Interview transcript: Ken Branagh, Nathan Lane, Alicia Silverstone
The Charlie Rose Show
originally broadcast June 9 2000
*transcribed by Ann
[Clip of musical sequence: "Cheek
ROSE: For the past ten years, Kenneth Branagh has established
an impressive reputation for his film adaptations of Shakespeare's
plays: Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, and his epic four-hour
Hamlet. His latest attempt at making the Bard accessible to audiences
is Love's Labour's Lost. He has taken the 16th century romantic
comedy and turned it into a glamorous 1930s-style musical. Here
is a clip.
[Clip of musical sequence: "I
ROSE: Joining me tonight is director, producer, and star
Kenneth Branagh and two of costars: Alicia Silverstone, who portrays
the Princess of France, and Nathan Lane, who plays Costard the
Clown. I am pleased to have the three of them here to talk about
this very fine film. [laughter all around as they greet each
LANE: Hello Charlie!
ROSE: Hello Nathan! How are you Ken?
BRANAGH: Hello Charlie.
ROSE: How are you Alicia? How was it to work with these
SILVERSTONE: So much fun, so much fun.
ROSE: [laughs] So much fun - I bet. Did you like Shakespeare
going into this? Did Mr Branagh talk you into this?
SILVERSTONE: Oh no.
ROSE: You sought this role out?
SILVERSTONE: Well, I was given an opportunity to
audition. My manager said, you know, read this script and if
you like you can audition. I said, Kenneth Branagh, of course!
ROSE: Oh, you knew him?
SILVERSTONE: Well, I knew his work. I had seen Henry
the Fifth. I was only
but I saw Henry the Fifth and I
ROSE: One of his best, I think.
SILVERSTONE: [pauses] Well I
[AS and KB seem
to exchange a glance; maybe he makes a funny face off camera.
BRANAGH: I'm saying nothing.
SILVERSTONE: I loved it. So then I auditioned and
I didn't hear for about a month. And then he called.
ROSE: Playing with your emotions, was he?
BRANAGH: I was on vacation. [laughter]
SILVERSTONE: But I was just so excited.
ROSE: Did he call up personally or did someone else
SILVERSTONE: I had a warning call.
ROSE: Oh, I see.
SILVERSTONE: And then he called.
ROSE: Like an associate producer or something?
SILVERSTONE: I think my manager called and said,
"Ken is going to call."
ROSE: Oh, I see. "Are you going to be there for
Mr. Branagh?" This is Hollywood! Is this the way it is
[talking over one another]
LANE: No you gotta go through 24 people before you actually
gotta be organised
to do the time differences.
ROSE: The Brits are different.
LANE: He made you audition, eh? Oh, baby
BRANAGH: Hey, what is this? Why pick on me
ROSE: He made you audition?
SILVERSTONE: I don't blame him!
ROSE: Why don't you blame him?
BRANAGH: I'd make YOU audition, Charlie
ROSE: Of course you would
but I have no talent.
she is a hugely talented actress!
BRANAGH: I agree.
ROSE: Not to speak of Mr. Lane.
who is an even more hugely talented actress!
BRANAGH: Well, we don't talk about that.
SILVERSTONE: I think it's understandable when a really
quality filmmaker needs to make a decision about something. If
I could think that I would direct someday - if I ever did - which
is not something that I think about - I would absolutely need
to see people's faces, doing - I mean, how can you know? It would
be such a big leap of faith. I totally understand that.
ROSE: And how was he as a director?
SILVERSTONE: He was wonderful..
ROSE: Was he helpful, encouraging, with all this experience
he has doing Shakespeare, sort of making Shakespeare accessible
SILVERSTONE: Well, what I really appreciate about
what he does
I think that Shakespeare can come off -- as
certainly sometimes is has to me -- where I felt like someone's
speaking down to you and making you feel like, "We're going
to bore you to death for three hours because you're not going
to understand a word we say." What he does is invite you
to participate. So this film is super-lively, you just feel so
much energy. And it's so contagious. He has the knack for that.
SILVERSTONE: Is that okay?
LANE: Like a virus, really! [laughter]
SILVERSTONE: Well, everybody walks out of the theater
dancing and singing. I've seen it in six different places and
people are walking out
[makes gestures imitating dancing]
[everybody starts to speak]
ROSE: [with mock dismissiveness, to KB] We'll get to
you in a second sir. [Ken mockingly gasps in frustration]
ROSE: Mr. Lane
did you know this play well?
