Shakespeare's OK, but for sheer drama, Kenneth Branagh tells Matt
you can't beat football
Sometimes actors have to make terrible sacrifices. When England
West Germany in Italia 90, Kenneth Branagh was doing King Lear in
a tent. The telly was on in the green room - where the actors
not on stage - but, in the best theatrical traditions, the show had
to go on,
no matter what happened in Turin. Even during the penalties.
``We were in the middle of the storm scene,' Branagh recalls.
was out there giving it `Blow winds and crack your cheeks' as they
them. We were doing it in relays, as each penalty was being taken.
looking over into the wings and somebody would be doing that [he
thumbs up or thumbs down]. That's how we found out. It was a
desperate night. God knows who was watching the play. We had a tiny
in this tent, who were, I guess, all the people who weren't
football in the country. If it had been any smaller, we'd have
and watched the game.'
The production was like a microcosm of society. Suddenly everybody
football: `All the women in the company who weren't interested in
were right there that night. And Richard Briers, who was playing
wasn't interested in football at all, was completely wiped out. He
tears when Gazza got booked.' Branagh smiles a knowing, self-mocking
`All us bloody actors get very emotional.'
Suffering for his art has become something of a constant in the
Kenneth Branagh, actor, director and football fan. Earlier this year
David Ginola's goal against Barnsley in the FA Cup because he was
complicated scene on the first day of his new film, a musical
Love's Labour's Lost. `We were shooting in a swimming pool and we
synchronised swimmers, Alicia Silverstone and various other people.
was a telly in a van a little way away. It was very hard to get the
because there wasn't a spark to be found, all the electricians were
in the game. But you get the word back as to what has happened.'
Branagh has been a Spurs fan since his childhood in Belfast, where
boy had three teams: a Northern Irish one, a Scottish one and an
His were Tottenham, Linfield and Rangers, the Spurs connection made
because Danny Blanchflower was ``from my neck of the woods'. He has
them ever since, though he is not a frequent visitor to Tottenham
Certainly he does not share the prejudices of a White Hart Lane
diehard - he
is even prepared to give the current Arsenal side some credit - but
boast an impressive knowledge of Spurs past and present, from
Ralph Coates's haircut to knowing how long Darren Anderton has left
contract. Of the current lot, he is especially fond of Les
he knows there have to be changes. `I'm amazed by his relative lack
because I used to go and watch him a lot at QPR,' he says. ``He
best football there. He had a better stint at Newcastle than Spurs,
but I hope
we don't get rid of him as, under the right circs, he could come
got such a strong physical presence.'
Branagh learned of George Graham's appointment while in America, a
which it is becoming increasingly easy to catch up on the world
at a price. `I watched a lot of the World Cup in America and oh man!
just the differences. I can't be having this fucking red zone
puts on his best American commentator's accent: `It's into the
zone [the final third of the field]. That's when you long for the
otherwise drive you bananas. Like Big Ron. Give me Big Ron rather
than Mr Red
Zone. And the assist thing drives me mad and this [back to the heavy
accent]: What a great play, let's look at the play again.' He pauses
`Which means that somebody's tackled somebody. You long for that
the-skin feel for it - you know, that all of our lot have - even if
completely potty as Big Ron's chat.' He slows down, enunciating the
the sentence deliberately and with an infuriated sotto voce
Sometimes. Drives. Me. Bananas. I think, `Shut the fuck up'. I mean,
love him as well, and I was glad that he was there in Barcelona, but
you think, what human vocabulary have you pulled these phrases from?
no footballer has ever uttered them. `Early doors' or `He's turboed
. .' '
It is frequently said that footballers are the movie stars of today.
movie star and football fan, Branagh would seem among the best
placed to make
the judgment. Certainly he seems to have dealt with his fame with an
combination of modesty and irony. Our interview is taking place at a
the Dorchester which boasts a bath bigger than some swimming pools
to use and, although in the middle of a dozen interviews, he is
courteous. He even asks whether I mind if he lights up.
One of his most recent films, Woody Allen's Celebrity, examines the
capriciousness of modern fame but, for all his familiarity with the
it's clear that when it comes to great footballers Branagh is much
rest of us: in awe of them. He still regards meeting George Best at
the age of
22 as `one of the greatest events of my life' (Best's first question
happened to your accent then?') and, 20 years after Pat Jennings
Branagh would consider meeting the great goalie an honour.
As a teenager in Reading, Branagh played on Saturday and Sunday
was a bruising competitor who relished a bit of argy-bargy and would
anywhere: David Batty, without the skill, by his own description. `I
go to sleep praying I would wake up talented as a footballer,' he
you could turn the clock back now, and there was a choice between
relatively successful actor or a successful footballer. . .' He
looks at me
with a half-smile, perhaps anticipating a degree of scepticism on my
``I'd do it in a heartbeat.'
A slightly surreal debate ensues as to whether he'd really make the
given that at his age - 38 - his career would be over, unless he was
Matthaus. While acknowledging the downside of the swap, his passion
game remains as vivid as a Martin Chivers pile-driver. `It still
gets me more
excited than anything else,' he says. `I just like it. I always have
It's a beautiful thing and I've always watched it. If you think of
you encounter - professionally, as it were - what is there to equal
of national moment produced by those semi-finals in Italia 90 and
Euro 96, or
even the last two minutes with Bayern Munich?
`I was watching the European Cup final with Brian Blessed, and we
dogs with us, who, by this stage, were going potty because dogs pick
whatever mood you're in. And we were absolutely fucking screaming at
thing. With five minutes to go we're both like that. . . [he makes a
face] and Big Ron - God bless him - Big Ron in those last five
[in full Big Ron accent] `You know, if they get one, I'll tell you
think, they're going to go on and win it.' The first fucking
he's said the entire game.
`And then they score - they score - and fuck me, it's Sheringham,
have written it. So that, in itself, whatever you think of
think, Christ this is like fucking Boys' Own stuff, isn't it? And
so excited he's practically pissed himself, so he's had to go to the
he's in the loo when suddenly we're going, `Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!' The
fucking flinging themselves out the fucking window 'cos they're
somebody's being killed. Blessed comes back with fucking stains all
fucking trousers, couldn't fucking believe it. Missed the second
couldn't believe it. He was practically fucking suicidal. It was
Then the greatest English actor of his generation pauses for a
eyes sparkling at the memory. `And this,' he says, `this is drama.'
A longer version of this article appears in the September issue of
FourFourTwo, which goes on sale on Wednesday
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