"Have children? I think no further than dinner or tea..."

NOW!, October 1998
by Jane Wells

Kenneth Branagh has a handy tip for any publicity-weary celebrities who can hardly stick their heads outside the door without being snapped by the paparazzi. Move to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ken spent two days in America's second-largest gambling town with Leonardo DiCaprio and no one batted an eyelid. Not even when they all spilled out of a hotel room one morning after a drug-fuelled orgy.

"It was interesting," says Ken. "People couldn't give a fuck about us -- even Leo. Everyone was totally concentrated on gambling."

Of course, it wasn't a real drug-fuelled orgy, but one filmed for Celebrity, Woody Allen's latest film. In it Ken plays a struggling writer who pursues a hot, young actor (Leo) with an eye to getting him to star in his screenplay. But despite the fact that the scenes weren't for real, Ken still thinks Atlantic City is worth bearing in mind for a spot of debauchery.

"It was very jolly," he laughs. "If you want to do that sort of stuff, it's nice to do it in a fancy style. I'd never been there before and it has a racous, manic, 24-hour energy all about gambling and hedonism. It felt like we were going down there and having a wild time. We filmed scenes in real hotel rooms and the whole life of the place was going on around us."

He could have done with blending in with the scenery three years ago when he split up with his wife Emma Thompson. When the Ken and Em show closed, British showbiz's golden couple found themselves under siege.

"I'm sure we were called a few other things besides the Golden Couple," he says with a thin laugh. "It was an intense experience, very hard. But people get bored with it after a while."

When it was revealed, after the split, that Ken had taken up with Helena Bonham Carter, who he'd cast in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the knives were really out. THe film received a critical mauling, which was intensified by bad feeling towards Ken and Helena.

"It was a bit of a public kicking, wasn't it?" he concedes. "But I'd had a very good run. If everything's got an equal and opposite reaction, I'd had a lot of support for my earlier work and this was equally intense the other way. People genuinely didn't just dislike it, they hated it, and perhaps hated me for doing it. That was a big shock to me."

Emma has spoken of feeling depressed for a long time about the breakup, but Ken says they're still friends.

The joke used to be that if Ken was in the kitchen, Emma would beg to be in it too. There's a danger of that old jibe being revived with Helena. They play opposite each other in a film called The Theory of Flight, due out next year. It doesn't sound like a bundle of laughs with him cast as an artist who's obsessed with flying and Helena playing a woman confined to a wheelchair with motor neurone disease.

"We did it as we were both drawn to the script, which is quirky and different and it was good casting for the pair of us. It worked out well, we enjoyed it, and it's got great characters. Helly has an odd sensibility for material and often chooses things that are slightly askew."

Do they have plans to make more films together? He shrugs. "We have no plans to do it or not to do it again. If there's another great script that people want us for then we'll do it, as we do enjoy working together."

The 37-year-old actor is keeping his options open on the question of marriage, but at least he's finally persuaded Helena, 32, to move out of her parents' house and into her own flat.

"Oh, I have no idea about marriage," he says quickly. "I've no fixed views on that, children, you name it."

"I love kids, I love them," he insists. "There are lots of friends who can't have them and so I never assume. But I haven't been actively trying, so it may or may not be on my dance card. Again it's not something that at this stage I feel I can particularly plan for. I try to think no further than dinner or tea. That keeps me happy."

Ken, who's filled out a bit in the last few years, certainly seems happier and even a bit softer these days.

"I even cry at movies," he admits. "I do, yes. I can start crying at the most banal things. I'm a bit of a sucker really. When I'm at home, I like getting up early and going for a walk -- the earlier the better, when the world's just waking up. Dawn, say about five-ish -- though I don't do it regularly enough, I have to say. It's very quiet then, the phone's not ringing and there aren't too many cars around. I'm a much happier guy these days."

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