LANE: I didn't know this play well. I had read it a
long, long time ago. So when I was sent the screenplay, and Ken
had all of the songs he had chosen with edits - you know, what
movie has a score by Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving
it's an amazing group of songs. And all, very specifically
coming out of whatever the scene was about. And I was just amazed
at what he had done, and thought what a brilliant and brave idea
it is. And this play - it's often been said that it's like an
operetta or a musical. And it certainly lends itself
has all the plot of an old movie musical. And it certainly is
incredibly romantic and it's all about the effect of love on
people, on many different people.
So I was thrilled to meet with
him, and that he wanted me to be a part of it. And so, yeah,
I actually-I assumed
actually, we had talked about another
part. And then, time went by and then the part I actually always
thought I should play was the part I wound up playing in the
ROSE: So you thought, he was interested in having you
play another part?
LANE: Yeah. So I was just, I was thrilled. Of course,
I was just making too much money, and I decided I needed to SUFFER
a little. I needed to go to England
ROSE: You're actors
you need to suffer for your
art, because otherwise, it takes something away from the value
LANE: I didn't go for the catering. Can I put it that
way? You know in England, they're eating mutton chop parmesan
for lunch. [Camera cuts to KB laughing] It's not about the food!
ROSE: Let me get back to Love's Labour's Lost. Why brilliant
and why courageous to do this thing? Let's assume the brilliance
because he makes a transition to the thirties, and he injects
the music into it.
LANE: Right. Well, I think brave because a lot of purists
ROSE: It might not work.
LANE: It might not work
a lot of purists could
say, "oh, you're raping the text; you're taking out too
much and putting in songs. It wasn't how it was meant to be."
I just thought, the play was
as you [to KB] have often said,
it wasn't done for two hundred years. Because it is so terribly
light and downright silly, and then at the end it has this
and just gets very serious. And profound. And people were sort
of thrown by that and they just thought it was a problematic
play. And then suddenly there was a great production of it, and
then people started to do it again. But I just think it's
of all, musicals -- everyone says the musical, the movie musical,
at least, is dead, that genre just doesn't work anymore. And
I think he has proven that it does. He has really pulled off
this enormous feat. And I think people will see this
have to say to yourself, "I have never seen quite anything
like this." Even though it is reminiscent of those great
old MGM musicals.
ROSE: Take a look at this. We'll come back to this star,
and producer of this, and talk about why this particular play
at this time, and his own fascination with Shakespeare, obsession
with Shakespeare, his dedication to Shakespeare that we've talked
about a number of times on this program. But first this scene:
[musical clip: "There's
No Business Like Show Business"]
ROSE: Tell me, why this?
BRANAGH: Well, partly what the others have been saying.
I have had a lingering affection for the play, having been in
it. I've never seen the play performed. It is rarely done. I've
not seen it in the theatre, have you? [to NL]
BRANAGH: And yet, when I was in it, it was a terrific,
infectious joy to be had from the experience of doing it, the
audience were surprised by it, there's a terrific romantic intensity,
it's silly, there's lots of slapstick invited by Shakespeare
in it, some of which was performed by these two distinguished
colleagues of mine.
And it does turn on a sixpence
at the end, where all along this silly story about a king, who
says at the beginning, "Let's give up women for three years,"
well, I'll give you three guesses what happens. In about two
minutes, four women show up
and Shakespeare actually rather
neatly has each boy fall in love with one girl. He doesn't confuse
it, does he, by having two guys fall in love with the same girl.
That's for another play. And then, the execution of it becomes
why it's funny. You recognize some people in situations where
they're clearly pretending, trying to hide, deflect what their
true feelings are. And you experience this sort of honeymoon
romance, and then the tone changes, and surprises you! As it
struck me when we first did it, at how the audience, at having
seen this seemingly trivial comedy, suddenly thrown. And then
shocked and I think very moved by the possibility that this boy-meets-girl
story, boy-loses-girl, MIGHT end up with boy not finding girl
again. And suddenly they realize they're much more invested than
And I've always found that true
with my relationship with film musicals. Where despite the fact
that Fred and Ginger, or Gene and whoever, are part of a kind
of often-corny story line, I find myself affected by it, in a
way that's to do with its escapism, its fantastical world with
its bright colors and its amazing things, with people flying
and all sorts of trickery going on. It's a world that's strangely,
because it's at a distance, when we let ourselves experience
it, it's sort of terribly moving.
