Kenneth Branagh Has Evolved From Shakespeare to Action Movies

New York Post, 12 January 2014
By Reed Tucker

Not even Caesar’s soothsayer could’ve predicted it.

Kenneth Branagh, the 53-year-old Irish actor and director who is mostly associated with Shakespeare — and earned a knighthood in 2012 — is building a career as the go-to guy for big-budget studio spectacles.

It’s a turn worthy of the Bard himself. Following his unlikely choice to helm the 2011 superhero hit “Thor,” Branagh is back in the director’s chair for Friday’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” starring Chris Pine as a CIA agent trying to foil a terrorist plot by a Russian billionaire (played by Branagh). It’s based on characters by the late novelist Tom Clancy but features an original script.

“I want to use my love of storytelling and express my belief there are fewer barriers between so-called high and low culture,” Branagh, 53, tells The Post. “I give the same amount of passionate attention and enthusiasm to all the things I’m lucky enough to do. There’s no difference between the effort and pride I put into something like [1989’s] ‘Henry V’ and ‘Thor.’?”

Branagh likes making popcorn movies, in part, because people will see them. It’s a sentiment once echoed by Robert Downey Jr., who was tired of doing critically acclaimed but little-seen indie flicks. (To grow his audience, he made “Iron Man.”)

“Before I made ‘Thor,’ I’d made three films I thought were good but were in genres that just didn’t have a chance to be seen,” Branagh says.

Although he’s now a Sir, Branagh grew up in Belfast watching mainstream Hollywood films — and he still has quite eclectic tastes.

While making “Jack Ryan,” Branagh was aware his job was to entertain the audience, not to make an art film. He told co-star Keira Knightley, who plays Ryan’s physician girlfriend: “It’s going to be a Hollywood action film, that’s what it’s going to be, and that’s fine.”

One way he wanted to differentiate this movie from previous versions featuring Ryan was to move the spy from the Cold War to the post-9/11 world.

“By virtue of the time being so different, the experience of a character like Jack Ryan would be different,” Branagh says.

The director also wanted to focus more on Ryan the man, and depict the human toll of working in the dirty world of espionage.

“In films dominated by visual effects or action, it’s a richer experience when character details are as specific,” Branagh says.

“If they think that’s what comes with ‘the Shakespeare guy,’ I can live with that tag.”

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