Kenneth Branagh Revisits Nordic Noir as Somber Detective Kurt Wallander

LA Daily News, 8 September 2012
By Rob Lowman

As an actor and director Kenneth Branagh is a man of all seasons and mediums - stage, screen and TV. Tonight on PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" he will definitely be in a chilly clime as he returns to his Emmy - and Golden Globe -nominated role as the dark, troubled Swedish detective Kurt Wallander.

"An Event in Autumn" marks the first of three new TV movies based on the character created by best-selling novelist Henning Mankell. The mystery is set in Ystad on the southern tip of Sweden. Its stark terrain seems to affect Wallander as much as the brutal murders he investigates.

Branagh says he felt like he was in a painting when he first visited the area.

"If you pull the car up to the side of the road in southern Sweden there's usually you and then there's 5 miles of a huge sky, and one red barn. And everything feels as though it's been composed by God," he says. "It seemed that crime in that harsh environment, severe temperatures ... does different things to the character."

Mankell's novels, he observes, are about a certain kind of thoughtful and meditative detective.

"Wallander has a relative lack of vanity about his appearance. He doesn't have this sort of machismo swagger," says Branagh about his character. "He seems to live just for the job and to have a kind of empathy for the victims of a crime that is almost dangerous to him in the way that it's sort of emotionally debilitating."

Though recently knighted, Branagh seems to have a lack of vanity about his own appearance. He could easily be mistaken for a college professor rather than an acclaimed actor.

Earlier this year he was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn." Right now, he's in England directing the film "Jack Ryan," an updated reboot of the franchise for Paramount.

"It's an origin story that allows us to understand how Jack Ryan, created by Tom Clancy, who is very much involved with this version, develops into a CIA analyst," explains Branagh. "It's a very contemporary action thriller."

This is the third trio of "Wallander" films, and while they have tried to adhere to Mankell's stories Branagh says they have, with Mankell's permission, moved around plot elements and certain characters from novel to novel ... "with a couple of exceptions."

Tonight's episode, for instance, was developed from a short story.

When it opens, Wallander appears to have found some kind of peace, living in a newly purchased rural home with his new love and her son. But soon he is drawn into the case of a young woman who has leaped to her death from a ferry under suspicious circumstances. And when the remains of a body are found on his property, bliss seems a long way away.

Branagh is hoping for a fourth trio of films, which would probably include "The White Lioness," set in South Africa, and possibly the ninth - and what seems the final - novel in the Wallander series, "The Troubled Man," which would be two parts.

Although now he seems so incredibly suited for the role, Branagh found playing Wallander the first time to be a bit uncomfortable. "I was pretty isolated. I never had lunch with anyone, rarely went out to dinner. You know, I worked, and I went back, and I learned my lines, and I felt pretty Swedish."

He adds, "It's been remarkable to come back for a third series ... where you try and strip away things, you try and talk a little more quietly, you try to have as few character tics as possible. You're trying to not have shtick. So you get a little more naked."

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