ROSE: When you go to pitch this
BRANAGH: Easy! [laughter] Come on! The play hasn't been
done for two hundred years, the only one of Shakespeare's canon
that hasn't been done, let's do it in a genre that hasn't worked
for forty years, easy! Sign the check - "Sure, what do you
BRANAGH: It's like [KB assumes another voice,
puts head down, covers face with both hands] "What are you
talking about? Love's Labour's Lost, I can't even say it for
chrissake." For most people it's a speech exercise
[mocks it as a tongue twister] It was challenging; what can I
tell you. [to CR] Do you want to invest in it? I think they're
ROSE: So, you had to get them accustomed to the idea.
BRANAGH: I did.
ROSE: Sell, sell, sell. Spend, spend, spend.
BRANAGH: Exactly. You have to just say, "Look, I know
it hasn't been done for a while
ROSE: "In fact, I, Kenneth Branagh, knowing all
the Shakespeare that I know, have never SEEN this play performed
BRANAGH: It's just an issue, a DETAIL
ROSE: "And there's no good reason why it hasn't
been performed, people have been dying to do it, they just haven't
BRANAGH: Even though people have continually written that
they think it's a poor play
what do they know? [laughter]
LANE: It's Harold Bloom's favorite comedy!
ROSE: Is it?
LANE: Yeah, but he hasn't laughed since the Carter administration.
[KB and AS laugh]
ROSE: Harold Bloom is a
LANE: Yeah. Is what?
ROSE: He knows his Shakespeare!
LANE: Well, certainly. But he's not a lot of fun at parties!
[KB and AS laugh] Ok? All right!
ROSE: Well, I don't know, I've never partied with him.
But he's very good here at this table.
LANE: I'm sure he is! I'm sure he is.
ROSE: Is it his..
LANE: His favorite comedy!
ROSE: How do you know that?
LANE: Because I've read his most recent book on Shakespeare.
What is it, Human
The Invention of the Human.
ROSE: You've read that too [to KB]. Do you read everything
there is to read about Shakespeare?
BRANAGH: No, I don't. But I'm quite interested, for various
reasons, [laughter] including trying to pick up
learned from Harold Bloom that Harley Granville-Barker, wonderful
Edwardian critic, one of the finest critics, wrote a great preface
to this play, and really started the appreciation of the last
century that began.
People felt the language was
too ornate, too dense. But there is something wonderfully simple
about the play, and that's partly what [annoys?] me, because
as you were saying earlier on, that the apparent superficiality
of it, the subject matter being partly the problem OF people's
superficiality _in love_.
In a way, there's a modern parallel,
in all of us trapped in this ghastly word "cool," you
unable to say what we really feel because "we
have to [starts to descend into a weird voice, sort of Tony Slattery
playing Marlon Brando] you know, be aware of the impression we're
making, in whatever way. You know what I mean?" [laughter]
That always makes me want to DO that!
LANE: Who is that?
BRANAGH: Just, somebody quite intense [doing it again],
ROSE: Who IS that?
LANE: I don't know! Well, he's from LA, whoever he is.
BRANAGH: English intense, you know. You walk in in a very
nice suit, and then [strikes pose. At this point he might knock
a glass over or something because Charlie says, "I'll get
it." Lots of laughter.]
That's what this film is all
about, because every time we'd get serious, something would fall
over! Which seems to be what he invites, because he's so full
of low comedy. And this was what I was trying to tell people
when we were raising the money, was, "Look, there is something
so infectiously silly (as you were saying) about the comedy of
it, and part of it is deflating at all times the wrong kind of
self-important serious. Self-regarding seriousness. So that its
seriousness of purpose which is absolutely there, and touched
in through layers of melancholy through the play, and through
a very profound look at the whole idea of romantic love in the
last act of the piece, all of that is lightly done.
And that lightness of touch is
characteristic of great musicals. And that ability of a piece
of entertainment to be superficially one thing and to touch you
almost by stealth, if you'll pardon the expression, the subterfuge
of the writing is so fantastic.
ROSE: Having said that let's take a look at this clip
[clip: the four ladies discussing
the four men, beginning with Princess: "Who are the votaries,
my loving lords..."]
