Branagh and Allen Click in Making of 'Celebrity'
Detroit News, November 20 1998
by Susan Stark
English actor Kenneth Branagh
says he was driven to please Woody Allen.
NEW YORK -- Now here's Kenneth
Branagh, who made his name on screen with Shakespeare's Henry
V, waving around his hands, rolling his eyes and speaking a particular
brand of New Yorkese heavily punctuated with "ums"
and "uhs" and hesitations galore.
The movie is Woody Allen's newly
opened Celebrity, a seriocomic meditation on fame in the '90s.
Allen simply directs. He has no role in the film.
The role that you'd expect him
to play, that of a neurotic New York writer looking for love
in all the wrong places, is in fact played by Kenneth Branagh.
Make that Kenneth Branagh, of all people.
He's the first actor ever to
stand in Woody's shoes on screen and, frankly, the choice couldn't
be more surprising: A hail, hearty, handsome young English actor
with a heavy Shakespearean pedigree doing duty for Woody's increasingly
frail-looking, archetypal New York neurotic?
'Cause I've been a great fan
of his for years," Allen says without hesitation.
"But I had no idea if he
could do an American accent."
He can, of course. His classical
training in English theater would seem to assure that. But Allen,
who these days looks even more fragile in person than he does
on screen, calls himself "very, very lucky" that Branagh
came through for him.
He also says he could never,
ever have played the role himself. How come? Branagh's
perpetually angst-ridden, lovelorn character is a variation on
themes Woody's persona has explored on screen for more than a
"I could never have played
this part because I wrote it for a more attractive person,"
"In writing, I thought of
Alec Baldwin: An attractive man who was a loser.
"Branagh played it that
way, and I guess that kept him interested through the 10 or 12
weeks we shot.
"I would never interfere
with what made him happy."
For his part, Branagh says his
only goal in the work on Celebrity was to keep Allen happy.
"When I first read the script,
I thought, 'Christ, this is very bleak,' says Branagh.
"I asked him why he cast
me. I think he prefers not to act in his own films at this point.
And also, the bleak-sad side of Woody is something that he feels
the audience doesn't want to see, won't accept. I think maybe
he cast me because he thinks the audience will accept that from
another, not-funny Woody."
At one point in the picture,
Branagh's frenzied, scattered writer is chasing Leonardo DiCaprio's
spoiled, self-indulgent superstar in the hope of selling a script.
Branagh and DiCaprio wind up
in a jumbo Las Vegas hotel bed together, along with a pair of
babes rented for the night. You get the sense that the scene
could go anywhere, but as it turns out, the guys stick to their
basic, heterosexual turf.
Which makes it impossible to
ask Branagh how it was to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio.
Mention that and Branagh guffaws.
"I thought for a second
it might happen," he quips.
More seriously, Branagh says
he jumped at the chance to work with Allen.
"I'm in awe of him as an
artist," the actor allows, "so I was ready to do exactly
what he wanted me to do.
"This character has been
in his films for a long time now: anxious, funny, hypocondriacal.
Actually Woody's the most hypocondriacal man I've ever met.
"But we didn't really ever
discuss the character, not up front.
"He sent me the script.
Six months later we had a conversation on the set. I suggested
that the character should wear jeans, which would be something
extraordinary in ... (Woody's) world of corduroy. There was a
two- or three-day drama on that.
"Then I overheard Woody
say to someone, 'But I would never wear jeans.' "
Take a guess: Does Branagh wear
jeans in this movie or not?
Branagh, the Brit who stands
in for Woody in Celebrity, gave it his best shot -- and a considerable
shot that is. Finally, though, just as Allen says he wanted to
make his leading man happy, his leading man only tried to return
"I just wanted to try and
get it right for him," Branagh says simply. "Even the
neurotic, twitchy, obsequious, dignity-out-the-window bits."
Odd choices, great talents. Now
you can see for yourself if it works.
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