Transcript: Kenneth Branagh and Piers Morgan, 20 December 2011
* Thanks, Jude



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the matter now?
BRANAGH: Would you wait. Marilyn, please, please, please, tell me how I can help you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know who Elsie is and I can't act her if I don't know who she is.
BRANAGH: You have her, precisely. You understand her inside and in all of your gift, we all are.
BRANAGH: Then why not simply rely on your natural talents?


MORGAN: Kenneth Branagh is Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn." Not many actors would be brave enough to play such a noble thespian, but for that performance he's been nominated for (INAUDIBLE) and Golden Globe Awards. And Kenneth Branagh joins me, now.

Kenneth, welcome.

BRANAGH: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.

MORGAN: And congratulations on the double nomination, must be very satisfying. I'm telling you, back in Britain, as I know, you've been bracketed as the new Olivier for about as long as I can remember.

BRANAGH: Well, it has been satisfying to -- it's always satisfying and nice to have work recognized, because as you know, sometimes that doesn't happen. We do -- you know, you keep going. I've been in the business now for 30 years and it's nice when things go well. So, particularly with this part where, as you say, one had had the great flattery of being compared to Laurence Olivier, but with that came the inevitable knockings because the man is unsurpassable, master of what he does. If you followed anywhere near him, played any part that he ever played, you were measured against his greatness.

And so it was a kind of double-edged sword. But this time with this I think very sort of honest account in this snapshot in the movie, "My Week with Marilyn," I feel, I actually felt very honored to be asked to do it and I'm delighted, of course, that you know, it's had recognition. It's very thrilling.

MORGAN: When you play a role like Olivier in a movie, compare and contrast to some of your great theatrical performances. Because, you know, I have seen you perform live in theater, and it's electrifying. And you are, to my mind, this is not a false obsequiousness, although I'm happy to offer that, as well, but you are in my view the great current British actor on stage. Do you get as much of a thrill out of the very, by comparison, very boring process of making a movie?

BRANAGH: Well, first of all, thank you very much. I very much appreciate that and the difference, I suppose, is just -- is in approach. What you have to do in film, I think, is just enjoy it in a different way, understand it to be a very different sort of art form. You don't get that, you know, the atmosphere, the connection of the live theatrical experience, which is unique for everyone, but it's a beautiful and different thing on film and you have to get used to the hurry up and wait.

One of the things that I think is funny about "My Week with Marilyn" is a chance to play Laurence Olivier's frustration with film. He goes on record numerously as saying that he thought directing a movie was the best job in the world, but I think he was most impatient with the process of filming, and particularly with the process of waiting on one occasion three days for Marilyn to show up.

Now, that's when filming does get to be a little bit taxing and I think with his discipline, I think that's sometimes where approaches in this case are very extreme version of the method, which is what Marilyn was following and this incredibly disciplined theatrical approach from the man who had been in the staged version of this for a whole year. I mean, he had done it sort of in his sleep and then Marilyn shows up and the crazy making thing for Olivier was that after this process, this very long, much longer than anticipated process of filming it, when you see the finished film, I don't know if you've seen "The Prince and the Show Girl," but it's very -- well, I think it would be fair to say, and Olivier certainly goes on record as saying that she comes out of it really rather more effectively because whatever it cost, that -- those Marilyn qualities, the easy comedy, the innocent and yet sexual kind of provocation in the performance was all there.

By contrast, Olivier seems, you know, something of a stuffed shirt, as the "New York Times" described his performance and I think that was frustrating, because he was a master in his own right and either side of it was giving naturalistic method performances that could outshine anyone. So, it was an unusual moment of almost artistic mid-life crisis for him.

MORGAN: Well, talking of stuffed shirts, I couldn't help but notice you're in pretty good nick at moment and I think I know the reason why, because I can exclusively reveal you and I share the same personal trainer. A 6'7" Austrian giant called Alexander Rankovich who spends most of his life beating seven bells out of people like you and me.

BRANAGH: He is quite a remarkable creature. I haven't seen him for a little while because I've been back home, but I know that you and he -- you apparently have a different technique with him and you take him on. I'm simply crushed by him on every occasion when I do meet him. He's a delightful guy, but he pushes and pushes and is of course much taller and stronger in every way.

You are a match for him, I have no doubt. And I -- what I haven't seen, and I'd love to pay tickets for a ringside seat on those occasions when you and he and are doing stomach crunches, et cetera. Are you prepared to reveal the number of press-ups and number of stomach crunches you can achieve?

