Branagh Ad-dresses Celebrity

Toronto Sun, November 19, 1998
by Bob Thompson

NEW YORK -- Kenneth Branagh is stroking his goatee and waxed moustache in an agitated way. He doesn't appreciate the facial hair, and he's very public about it.  

"Yes," says the usually clean-shaven Branagh in his proper English accent, "I have few complaints apart from this incredibly silly moustache arrangement."  

 Alas poor Branagh. The 38-year-old is sitting in a mid-town Manhattan hotelroom, and he's admitting that he's suffering for his art.  

Or rather he's explaining that he's facially dressed for the Barry Sonnenfeld movie version of the cornball '60s TV show, Wild Wild West, which he's shooting in L.A.  

The movie stars Will Smith and Kevin Kline as the heroic cowboy crime-fighting team. Branagh plays the dastardly villain, which apparently requires some sort of beard.  

He can't talk about the film, which will be released next summer, although he is not above offering teasers.

"There are fantastic set designs," whispers Branagh. "And there is a secret but subtle part of my character, which I can't reveal at this time. But I can't ride horses."

He chuckles. Branagh is laughing because he is with a roomful of reporters who abhor being fed half-truths.

 Writing about them is another thing," says the classically- trained London actor who should know.

 A few years ago he was royally roasted by the British media for "going Yank" and divorcing wife Emma Thompson.

Which may or may not bring us to Branagh's soon-to-be-released endeavour and the reason he's meeting the press. It's for Woody Allen's Celebrity, which opens next week.

Branagh portrays a New York magazine writer obsessed with becoming famous. Along the way, the writer divorces his wife (Judy Davis), falls for a loopy supermodel (Charlize Theron), and then gets charmed by an actress (Winona Ryder) half his age.

"It's a penis-led move into madness," reports Branagh of his character.

To say that Branagh plays Woody Allen playing the writer is difficult for even Branagh to deny.  

"We didn't discuss doing that," he says. "But his characters usually go through the same things. They are unlucky at love, they are idealistic, self-destructive, and hopelessly neurotic."

Straying too far from the Woody Allen essence can be troublesome.  

"I suggested jeans for my character rather than have him live in the extraordinary world of corduroy. I heard Woody say to somebody, 'I would never wear jeans.'  

"It seemed like it would be impossible."

Living like Kenneth Branagh must've seemed that way, as well. At the height of his break-up melodrama -- leaving his wife for Frankenstein co-star Helena Bonham Carter -- the daily Branagh-bashing in the Brit press was overwhelming.

Celebrity, indeed. "It eventually goes away," he says of the carping. "But it seems like it's never going to."

Parties and premieres are another occupational hazard detailed in Celebrity.

Not surprisingly, Branagh has some considered opinions on those forced social situations, too.

"Those things are dignity freezers for everybody," he says. "People ferociously try to grab little bits of you in a really competitive atmosphere.

"Somehow everybody -- stars and fans -- get caught in the mob hysteria.

"Suddenly, it's lights, action, cameras. And we're all exposed. And not in a very nice way."

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