Branagh Brightens Up Bleak Affair

Toronto Sun, September 12 1995
by Bruce Kirkland

Formality was smashed and stuffiness never even reared its ugly head yesterday as ebullient Englishman Kenneth Branagh re-invented the notion of keynote addresses.

Branagh, an actor, writer, and director who is at the Toronto International Film Festival to present his new film, In The Bleak Midwinter, had agreed to address the opening of the festival's annual industry symposium. These affairs are always formal and sometimes tedious events - but not with Branagh holding court flanked by Midwinter star Michael Maloney and moderator Brian Linehan.

Branagh, who had the audience giggling, throwing out compliments and applauding his words, held forth on Midwinter and a myriad of topics, from Joan Collins to the lure of black-and-white photography for his new film.

Some highlights:

"This film," he says of Midwinter, the comic story of a bunch of actors trying to mount a production of Hamlet, "is in a sense a conversation, with myself as well as the actors, about what we do in the theatre. Why should we be interested in a 400-year play about a repressed aristocrat?"

On the glamorous Collins, who portrays Maloney's caustic agent in the film and who began as a 16-year-old starlet: "She still has that - it's like working with a 16-year-old starlet but one with a little more experience and a little more of everything else. I was very scared working with her but she joined in on every level."

On the question, "Why do actors get so bloody worked up about everything?": Branagh says actors do have fun. "They have the childish fun of dressing up and showing off, I suppose, and yet it (acting) embraces naked fear. Just standing outside waiting to come in here (the Sutton Place ballroom) was absolutely nerve-wracking. And even though you do it for a living, what is amazing is that you never get over it."

On the perils of encouraging Hollywood studios to help out independent filmmakers: "It's absolutely dangerous," he says. "It could rob them of their originality."

On the dark title of what is his very funny, very light new movie: "Someone actually asked me: 'Is this your Bergman film?' No, it's my Carry On film," he says, referring to the classic series of screwball English comedies.

On the B & W photography for Bleak Midwinter: Not only is B & W instantly more romantic, suggesting a bygone era of films, but it's perfect for a movie about the theatre: "It seems to lend a kind of cheapness; it serves a kind of sleaze function."

Which puts the whole enterprise in perfect perspective, says Branagh. It's okay to have fun.

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