THE BOY FROM BELFAST
Company Magazine, December 1983 Click here for the photo
Out the window with all those effete actors picnicking on quails' eggs and punting on the Isis - Kenneth Branagh heralds the return of the angry young man. As an actor he is surrounded by superlatives. At 22, and two years out of drama school, he has already played an impressive line of rebels, misfits and passionate mad men. Last year he won London's Society of West End Theatres award for most promising newcomer.
'I was surrounded by people I had admired for years and years,' he said of the award ceremony. 'I knew that I would make a complete tit of myself. All I could see while I was accepting the award was this little, nervous face looking back at me from a row of TV monitors.'
The accolade was for his performance as the Marxist Judd in the West End success ANOTHER COUNTRY - a part Kenneth landed straight from RADA, and an unprecedented step. However, he is probably best known for his role as Billy in the BBC trilogy of the same name (the final play of which was screened last month).
'I'd already made the first of the BILLY plays during my final term - I answered an ad in The Stage for an actor aged eighteen to twenty-four, capable of an authentic Belfast accent.'
Director of the trilogy, Paul Seed, says of Kenneth, 'I had a battle with Equity to allow Kenneth to do the play - but he was the only actor capable of the part. He has an extraordinary talent and confidence in his own ability. He is going to be a big star.'
'My childhood - I was brought up in a working-class Belfast street - meant that I had a lot in common with Billy,' says Kenneth. 'I enjoyed filming it in Belfast because I could visit my gran.'
Last summer Kenneth spent three months in Australia filming DH Lawrence's THE BOY IN THE BUSH, adapted by Hugh Whitemore as a four-hour epic which will be screened on Channel 4 in January. Set in 1802, he plays the 18-year-old public schoolboy, banished by his family to Australia for fighting.
In Kenneth's recent one-man performance (for which he was also the producer) at the Upstream Theatre in London, he received rave reviews for his rendering of Tennyson's MAUD. He showed an amazing range of emotions. The learning of the 1400-line poem was a feat of memory in itself.
'I would learn six lines a day while I was in Australia. Everyone would be testing me between takes. It was the most difficult performance I've ever given - if I failed, I could only blame myself.'
Kenneth Branagh can be seen in his latest role of St. Francis of Assisi at the Greenwich Theatre, London, until 10 December.