Branagh, DiCaprio 'Celebrity' Chums

USA Today, November 20, 1998
by Jeannie Williams

Kenneth Branagh gets in bed with Leonardo DiCaprio, and on one with Melanie Griffith in Celebrity, opening Friday. Branagh, as a startlingly Woody Allen-ish writer, and an out-of-control star played by DiCaprio get their kicks with separate groupies in the same bed in Allen's latest offering. Branagh's writer also gets closer to Griffith, playing a top actress, than any real writer could dream of.

Celebrity is about "manufacturing fame, which is what I do every day," says publicist Peggy Siegal, who really should have been in it, but ran a recent benefit screening.

Neither Branagh nor DiCaprio had to have fame manufactured. Branagh, 37, a top British actor who was a boy wonder himself, gives Leo high marks for handling teen-idol status.

"For a man so thrust into the limelight, I find nothing of the craft of acting diminished with him. . . . He has wisdom about his situation, a very old head on his shoulders. He had a significant career before this, and that's kept him sane. There's no sign (the fuss) has swelled his head in the wrong way, and he retains a sense of humor about it.''

Branagh's own fame is at a more comfortable level. "I still have, for my money, a delicious amount of anonymity."

He's respected by other actors, and has a loyal fan base, his mailbag tells him.

He has endured media probing of his personal life, notably about his breakup with wife Emma Thompson and current romance with Helena Bonham Carter. Unlike some actors, the verbally agile Branagh has realized, "It's possible to be civil with people and not give away your entire interior life. I can understand the curiosity, but you don't have to comply . . . I've said (to press), I wouldn't ask you that!"

Branagh's Celebrity character is clearly a takeoff on the neurotic Allen. "I was shocked myself when I saw it," he says of the twitchily talkative striver who betrays and is betrayed by one woman after another. It's the last thing people would expect from Branagh, who does a fine American accent.

But he swears, "It was not in any way conscious. Woody and I didn't talk about the character. . . . I avoided wearing glasses or other things like Woody, but it came out the way it did. I have too much respect for him to satirize him."

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