ROSE: What are Shakespeare's flaws? What doesn't he
BRANAGH: Ah, that is a large and complex question.
I think the answers will always be subjective ones. One of the
great things about Shakespeare is the elusive nature of his character,
the elusive nature of his actual biography. So there's always
been very difficult to pin down his politics, to pin down any
sense of a conventional religion, to pin down his views on relationships
and marriage, given that in any play that explores any of those
situations, the brilliantly contrary points of view given to
various characters never allows us to quite put our finger on
what he thinks. Which I think is a great gift, and makes him
So therefore the flaws, such
as they may be, are often to do with dramatic construction. It
seems silly to talk about the flaws, but it also makes him real.
To consider it. You almost have to, when you are approaching
these things and it makes you have the license to look at something
like Love's Labour's Lost and decide, for instance, in that play,
if there is a flaw, it's perhaps an overexuberance.
It's a young man, it feels like
a youthful play with a man writing with abandon, with a sense
that he doesn't want to necessarily obey the dramatic unities
in any conventional way or the conventional dramatic structure,
which is why at some times there's high romance, there's low
comedy, there's grotesquerie in some of the comedy, then this
extraordinary change of tone at the end. Again these are all
things that some have described as flaws in the play but which
seems to be to be utterly real in terms of life, where all those
kinds of elements coexist. It's never as neat as we would like
it to be. And I - for me, that's not a flaw in his work; that's
a very positive thing.
ROSE: Having said that, do you approach with huge trepidation
making the kind of translation you are doing, and do you have
to make changes in character?
BRANAGH: Yeah. We have Holofernes in the original,
who becomes Holofernia...
ROSE: And so do you worry about, "Jesus Christ,
people are going to think I'm playing with God's words here"?
BRANAGH: Occasionally I hear a noise in the night and fear
it might be Shakespeare revolving in his grave. But I have to
[laughter] that we've never been as radical as
ROSE: [as Shakespeare] "Watch it! Watch it, young
Branagh! You've been good to me! You did the four hour version
of my Hamlet
BRANAGH: That's right, so I have some brownie points
ROSE: You can say to him
I can argue your case.
BRANAGH: But you know in the eighteenth century, they were
not only rewriting the plays, but they were changing the endings.
So there's a version of Romeo and Juliet where they actually
get together at the end. There's a famous Nahum Tate version
of King Lear where Lear and Cordelia were reunited at the end.
The eighteenth century found it very difficult to deal with all
that. So I think that I approach it with trepidation, mostly
with respect. And a reverence that I put to one side.
Because in the end, for example,
if people come out appalled from Love's Labour's Lost who love
the play, or who can't imagine how it could be done this way...my
experience, and it's reflected in the best seller columns of
the newspaper, is that people go back to the original. And if
they've enjoyed the film, they go back and read the play. And
you see that in any film based on a book or other kind of medium.
ROSE: Did that happen with Much Ado About Nothing?
BRANAGH: Very much so; yeah, we did very well with the
screenplay. That's why publishing companies want to put a still
of the movie on their full edition of the play! With Baz Luhrman's
Romeo + Juliet, suddenly sales of that play went through the
roof! It's just
it does exactly the opposite of what the
so-called 'purists' - I always wonder what this group are - suspect
ROSE: So when you're casting, and you think, this is
a musical comedy
you must first think of Nathan, that's
If I had to think of people to star in a musical
comedy, I don't know where I'd go AFTER Nathan Lane.
BRANAGH: Well, yes, he's cheap, he's available [big laugh]
and I don't mean that in a horrible way
ROSE: I didn't know that; I thought you were in demand
and highly priced.
LANE: Well, I am
but, you know, to work with him,
I would have worked for nothing.
ROSE: You're lying out of your hat.
LANE: Well, I practically did. "I pretty much did,
dear!" [fast and furious interplay]
ROSE: [laughs] I didn't know that.
BRANAGH: So bitter...
LANE: [to KB] Now try to explain your directing style.
I have tried to do this on every talk show, which has never worked
- and it's very disarming, he pretends to be this very *camp*
director, and he talks to you in this certain way, he calls all
the men by women's names. [goes into camp theatrical voice] "Oh,
Mrs. Lane is a little cranky this morning, we'll have to squeeze
the performance out of her!" [laughter] And this is the
reaction that I'm usually met with, where you're staring at me
- "What does he mean by that?" But when you're on the
set it's very funny.
