Web Exclusive: Kenneth Branagh on “Wallander”

Thelma Adams.com, 1 January 2012
By Thelma Adams

My husband and I are rabid readers of Scandinavian mysteries, from Henning Mankell’s Wallander series; to rising Norwegian star Jo Nesbo, whose “Headhunters” was made into a brilliant movie; to the Stieg Larsson millennium trilogy. I couldn’t talk to Kenneth Branagh about "My Week with Marilyn", without discussing his title role in the broody BBC hit TV series, "Wallander".

Thelma Adams: OK, do the Swedes have as many ways to describe depression as there are snowflakes?

Kenneth Branagh: My experience of going there to research, and do the location recces, was to meet Swedes that very quickly were ready and able to get into deepish philosophical questions. They were quick on the draw with the deep stuff. And they had a very deadpan sense of humor, often aware that the world could see them as over-serious. They rather tease the Brits. They regard us as tense and uptight. They’re asking: how do you feel about the landscape we’re in? And what do you feel about death? And you’re really still in the cup of tea stage. In southern Sweden with its great flatlands, you do become introspective. They may well be pondering and considering depression more than other people do. They have long, cold dark winters in which to do it.

TA: What effect does that have on the character you play?

KB: Wallander is compelled and hypnotized by death in the novels. He was appalled and magnetically drawn to discover the reasons why people commit what seem like random acts of violence. He was motivated by deep moral and spiritual revulsion. He doesn’t believe in an eye for an eye. He’s appalled by cruelty. He’s trying to understand why in order to prevent it.

TA: He’s also typical in detective fiction in that his personal life is a wreck.

KB: To a large extent he is absolutely spent by the empathic connection to violence and the victims; it leaves a personal life which is a wasteland. We just finished three new films. In one, he ends up in a counseling session forced to say I don’t think you can do what I do and not end up like that.

TA: Does playing such a dour empath leech into real life?

KB: I am better at firewalling. The first season was very exhausting as we tried to find the man and this approach to the films. Although I’m better at leaving him at work, the actual material has become darker in film number nine. Even on reading the last film on this last series of three, I rang the producer and said ‘Oh, my god, that is so bleak I can’t believe it.’ But it’s bracing, darkly illuminating as an actor and a viewer.

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