A Chip Off the Woodman
New York Post, November 18 1998
by Larry Worth
With the exception of a pounding
headache on a brisk fall morning, everything's going Kenneth
He's playing the Woody Allen
role in the Woodman's latest, "Celebrity" (opening
Friday), is currently shooting "The Wild, Wild West"
opposite Will Smith and is head over heels for girlfriend Helena
But in the midst of upbeat chat
about past triumphs, Branagh quietly notes that hearing the overture
to 1993's "Much Ado About Nothing" still makes him
cry. Every time.
Memories of directing and starring
in the cinematic Shakespeare adaptation recall then-wife and
colleague Emma Thompson. And while Branagh stresses that the
two remain friends, he says their 1995 parting was bittersweet.
"Unhappiness, like gray
hairs, is part of life," he says, stretching out in his
Essex House suite. "And there's definitely a period [after
divorce] where you pause for thought and deal with the sadness.
"The whole thing is still
immensely sad and painful, but I'm truly grateful for the time
we had together.
"Later on, you lose the
sharper pains of a breakup, realizing that the wonderful times
can't be diminished. So, for me, to have a record of our most
wonderful time - 'Much Ado' - is a rather marvelous thing."
Also helping the 37-year-old
Branagh move on was Bonham Carter, the longtime friend who played
his love interest in 1994's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein."
By the time the pair played lovers yet again (in the upcoming
"The Theory of Flight"), on-screen sparks had ignited
off screen, too.
"We get on terrifically,"
he says, flashing his cryptic smile. "We also have a relationship
where we can work well together professionally. We make a good
Then again, the Belfast native
thinks he makes a dynamite combo with the one and only Woody,
who sought him out to play the lead role of a movie-star-chasing
journalist in "Celebrity."
Branagh was "honored"
to play a variation on Allen's screen alter ego - the hyper,
neurotic individual in constant pursuit of beautiful women -
even though Allen never identified the part as such.
"There was no question that
it read like Woody on the page, complete with his classic hesitations
and stutters," Branagh says. "But I didn't want to
do an impersonation.
"There was actually a telling
moment in a debate about whether my character would wear jeans.
I said this guy might wear them with a jacket, and Woody immediately
said, 'But I would never wear jeans.' So I had my answer.
"Truth be told, I enjoyed
being Woody - or, perhaps, having Woody channeled through me."
As a director, Branagh has already
done a few Allen impressions. The London resident says "Peter's
Friends," as well as the black-and-white "A Midwinter's
Tale," qualify as homages.
"They weren't exactly 'Hannah
and Her Sisters' - but, hell, what is?" he says. "The
way Woody uses ensembles and composes shots - as in 'Manhattan,'
my favorite of his works - is something you emulate."
It was almost a decade ago that
Branagh was accused of emulating Laurence Olivier, particularly
after earning Oscar nominations as best director and best actor
for "Henry V." (Olivier had directed and acted in a
But Branagh claims he was pursuing
his ardor for Shakespeare, which later led to filming the complete
text of "Hamlet" - an experience he calls his "most
thrilling and exhausting job [as a director] to date."
In the meantime, Branagh just
inked a deal with Miramax to adapt, direct and star in "Love's
Labour's Lost," to be followed by "Macbeth" and
"As You Like It."
First, however, he's finishing
work on Barry Sonnenfeld's big-budget "The Wild, Wild West."
And that explains why Branagh is sporting a curlicue mustache
and beard, a trademark of arch-villain Dr. Loveless.
"It's been a six-month shoot,"
he says, "and, frankly, I'm exhausted. My character is always
decked out with gadgets and disguises, so it's quirky stuff.
It's also the first commercial movie I've made, with the possible
exception of 'Frankenstein,'" which wasn't my best work.
"Thankfully, I'm saved from
too much introspection or self-laceration by keeping busy. To
me, work is a healthy, distracting, sanity-giving activity. And
one I'll pursue as long as they let me."
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