Branagh Finds Hollywood "Intimidating and Intoxicating"
BPI Newswire, August 1991
by James Ryan
Kenneth Branagh recalls feeling simultaneously ``a bit thrilled
and a bit scared'' as he rolled down Sunset Blvd. on the way
to Paramount Studios to begin filming his first Hollywood picture,
the romantic mystery ``Dead Again.''
``It's different being in the
home of moviemaking. Rather intimidating in some ways,'' says
the Royal Shakespeare Company alumnus, who earned an Academy
Award nomination for his 1989 film directorial debut ``Henry
V,'' which was shot in England.
``Intimidating and intoxicating.
I think the crew was a little bit wary of this sort of young
English lovey who had done this Shakespeare movie. I think they
thought I would come in with this enormous experience and be
a little bit difficult.''
Branagh says he was able to quickly
win them over with his enthusiasm for the script which tracks
the dangerous journey of discovery of a man and a woman -- played
by Branagh and his wife Emma Thompson -- who share a dark secret
from a past life.
The movie, shot on location in
and around Los Angeles, travels back and forth between the present
day lives of private eye Mike Church and a mysterious woman with
amnesia, whom he names Grace, and those of a 1940s era couple,
German composer Roman Strauss and his concert pianist wife, Margaret.
Branagh and Thompson both play dual roles.
The actor-director, who first
read the screenplay backstage between Shakespeare performances
at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum last year, says he particularly
enjoyed having the opportunity to portray the American detective,a
hardboiled, cynical P.I. straight out of the Hollywood movies
he enjoyed as a youth growing up in Belfast, Ireland.
``With Mike Church there was
a delicious chance to be more expressive, employ what I regard
as an American quality -- the emotions are a little more close
to the surface, a little more free,'' he explains. ``Plus there's
this little journey in the film: him just trying to find somebody
with whom he could just be himself and not this hardboiled, wise-cracking,
macho square-jawed hero that private eyes in detective thrillers
are supposed to be.''
For the part of Roman Strauss,
he took on a German accent and donned a salt and pepper goatee.
Moving between the two characters while simultaneously directing
the film required a great deal of concentration, he says.
``I had to develop this facility
for going from one thing to the other,'' he explains. ``It all
has to do with a great deal of preparation. I couldn't possibly
stay in character (while directing). That's one element of being
from the theater that helps. You can find a way of switching
on and switching off, which all has to do with preparation. That
way you don't think about it, you just do it.''
Although Branagh may have been
comfortable with the transitions, his crew wasn't always so sure
what to think.
``Apparently when I was playing
Roman Strauss (the crew thought) I was a little bit more difficult
to get along with,'' he recalls with a chuckle. ``The problem
was I had this false beard on and I couldn't smile much without
losing it! They thought I was grumpy.''
Still, like his beloved Henry
V, the charismatic Branagh has a talent for inspiring his wary
casts and crews to action.
``People have gone along with
me on some strange ways,'' he admits. ``Partly, I've only done
the things that I believed in, so when I enthuse about something
it isn't a line. Which doesn't make me anything other than someone
who has had the luxury of having enough choice to find things
I really care about doing. If you start tricking people, they
see through it.''
Does Branagh himself wonder if
he might have lived a past life?
``Sometimes I like to think I
was born out of time. Or, if I was alive before, it was in some
wonderful age of the actor,'' he responds wistfully. ``I would
have loved to be alive in 1750 when London was full of theaters
and it was all sort of wildly violent, cutthroaty and exciting.
People threw things at the theater. Theater was as alive and
provocative as cinema is today....Or in Shakespeare's day. I
would love to see how it all worked.''
As a boy growing up in Belfast,
Branagh recalls watching the credits roll at the end of Saturday
matinees with rapt attention. Among the classic suspense thrillers
and romantic mysteries he recalls viewing at the time -- which
later were to inspire his direction on ``Dead Again'' -- were
Hitchcock's ``Dial M for Murder'' and ``Rebeccah.'' It was doing
plays in high school, however, where he first recognized his
calling in life.
The actor-director attended the
prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and went on
to perform in a number of plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company
before forming his own group with colleague David Parfitt, the
Renaissance Theatre Company, which recently undertook a global
tour of Shakespeare's ``King Lear'' and ``Midsummer Night's Dream.''
One might think that working
with a spouse 12-14 hours a day and then going home together
would tax any couple. But Branagh says he and Thompson have developed
an excellent working relationshp. The pair, who married two years
ago, have appeared together in several plays and Thompson portrayed
Princess Catherine in Branagh's ``Henry V.''
``We had a professional relationship
built up before we became involved with each other and that's
the key to it, really,'' he says. ``We don't take it home with
us. I switch it off. It's such an all-consuming sort of thing
that I like to have a glass of wine at the end of the day.
``We probably won't do another
film together for ages, but it was important to work together
on this one.''
For his next project Branagh
would like to act in a movie directed by somebody else and, after
that, tackle bringing one of Shakespeare's comedies to the big
screen. ``It's a wait and see situation. The ease with which
I might or might not be able to make another Shakespeare film
will be partly determined by how this film is received,'' he
Branagh says it remains part
of his mission in life to help keep the Bard's work vibrant.
``He's somebody who helps you
get through the day a bit. A good evening with Shakespeare can
make you feel a lot better about your own anxieties and crises,''
he explains. ``He has great truths about the human condition
that he manages to serve up like they're not some great philosophy.
Someone who can do that ought to be kept alive not just because
they're exclusively the best thing but because they're very useful
beacons for other people who are doing the same things.''
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