MORGAN: Even if I tell you what I -- we get in the ring and I do boxing with him --

BRANAGH: Do you, really?

MORGAN: And that's where I think you and I differ. Yeah, you're too nice a guy. I basically get in the ring, and you want to see the previous show I did with Manny Pacquiao, I've got a bit of form, but a pretty tiny left hook and I like beating him up.

BRANAGH: Oh, OK. Are you a fair fighter (INAUDIBLE) rules?

MORGAN: Everything you know about me, Kenneth, would you imagine I'm a fair fighter?

BRANAGH: I'd be pretty careful where the gloves go.


MORGAN: Let's take a little break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about who you think is the greatest ever actor and who's been your favorite leading lady.



BRANAGH: This can be no trick. A conference was sadly born. They have the truth of this from hero. Love me! Why. It must be requited.


MORGAN: From my guest, Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film, "Much Ado About Nothing." Kenny, I mean, you straddled, incredibly, three decades. You don't look old enough, I have to say that, but in all of that time, I like to always ask actors this, because they often give enlightening responses, surprising ones. Who has been, pound for pound, the greatest actor that you've ever seen in action?

BRANAGH: Well, I have to say, I'm sorry it's a bit of a boring answer given what we're kind of talking about, but Olivier, I think, really does take some beating. Around the period of "The Prince and the Showgirl," we talk about "My Week with Marilyn," he, prior to, played Richard III, on screen, one of the greatest screen performances I've ever seen, it's so sexy, so witty, so dangerous, all of the things that you expect from a modern contemporary actor at their very best, he gives there, he makes a classical role seem utterly contemporary. It's quite breathtaking. Generally, I love watching other actors at work, so it's hard to pick favorites, but having studied him recently and revisiting the work, I have to say it's an amazing achievement, an, amazing career, amazing talent.

MORGAN: And when you're in Hollywood, do you hang out with your old mockers like Hugh Laurie, who's reinvented himself in this Americanized Mr. Bad Guy, on "House". I mean, do you have the old "Peter's Friends", gang all get together?

BRANAGH: Well, I haven't done much of that. I do see people that -- you will know that one of the amazing things about America is that, A. I find it a big thrill to work here, I'm very pleased and delighted, and frankly, sort of humbled at the chance to work here because it's what I used to watch. I was sitting as a kid in Belfast, I've watch Sunday afternoon matinees of movies, I'd see, you know, names like Burbank at the end, you know, filmed in Burbank, California, these were magical places to me. To go there is amazing.

But, when you meet up with people like Hugh, the other thing that happens in America, you have the weather the extraordinary opportunity, but everybody works so hard. The work ethic here is pretty remarkable. And I'm sure, well, I know because I can see what you're doing all over the shop. It's people are incredibly busy. So, you don't get a chance to do quite as much, you know, hanging around and having a lark and having lots of Brit picnics or anything, but you pass like, very, very enjoyably, like ships in the night and so I hook up with people whenever I can.

MORGAN: And finally, if I could create a sort of desert island utopia where you could make one last play of your life, you can only have one leading lady, it can be for screen or it can be for theater, who's the woman? Who's the one you'd choose for your last, ever role?

BRANAGH: Oh, wow, you put me on the spot there, because I'm going to say, and please don't hate me for this being an obvious answer, but I just watched Michelle Williams, "Close to," (ph), across the last picture we made from the most unlikely of the, this sort of fragile and petite, seeming, beautiful young woman, seemed to expand in the makeup chair as she filled out the curves of Marilyn, she found the voice, she occupied the face, the hair, the walk, which wasn't so much of a walk as a float, a shimmy through the movie. She did all of that technically brilliantly, every evocation of the outside of Marilyn and then crucially made she made this other leap into playing the inside, the interior, the guesstimate of what the real person is like.

But it's an amazing guess because it's truthful, and it's vulnerable and it's sexy, smart as a nut and funny. You'd have to say that -- you know, I would be very thrilled if I could ever afford to pay her to be in a movie I was in at any point after this.

MORGAN: Very diplomatically said, if you don't mind me saying, Kenneth. I expect nothing else. It's been a pleasure. Good luck with all of the award season. You've going to be a busy boy. And it's been a real delight to finally get a chance to talk to you. Thank you.

BRANAGH: Very nice to talk to you, Piers. Thanks for having me. Thank you.

MORGAN: And that's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts right now.

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