Director Gives All to 'Frankenstein'
Los Angeles Daily News, November
by Yardena Arar
Nobody ever has accused Kenneth
Branagh of ducking a challenge. But now he says he'd have to,
because he's just too tired after wrestling with "Mary Shelley's
In the half-dozen years since
he burst on the film scene with "Henry V," he has directed
and starred in a noirish mystery that unfolds in two lifetimes
("Dead Again"), an ensemble comedy ("Peter's Friends")
and yet another Shakespeare play revisited for the masses, "Much
Ado About Nothing."
Each time, he has walked away
with the energy to perform with his Renaissance Theatre company
while preparing for whatever came next.
But he finally may have met his
match in "Frankenstein." Two years in the making, the
new version of the 1818 horror standard is his most ambitious
production to date, with a big studio budget, a very big costar
in Robert De Niro and a big name in Francis Ford Coppola as Branagh's
"It required such a huge
effort on every level - my guts are in it for better or worse,"
Branagh said, looking weary.
"If someone said to me next
week, 'We'd like you to make a $20 billion movie,' even if I
thought it was the greatest story since time immemorial, I wouldn't
be able to do it. I just don't have the juice in the tank."
Branagh, 33, wasn't particularly
interested in tackling "Frankenstein" when he received
draft screenplays from Coppola and TriStar Pictures, the joint
developers of the project. He began to change his mind only when
he read the novel.
"I felt the book was not
only a page-turning Gothic yarn, but just very contemporarily
relevant, because I just seem to be forever reading stories about
genetic science developments, and so that central idea of him
creating life was no longer a fantasy. I mean, it was something
that any audience, watching it now, can feel a little closer
He feels the 1931 version of
"Frankenstein" starring Boris Karloff, which generally
is regarded as the best adaptation, has become dated.
"In 1931, we weren't doing
heart bypass operations or using baboon hearts to put in kids
and things. . . . That changed the whole way it would be received,
I think, and it meant that we could get away from all of the
stuff that's been."
Branagh also discovered other
themes in the story, including parental responsibility, abandonment,
the fight between personal ambition and work and family and love.
"There's a story of a dysfunctional
family in there that's an entirely personal one," he said.
While screenwriters Steph Lady
and Frank Darabont tailored the script to Branagh's vision, Branagh
began tailoring himself for the title role, the doctor who builds
a man out of spare body parts and jump-starts the Creature with
electricity, a relatively new discovery in Shelley's day.
Branagh said he related to Frankenstein
because he knows what it's like to be obsessed with the creative
"There was a parallel, I
thought . . . the sort of tunnel vision that you require [to
make a film] bleeds through, I think, into the character itself.
I don't think my expression changed much from behind the camera
to in front of the camera. It was a very intense act of concentration
to try and keep it all together."
"His obsessive streak is
rather similar to the person he was playing," confirmed
Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Elizabeth, the great love of
Branagh's Victor Frankenstein
is a far cry from the hysterical figure in Shelley's book. He's
not a mad scientist; he's a doctor who truly believes he can
help mankind by finding a way to bring the dead back to life.
"We wanted to make him sort
of a complete man, a Renaissance man of some kind," he said.
Branagh also decided to beef
up Carter's character, who draws only passing mention in the
book. He persuaded Carter to help him reinvent the character.
"He tried to invest her
with as much independence of mind and passion and spirit, and
try to redeem her from just being a decorative thing, and make
sure that she made her own choices and decisions, and wasn't
just the girlfriend or wasn't just Mrs. Frankenstein," she
To reinvigorate the Creature,
Branagh enlisted De Niro.
"I wanted somebody who'd
give an impression of massivity and bulk, but who'd be able to
do those extremes - be frightening but also be sort of agile,
and who would have the kind of gravity that the creature needs
to have . . . and somebody who wouldn't be intimidated by Karloff
and all the rest of them. Bob just wiped the slate with that."
Coppola was helpful without being
intrusive, Branagh said.
"He helped, kind of, shape
and edit, and was a really supportive presence - a godfather,
in fact," he said.
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