Branagh’s Honest ‘Wallander’ Feels Original

Army Times, 27 April 2009
By Randy Cordova - The Arizona Republic
**Thanks Roman

In “Wallander,” Kenneth Branagh reminds viewers what a powerful actor he is.

As a weary detective, he is wonderfully nuanced throughout. But in one moment in the first episode, he tearfully speaks with his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Branagh’s quiet honesty is so vivid, it practically jumps off the screen.

Others have noticed his work: Earlier this year, he was named Best Actor at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards in England.

“You try not to pay too much attention to those things, but it is flattering,” he says from his home in England. “Detective stories have been done so many times. It’s such a familiar genre. So to be recognized for it is quite an honor.”

“Wallander” premieres at 9 p.m. May 10 on PBS.

Granted, while the genre may be familiar, “Wallander” feels completely original. Based on a series of books by Henning Mankell, the three-part series features the actor as Kurt Wallander, a burned-out police detective in Sweden who has a deep empathy with the crime victims he comes into contact with. The show was a hit for the BBC last year.

It’s not just a role for the 47-year-old actor-director and former wunderkind. He is one of show’s executive producers and was instrumental in bringing the stories to the screen.

“I read the books on my own, for pleasure,” says Branagh, who is a fan of crime novels. “I read all nine books in six weeks. They just have a hypnotic quality to them.”

He met with Mankell and convinced him to give him the rights for an English-language version. There have been Swedish-language adaptations before, which Branagh intentionally avoided.

“I didn’t want to see them, because it’s a different vision,” he says. “This is kind of [an English-language] filter on what happens, and I didn’t want to be influenced in any way.”

While it is English, the series does boast a somber, understated atmosphere that gives it an air of authenticity. That was intentional on Branagh’s part, too.

“We’d meet in Swedish cafes in London to prepare,” he says. “The tables were laid out differently and the shelves were laid out differently, and it’s just a different feel.”

The series was shot over 15 weeks in Ystad, Sweden, which Branagh insisted on to help get him into the proper mind-set.

“There are things that are different, things like the weather,” he says. “It’s much more significant in Sweden. The severity of the winter is so harsh, it takes on a significance it ordinarily might not have.”

Branagh immersed himself in the culture and the lifestyle during the shoot.

“I stayed isolated from the crew,” says Branagh, who is quite warm and chatty in conversation. “I didn’t socialize with the other cast members. It was a lonely existence.”

But he took some measures to maintain his sanity. “On the weekends, I would fly home to be normal with my wife and dog,” he says with a laugh. “I had to do that to stay healthy.”

The actor is healthy in other ways, too. Two years ago, Branagh gave up cigarettes. He did it by sheer willpower, prompted by the death of his parents.

“I was stupid,” he says. “I started smoking late in life, at 34, and I smoked for 12 years. I realized I had become one of those smelly people who was always huddling outside in the cold, near a doorway. I decided I didn’t want to be smelly anymore.”

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