Kenneth Branagh: 'People Find Me Rather Scary'

Daily Mail, 22 May 2009
By Gabrielle Donnelly

Kenneth Branagh was born in Belfast in 1960 and moved to Reading when he was nine. At 23 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in 1987, he founded The Renaissance Theatre Company - he has been a major figure in both British stage and film ever since.

This summer he will film a new series of the BBC Bafta-winning Wallander in which he stars as the eponymous, introspective Swedish detective.

After relationships with actresses Emma Thompson - to whom he was married from 1989-1995 - and Helena Bonham Carter, he has been married since 2003 to film art director Lindsay Brunnock.

Did you enjoy filming Wallander in Sweden?

Very much. I love being in Sweden, which is a land of big sky and big landscapes, where you can drive for a long time without seeing anyone.

I also got to cycle a lot - it's very flat countryside and friendly to cyclists, so I would go for endless cycles along the coast with my headphones on, learning my lines.

I also made some good friends. Swedes are an interesting people, who are very sociable, very intense listeners, and also ready to get into big philosophical ideas in a heartbeat - even over breakfast, which was something I was not necessarily ready for.

Wallander is something of a workaholic. Are you?

I think if you're passionate about your work and you love doing it, then inevitably you're going to get absorbed in it. I like to think that I am not quite as blind to the people around me as Wallander can be, but my work is very important to me.

Are you looking forward to playing Wallander for years to come?

I get rather superstitious about assuming the audiences may want to watch him for years to come, but I'm delighted to be back in Kurt Wallander's shoes for three further adaptations. The detective's story becomes ever more complex in these next films.

The whole production team relishes the privilege of bringing them back to the screen, and to an audience that proved so loyal last time out. I'd certainly be very, very happy to make more of them.

What do you do when you're not working?

I do like to go to the pictures - it might sound like a busman's holiday, but for me it's still a lot of fun. And I like reading - anything from crime novels to self-help books, which I find totally addictive.

I also enjoy the genre, which is very popular in which, for instance, three women from Shepherd's Bush move to Tuscany to run an olive farm, or a former rock musician decides to tend a lemon grove in Spain.

Occasionally I'll try to push myself to read something in areas for which I have no natural gift. At the moment, I'm trying to read a book on particle physics, and the effort is deeply unsuccessful.

What do you think when you see yourself on screen?

I'm a pretty tough audience on myself, but I tend not to beat myself up about things that went wrong. I'm more likely to be thinking, 'Oh, right, that was the day I had a bacon roll for breakfast, that's the day that actor got cross with me, and, oh, Christ, that was the day all the costumes got burned.' Things like that.

Are people ever intimidated when they meet you?

I think there is definitely a reverence for Shakespeare in the world - and rightly so - and maybe because I do a lot of Shakespeare, some people might be a little nervous when they first meet me.

But quite soon they realise I'm not going to be saying to them, 'Who on earth are you? I'll only speak to you when you can tell me line 52 of Act Three of Henry IV, Part One.'

Who were your acting heroes when you were young?

Morecambe and Wise. They were such a brilliant combination of silly humour, fantastic warmth, and a little bit of pathos as well. I loved them. When I was about 14, I wrote to them and asked if I could get tickets to see their show - they didn't send tickets, but they did send an autographed photograph back, which was my prized possession for a very long time.

What was it like growing up in Belfast during The Troubles?

It was really tough. Apart from the fact that we had little money and had to try and keep life and soul together, we were under constant threat of violence. But we learned some strong values that stood us in good stead.

I came from the kind of street where everyone knew everyone else. Surrounded by my father, William, mother, Frances, older brother, William, dozens of cousins and friends, it was like living with a large extended family - maybe that's why I was drawn to the theatre, another way of belonging to a large family.

And how did you cope when your family moved to England?

We moved to Reading when I was nine. It took me a year but I managed to become English at school - they just couldn't understand us - and Irish at home, because I was so afraid of upsetting my mother. It got me down after a while; I felt very ashamed at losing my accent. I often felt that I was leading a double life.

What do you find attractive in a partner?

I think that in any sort of companion, whether it's a friend or a romantic partner, the quality I most admire is a sense of humour, and I think that the ability to laugh is a very, very sexy thing.

How important is family to you?

Huge. There's also a larger family, which is the family of friends, which is also hugely important.

Wallander is out now on DVD.

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