Producer-Director-Writer-Star Branagh Says He's a Regular Guy

Knight Ridder News, May 1993
by Judy Gerstel

CHICAGO -- ``We've always resisted any, as it were, excessive pursuit of celebrity,'' says Kenneth Branagh.    Well, he sure had us fooled 48 hours earlier. That would be the day he discoursed on Renaissance comedy with Kathie Lee and Regis on morning TV.

``I kept saying to him, `You're so nice and so normal to be a genius,''' revealed Kathie Lee later. ``A talented young guy,'' Regis called him on camera. ``A good way to get introduced to Shakespeare,'' Regis cooed.

Says Ken appreciatively, ``I'd be grateful if my audience was their audience.''    Before Kathie Lee and Regis, he dropped in on Katie Couric at ``Today.'' Later that night, he visited David Letterman.

In between, at Rockefeller Center, he signed copies of his latest book, Much Ado About Nothing, based on his latest movie, ``Much Ado About Nothing.''    It's a delicious, ripe and radiant production, filmed on location in Tuscany.

And now, here is the movie's producer, director, writer and star, in Al Capone's hometown, hog butcher to the world, selling Renaissance romantic comedy, oblivious to the six spots staining his blue silk shirt.

``I was saying to Em this morning, it's very unreal,'' he explains about finding himself where he is. This is not an existential crisis he is sharing with his Oscar-winning wife, Emma Thompson. It is a geographical one. ``I can never believe I'm in America.''   Branagh says he only feels real when he's rehearsing or performing, ``more real than luxuriously going from airplane to limo to hotel.''    In pursuit of his regular-guy persona, he explains, ``You see the world through a slat o' black-tinted glass, and you think, what the f--- is this?''    There's no doubt that Branagh began as a regular guy. He was born 32 years ago into a Belfast working-class family. The details are in Chapter 1 of his 1989 autobiography, Beginning (Chatto & Windus).

Well, you can see the problem. Publishing an autobiography at age 28 is about as regular as carrying on about poniards and baldrics, those de rigueur accessories of Renaissance haberdashery.

Or being nominated for Oscars as Best Director and Best Actor the first time you make a movie, as Branagh was for ``Henry V'' in 1988, the same year he made the cover of Time magazine.

Or playing a brilliant ``Hamlet'' on the London stage after making ``Peter's Friends'' and ``Much Ado.''    Or being married to Em -- the Englishwoman, next to Di, most adored at the moment by Americans.

``She knows her lines,'' says Ken about Em. ``She turns up on time.''

 So far, Em has been in every one of Ken's films -- ``Much Ado'' is the fourth -- but her Oscar for ``Howards End'' may have put her out of his range, professionally speaking.

Says Ken about his cast in ``Much Ado,'' ``They were all doing it for a fraction of what they're usually paid.''    Em stars next with Anthony Hopkins in the Merchant Ivory production of Kazuo Ishiguro's comedy of manners, ``Remains of the Day,'' due out in the fall.

Ken will direct Mary Shelley's ``Frankenstein,'' with himself as the doctor and Robert De Niro as the creature. He hasn't cast the women's roles yet, but such topics are not favored chez Branagh.

``When I get home, I want to close my door and empty my head of all that,'' he says. ``We usually talk about pretty mundane things in the evening.''    The couple never do interviews together. Nor do they divulge details in their separate interviews about what happens when they're together behind the closed door.

Beyond talking up their movies, Branagh says he and Thompson avoid publicity.

``There's no desire to be a movie star, in fact,'' he says. ``We don't go to film premieres. I don't feel comfortable in that kind of situation. I've not cultivated that kind of thing.

``I don't feel as though we have to reach some level of celebrity or avoid it.

``At the moment, touch wood,'' says Ken, slapping the coffee table in the luxury suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, ``it's not unpleasant, at the moment.''

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