Kenneth Branagh Still Figuring Out 'Wallander'

Salt Lake Tribune, 11 September 2012
By Scott D. Pierce

Kenneth Branagh has played Swedish detective Kurt Wallander in nine television films, and he doesn't think he's gotten the character right yet.

"I think the biggest danger is when you think you know how to play the part," he said. "I still don't know how to play Wallander, I am pleased to say, and I want that question to be in the work all the way through to the end of the last series."

Others might disagree. The first six "Wallander" films on "Masterpiece Mystery!" have become cult favorites. And Branagh to no one' surprise has done a masterful job of creating the low-key but obsessed detective who is distinctive without being quirky in a TV-detective kind of way.

"He has fewer of the ticks," Branagh said. "He doesn't have the coat. He doesn't have the toothpick. He doesn't have the hat. He doesn't have the weird obsession with cars. He's sort of unadorned in a way."

That's unadorned in his mannerisms, as well as his personal style. "The distinction for him is, I would say, relative lack of vanity about his personal appearance," he said. "He doesn't have the sort of machismo swagger so much. He's male in certain, possibly tediously predictable ways."

Wallander, based on the novels of Henning Mankell, is familiar in one way. His job is his life, which makes it difficult if not impossible for him to have a personal life. "No one ever hugs Wallander," series host Alan Cumming says introducing Sunday's third-season premiere.

In the third of three "Wallander" TV movies from Season 2, that seemed to be changing for Wallander, and his attempt to have a personal life carries over into the Season 3 premiere.

He's trying to pull back a bit from his job. He thinks he's found the love of his life, Vanja (Saskia Reeves), and they're sharing a quaint cottage.

"They go to counseling," Branagh said. "They get a dog. They've got the house by the sea. He's trying to get home earlier."

But then the remains of a murder victim are found on the property, and that decade-old crime is tied to recent murder of a young woman.

"He seems to be on the road to personal and emotional recovery," said "Masterpiece" producer Rebecca Eaton. "But if that were true, there wouldn't be a series."

Truer words were never spoken by a producer. "Wallander" is not just a fascinating mystery, it's a fascinating character study. As his emphathy for victims is "sort of emotionally debilitating" for him, Branagh said. "He's just about feeling and then trying to solve the crime, Not necessarily the most efficient way to do it, but it's his way."

And not necessarily the easiest role for one of his generation's finest actors.

Branagh said making three more "Wallanders" allowed him to learn a little bit more about a role "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, and you can't help but somehow [let it] seep into your being."

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