Warren Beatty, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and few others
can boast that they've appeared in films in which they've worn multiple
Kenneth Branagh gives new meaning to the word multitasking in "Love's
Labour's Lost," his latest filmed interpretation of a William
In this musical comedy, set in France between the World Wars, the
classically trained Branagh tackles singing and dancing as well as
producing, directing, starring
in and adapting the 400-year-old play for the big screen.
The film is something of a labor of love for the 39-year-old native of
Ireland, who says he long wanted to combine his love of music
(particularly the classic film
musicals of the 1930s and 1940s) with his passion for the Bard. The
result is Shakespeare's text combined with classic songs of George
Gershwin, Cole Porter,
Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.
At just over 1.5 hours, "Love's Labour's Lost," with its 10
song-and-dance numbers, including an ensemble "There's No Business"
finale, comprises less than a third
of the original Shakespeare play. But Branagh says the spirit of the
play is intact. The film is scheduled to open June 9.
"When I became interested in Shakespeare, it struck me that so regularly
he referred in almost every play -- certainly all of the comedies -- to
song and dance," says
Branagh. "It was clearly a feature of the way the theater [of
Shakespeare's day] worked, with interludes for dancing and singing
across much longer performances."
The choice of "Love's Labour's Lost," an early, and infrequently
performed Shakespeare comedy, might seem at first an odd choice to adapt
for a $16 million movie
musical. (It certainly did to potential financers of the film, Branagh
admits.) But the tale of love and romance obviously lends itself to
musical interpretation, he says.
In it, the young King of Navarre and his three best friends swear an
oath to give up women for three years so they can focus on studying
philosophy. No sooner do
they take their vows than the lovely Princess of France unexpectedly
arrives with her three ladies-in-waiting for a diplomatic visit,
throwing the men's plan into
disarray. The film is framed within a newsreel-type narrative, with big
production numbers and colorful costumes a la Busby Berkeley's
choreographed films of the
'30s and '40s. The musical numbers range from Gershwin's "I've Got a
Crush On You" to Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." There's even an homage to
the Esther Williams
Branagh, who portrays the king's spirited friend Berowne, assembled an
eclectic cast of seasoned Shakespearean performers such as Geraldine
musical theater veterans like Nathan Lane ("The Birdcage") and Adrian
Lester, who starred onstage in Stephen Sondheim's "Company." Musical and
novices had to go through a "musical comedy boot camp" prior to the
film's production at the Shepperton Studios in London.
"I showed the cast [the 1935 Fred Astaire musical] `Top Hat' on the
first day and told them, `Here's what we can't do,'" says Branagh.
"We're not superhuman like
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but we can be inspired by what's behind
it, particularly the carefree quality. But I wanted it to be rough
around the edges, which is
part of the charm of the piece."
Alicia Silverstone, 23, whose familiarity with Shakespeare was limited
to a Shakespeare workshop she'd attended in New England a few years
back, stars as the
lovesick princess opposite Alessandro Nivola ("Mansfield Park") as the
king. Branagh says Silverstone, like another young actor Keanu Reeves,
who starred in his
1993 "Much Ado About Nothing," brought "terrific application" to the
"The thing [Silverstone] had was naturalism," Branagh says. "She had a
lightness of touch, which the play has, which these songs have, and
which the film needed to
have." (Branagh, formerly married to actress/writer Emma Thompson, and
Silverstone were rumored to have been romantically involved, which both
"Love's Labour's Lost" is Branagh's eighth movie, his fifth Shakespeare
adaptation and the first through his Shakespeare Film Company, which he
formed late last
year to formalize his commitment to producing Shakespeare on film. Two
other filmed versions of Shakespeare plays are in the pipeline, he says,
present-day adaptation of "Macbeth," which he expects to put into
production next year. In the non-Shakespeare genre, he is set to star in
the upcoming "Alien Love
Triangle" opposite Heather Graham.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Dec. 10, 1960, Branagh and his
family moved to Reading, England when he was nine. As a teenager, he
became interested in
acting after seeing noted British actor Derek Jacobi perform in a stage
version of Hamlet. (The two later worked together in Branagh's "Henry V"
Immersing himself in the theater, young Branagh was accepted into the
prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at 18, where he earned
accolades for his
work. While attending the drama school, he performed in the chorus in a
stage production of George Gershwin's "Lady Be Good." "That was my
introduction to the
musical format," he fondly recalls. "I had so much fun."
Branagh later entered the Royal Shakespeare Company where he won the
Bancroft Gold Medal and other awards. He then landed roles in television
It was his directorial debut in 1989's "Henry V," in which he also
starred, which catapulted Branagh to international acclaim. He
subsequently directed and starred
in other Shakespeare works: "Much Ado About Nothing, "Othello," and a
four-hour adaptation of "Hamlet."
Branagh says his goal is to make the Bard more accessible to audiences.
Although he is most closely associated with his Shakespeare work, he has
acted in a wide
range of films, from Woody Allen's "Celebrity" to "Wild, Wild West" to
this year's animated "The Road to El Dorado."
Branagh recalls that as a teen-ager, he had an opportunity to perform a
soliloquy from Hamlet before Sir John Gielgud, who was the chairman of
arts school at the time. "I gabbled so fast," says Branagh, who'd
recently heard the news that his old friend had died at the age of 96.
"I don't think I've ever been as
nervous. He was so kind afterwards. He gave me notes about moments to
pause, going slower. He was generally very encouraging."
Years later, Branagh directed Gielgud in a 23-minute short called "Swan
Song," about an aging actor who, sitting in a darkened theater, recalls
his days onstage and
ponders his future. The film won Best Short Subject at the 1992 Academy
"In it, he does this speech from `Othello,' which I'll never forget. It
begins, `Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars, that make ambition
virtue!' He does it with
such gravity and such sadness. In the same film he does a piece from
`Romeo and Juliet,' which is so ..."
Overcome with emotion, the usually talkative Branagh suddenly becomes