leaving RADA, he made his West End theatre debut in Julian Mitchell s Another Country for which he won the Society of West End Theatre s Award for the Most Promising Newcomer . His other notable theatre performances during that time include: Tennyson s Maude in The Madness and Julian Mitchell s Francis as well as performances for the RSC: Henry V , Love s Labours Lost , Hamlet.

In 1987, Branagh and actor David Parfitt founded the Renaissance Theatre Company, for which he wrote and starred in Public Enemy and directed Twelfth Night , The Night of Napoleon , and Napoleon, the American Story . Other productions from Renaissance during this period include: Much Ado About Nothing , As You Like It , Look Back in Anger , King Lear , and A Midsummer Night s Dream .

Kenneth Branagh took the international film community by surprise in 1988 with his debut as a film director on Henry V , which he also adapted in addition to playing the title role. Branagh was subsequently invited to Hollywood to direct his next film, Dead Again in which he co-starred with Emma Thompson and where he played the dual roles of a gumshoe detective in contemporary Los Angeles and a European Composer in the 1940s.

Branagh next went on to co-produce, direct and star in the ensemble film Peter s Friends which won the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy in 1992. That same year, he co-produced, directed and starred in Much Ado About Nothing together with Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves and Emma Thompson, which went on to become the most profitable Shakespeare adaptation in over two decades.

In 1994, Branagh directed Robert DeNiro in mary Shelley s Frankenstein and the following year he wrote and directed another ensemble piece, In The Bleak Midwinter (A Midwinter s Tale) with Joan Collins, John Sessions, Richard Briers and Celia Imrie amongst others. Kenneth Branagh s other film work includes: Oliver Parker s Othello , A Month In The Country , High Season , Swing Kids , Hamlet (which he also directed, produced, wrote and starred in), The Gingerbread Man , and The Proposition . He will next be seen starring in Danny Boyle s Alien Love Triangle and Theory of Flight .

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