As the villain of Wild
Wild West, Kenneth Branagh
stole the film, but suffered
for his art
Ken Branagh's not being
going through the best of
times physically. He's
completely legless - literally
- as the evil Dr Arliss
Loveless in his latest film
release, Wild Wild West,
and earlier this month he
was put out of action in
real life, too, by a slipped
But striding around the room, before that incident, dressed
casually in a crisp white shirt and jeans, the clean-shaven star
seems almost unrecognisable from the bearded, angry,
Coincidentally, before his lead in Woody Allen's Celebrity, Branagh
had been filming with girlfriend Helena Bonham Carter in The
Theory Of Flight - in which she plays a woman confined to a
wheelchair by motor neurone disease.
Did he compare notes with Helena? "Yeah, Helly had done a lot of
research so that was a help, as it's very strange when you can't
have your feet on the ground," the 38-year-old
actor/writer/director admits. "It changes your voice."
So just how much did he suffer for his art?
"My legs were twisted under me and they had to screw down a
metal plate to keep my thighs out of sight," he explains.
"I was quite squashed. I only did 20 minutes or a half hour before
the circulation really started to bother me and after two weeks I
started getting all sorts of aches and pains."
With Branagh as its charismatic villain, Wild Wild West pits Will
Smith as secret agent Jim West against such terrors as an 80ft
steam-driven tarantula which Loveless plans to use in his plot to
assassinate the US president.
A mixture of fast-paced action, comedy and fantasy, the film
combines traditional Western trappings like horses, saloons and
sexy saloon girls with bizarre contraptions, including Loveless's
gadget-packed wheelchair, and state-of-the-art digital effects.
Branagh, who says he got "quite deft" at driving his
steam-powered chair, enjoyed playing the villain of the piece, and
a number of critics have said he more or less steals the film.
"Well, it is quite a bit of Bond villain in there," he laughs. He also
enjoyed the attentions of the four Wild Wild West "Bond" girls. "It
was amazing just to walk into the make-up room every morning,"
"I was surrounded by all this sexy cleavage. Loveless loves these
beautiful women but he's also torturing himself. He can't have sex
Branagh's own private life seems to have settled down at last. He
has built a house, though he only got to spend about six weeks in
it last year.
A few years ago, during the much-talked-about demise of luvvie
duo "Ken-and-Em", things were more turbulent.
He admits that the split, which brought divorce in 1996, was
particularly bitter for Emma Thompson, especially when it was
revealed that all the rumours were true - that he had been having
an affair with Bonham Carter, his co-star in Mary Shelley's
Time, it seems, has healed many of the wounds. Ask him if he and
Emma even talk now, and he says: "Not only do we talk, but we
have stayed friends, and I hope we always will be." Thompson has
also been enjoying her own success, following her 1995 Oscar for
Sense And Sensibility, and is expecting her first child with new
partner Greg Wise.
With Branagh's 1994 Frankenstein a disaster, and then the
box-office disappointment of The Theory Of Flight in the States,
some cynical Hollywood insiders are suggesting that the acting
collaboration of Ken and Helena is now under pressure. Branagh is
quick to dismiss this. "We love working together and had a great
time on Flight," he stresses. "And if there's another great script
that people want us for, we'll do it."
The couple have no plans to live together or tie the knot as yet, it
seems. "Would I ever remarry? I've no idea," says Branagh. "I've no fixed views on that, children,
you name it. As for living together, Helly finally moved out of her
parents' house and into her own, so she's still got her own place."
Would he ever like children? After all, he's approaching his 40s... "I
love kids," he insists. "There are lots of friends who can't have
them, so I never assume. But I haven't been actively trying, so it
may or may not be on my dance card, but again, it's not
something that at this stage I feel I can particularly plan for. I try
to think no further than dinner or tea. That keeps me happy."
Branagh, who's filled out a bit in the past couple of years,
certainly seems happier and softer these days. And he's excited
about the first production from his Shakespeare Film Co, a musical
version of Love's Labour's Lost (the second, due to start filming
this autumn, is Macbeth - with Branagh taking the lead).
"I went from a wheelchair to singing and dancing, so my muscles
were a bit confused by the end of it," he laughs. "It's set in the
Thirties, and it's all singing and dancing, tapping, synchronised
swimming. You name it."
Synchronised swimming? "Yeah, we have a big Esther Williams
number, but I'm not in that, thank God," he laughs. "I do some
singing and I think that'll be quite enough."