Branagh Does Woody, By Woody, For Woody
Ottawa Citizen, November 18 1998
by Jamie Portman
Kenneth Branagh says it only
makes sense that in Woody Allen's new film, Celebrity, he should
be doing an uncannily accurate impersonation of Woody in all
his quivering, neurotic glory.
"After all, I am playing
the Woody part," Branagh says.
Allen kept himself behind the
cameras for his new black-and-white comedy, which takes an abrasively
satirical look at the culture of celebrity. But Branagh had a
field day taking on his director's nervous, gulping mannerisms
and giving an Allenesque flavour to such speeches as "Really?
Great, great ... cause I don't wanna be, uh ..."
Branagh jokes that having Allen
write the lines for his character was a great help. More seriously,
the British actor says that Celebrity was one of the most rewarding
experiences of his career.
In the film, which opens Friday
in most cities, Branagh plays a journalist who becomes involved
in the lives of the famous (among them, Leonardo De Caprio as
a pampered film star). Judy Davis co-stars as his estranged wife.
Normally, the obsessively secretive Allen allows his actors only
to see those script pages in which they're actually involved
-- but not this time.
"Judy and I did get a full
copy of the script, which was an unprecedented move by Woody,"
Branagh reports. "But it did mean that we spent a lot of
time dealing with other cast members when they came knocking
at our doors wanting to know what the film was about.
"Working with Woody was
very interesting. I found that he directed much more than people
led me to believe he would. He was very specific about what he
wanted, and although he likes a degree of improvisation, he's
also very concerned to protect the integrity of the script.
"The small percentage of
improvisation he allows is only to protect a sort of natural
rhythm, to ensure you don't get any sense of conscious performing.
But he was pretty strict about doing something word for word,
which I was delighted about because he writes much better than
I, for one, can improvise."
Branagh was also impressed by
the closeness of Woody's relationship with his actors. "I'd
been led to believe he was much more remote."
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