Kenneth Branagh

The Globe & Mail, 7 September 2007
By R.M. Vaughan

In the 1990s, you couldn't enter a multiplex without bumping into a film starring Kenneth Branagh. Fresh from London's West End, Branagh and Emma Thompson, then his partner, were poised to become the new Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, minus the heavy drinking.

In that frenzied period, Branagh starred in films by Robert Altman, Woody Allen and Paul Greengrass, and even cashed a cheque from schlock action director Barry Sonnenfeld. He also directed a handful of smart films, including a gorgeous adaptation of Hamlet and a sexed-up version of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein".

Lately, however, Branagh is harder to find. He has starred in a handful of quality television films, and did turn up in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", but his presence is markedly less omni.

I'm happy to report that Branagh is back, with flair. Next week, he hits the Toronto International Film Festival to promote his latest directorial endeavour, a remake of the 1972 Lawrence Olivier film "Sleuth". And his adaptation of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" (beginning rotation on the Movie Network and Movie Central in late August) is a stunning reimagining of the play, one that challenges its reputation as the lightest of Shakespeare's comedies.

Clever people never truly disappear. They just wait for the right cue.

You're co-starring in Tom Cruise's Second World War film "Valkyrie". What's your take on the German government's hostile reaction to the film?

The latest that I've heard is that someone who'd been highly critical of the film got a copy of the script and they've now pronounced themselves very positive about the film.

You'd think they'd have read the script first.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'd concur with that.

Has Cruise converted you to Scientology yet?

I've known Tom for 15 years and we've never talked about such things. But we had a great time making the film.

Thanks for nothing.

That's all you're getting from me!

Have you chosen to walk away from the Hollywood leading-man machine?

I just kind of followed my instincts. When I find a piece that really grabs my attention, sends my heart racing, I'll do it rather than trying to do what is expected.

So it wasn't "Wild Wild West" that sent you packing?

Ha ha! I had a good time on "Wild Wild West". You don't put any less passion into a picture like that, or at least I don't, than I indeed did into making "Hamlet". Nobody shows up to make something people aren't going to like. For some people, it didn't work, but nobody died.

Your "Hamlet" is the only one I've seen wherein Hamlet is played as a man, not some whiny, spoiled boy.

I think my film is the antithesis of the Laurence Olivier film, which I love, but which begins with the line: "This is the story of a man who could not make up his mind." I think Hamlet does make up his mind, it's just that what he makes his mind up to do he finds difficult to carry out.

Why did you choose to set "As You Like It" in 19th-century Japan? It's okay to just say, "Because it was pretty."

That's one reason. The visual gorgeousness is something I've missed from watching "As You Like" Its lately. Productions have fallen into a cliché, Robin Hood kind of England. The play tells the audience to get away from urban life and seek peace and transformation. Therefore, one needs to show something very extraordinary in the depiction of the countryside.

Your Shakespeare films always employ multiracial casts. That sort of colour-blind casting is common in theatre, but mainstream films have yet to catch on.

I think audiences can be very literal. I find it isn't an issue, and when you're doing something that has a poetic dimension, it's entirely appropriate, and also exciting! I'm a bit perplexed that it's still an issue in other cases.

This "As You Like It" is much darker and rougher than I expected.

Some regard the play as frivolous and thin. But one of the questions I always ask myself is, what can additionally be revealed by bringing this play to the screen? And here, it was the possibility of presenting the danger in the play. The characters are in the forest because they're running away from a palace coup.

The scene in Frankenstein with you and Robert DeNiro rolling around in a puddle of seminal goo is one of cinema's great unacknowledged homoerotic moments.

Ha! By the time Robert had put on all his prosthetics, he was so punch drunk with fatigue that all I had to say was, Bob, it will be just us two and one ton of K-Y Jelly. And he said okay.

As soon as the words "Kenneth Branagh" and "K-Y Jelly" see print, a new career starts for you on the Internet.

Yes, yes, it's all over, all over. Oh well.

You've just directed a film of the play "Sleuth", starring Michael Caine and Jude Law. Please tell me that Michael Caine punches out pretty boy Jude Law.

I couldn't possibly reveal that. But I can tell you that they do almost everything you might hope for them to do in a picture.


Born : Dec. 10, 1960, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Breakout film : At age 29, Branagh received two Academy Award nominations for Henry V, one for acting in a leading role, the other for direction. The film co-starred his then-wife Emma Thompson.

Relationship status : Married to Lindsay Brunnock, an art director whom he met on the set of the TV drama Shackleton in 2001. The wedding took place in the summer of 2003.

Relationship with Oscar : Besides the two nominations for Henry V, Branagh was also nominated in 1992 for his short film Swan Song, and for screenplay-writing on 1996's Hamlet. He has yet to bring home a statue.

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