BRANAGH: We absolutely explain this sort of theatrical
camp in this film A Midwinter's Tale, this little black and white
film, where we explain giving all the boys girls' names. It happened
to me when I was originally in this play - [looks at NL] and
sometimes we do have to butch it up a bit, for some people
to NL laughing] and sometimes we can be very, very silly.
The important thing is to create
an atmosphere of fun, an atmosphere where, repeatedly, knowing
that with these kinds of talents, there is seriousness afoot,
everyone wants to be good, everybody's going to do their homework,
but you have to keep just making everybody laugh. Especially
with this play, because we wanted to give people the sense which
I think does transmit itself through the celluloid, of the company
itself having had fun.
[Musical clip: "Let's Face
the Music and Dance"]
BRANAGH: And in this case, the piece is an ensemble, and
the sort of mutual support and stuff, that all the various gifts,
his brilliance, actually genius in the world of musical comedy,
and her incredible comedy gift, and also this thing which you
[to Silverstone] have of when the camera comes on, the eyes light
up and she is fully present. Across all the cast are all these
sort of properties, but nobody vying against each other [at this
point NL laughs loudly] except in a horribly competitive way.
[laughter all around] But that was the only way it happened,
in a horribly ambitious way.
LANE: [laughs] "In a horribly competitive way..."
BRANAGH: But it was fun, and we want to transmit that.
It's my style, make 'em laugh and keep 'em laughing. It's the
same with the audiences: if Shakespeare makes you laugh you start
ROSE: Would you tell me about your character, the Princess
SILVERSTONE: Well, I saw her as very determined to
prove her responsibility. She really, really took pride in her
and she was eventually going to be Queen, and she knew that;
and that would be a sad day, because it would mean that her father
would have died. But, she loves her father very much, and she
- that's her whole thing. She's coming there determined, I'm
going to do a really good job, I'm going to impress my father,
I'm going to make him really proud, and she gets there and she's
trying to do this, but all of a sudden 'zoinks!' she just looks
at - she finds herself feeling all these youthful, normal feelings
like as if a guy's whispering in her ear, she just
can't stand it, it's too much. That energy is what she's
in conflict through the whole thing. She wants to do a good job
but she's got a really, really huge crush. But she really wants
to prove that she's good at what she does, she takes a lot of
pride in that.
ROSE: Had you done much dancing before?
SILVERSTONE: No. Well, I did the normal little girl
thing, going to ballet class
I did ballet a lot when I was
little. But I stopped when I was twelve.
ROSE: Was the dancing harder than the acting?
SILVERSTONE: The singing was the hardest.
LANE: But she did great. She did great.
BRANAGH: She did great.
LANE: The kid did great! She worked hard, and she was
SILVERSTONE: Thank you.
ROSE: Good for you, looking out for your fellow castmates.
LANE: [assumes mock tough-guy demeanor] That's right.
That's right, Charlie.
[sudden degeneration into fast-talking
silliness as they talk over one another]
ROSE: That's the kind of guy you are.
LANE: That's right.
BRANAGH: He doesn't mean it, he doesn't mean it.
BRANAGH: He's just pretending to be nice.
LANE: This is just phony show business patter?
BRANAGH: This is all a twisted facade. It's a sham of a
tragedy of a facade of a front bit but doesn't mean anything!
[cut to NL cracking up]. It's about time somebody spoke up and
said, "This is the carapace of loveliness sitting on top
of a scathing, mulching [NL and AS crack up again] pot of yuckiness!"
ROSE: Isn't it a carapace on lizards?
BRANAGH: I thought it was something you had with beef..and
cheese..."I'd like a tuna carapace please..."
ROSE: What's a carapace?
LANE: I don't know.
[Order restored, and CR introduces
ROSE: Ok, let's see Mr. Branagh in action before we
get out of here.
[clip: Berowne's letter is discovered
and he must confess that they are all "pick-purses in love."]
ROSE: [to KB] Congratulations.
BRANAGH: Thank you.
ROSE: Love's Labour's Lost opens in New York and Los
Angeles, two big cities, this Friday, and nationwide when
BRANAGH: Following week in about ten-twelve other cities.
ROSE: Good for you. Thank you for joining us, see you
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