Kenneth's On the Ball
Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
Mail, July 24 1998
by John Millar
The man acclaimed as the greatest
living English actor has a football fantasy. Kenneth Branagh
imagines running out on to Windsor Park clad in the colours of
He knows that dream will never
be realised. However, he could soon be running out on to the
pitch at Palmerston Park, Dumfries.
Branagh, 37, has been invited
by his friend Robert Duvall to play in his new football film
about the struggles of a little Scottish football team.
Duvall spent a weekend in May
taking in the Scottish Cup Final and scouting for locations,
including Queen of the South's Palmerston Park.
But it was out in the Deep South
that Duvall rekindled images of Branagh, the midfield maestro.
The pair teamed up in Savannah,
Georgia, to film the legal thriller The Gingerbread Man. The
American star told the Belfast boy, who has been hailed as the
new Laurence Olivier, that he was planning to make a football
And Branagh is all set to leap
off the subsitute's bench and into Duvall's team.
Branagh said: "He told me
that he has a great story about a Scottish football club and
I said that I just had to be in there somewhere
"I think that I could be
like the amazing guy who, at 38, is still in the game. Maybe
like a Stuart Pearce character. A local hero, very sexy, very
strong, an amazing dribbler of the ball.
"It could be my fantasy
... but, one day. I'll show you!"
Branagh, who has a fondness for
his old home town club Linfield, Rangers and Spurs, tries to
catch football on TV when his work takes him jetting round the
But he never expected that when
he worked for the first time with one of his favourite film actors
that he'd also turn out to be a football fan.
He said: "I admit that I
was star struck to be working with Robert Duvall. He is incredible.
And he really is a big football fan.
"We talked about the amazing
Brazil sides of the 1970s and he told me that his favourite player
of all time was George Best. Imagine that?"
The two football addicts play
on opposite sides in their new movie The Gingerbread Man.
Branagh stars as a womanising
lawyer, while Duvall is the leader of a strange sect.
Before filming began, Branagh
- who used an American accent in Dead Again - had to get his
tongue round the southern drawl of Savannah.
He admitted: "I suppose
I had a cliched idea that it was all a bit of a yee-ha! Texan
kind of thing because I hadn't been to Savannah before. But I
discovered that, like Scotland, there are lots of different accents.
It's not a sort of yee-ha! accent, it's lighter and more subtle.
"So when I got there I worked
with a dialect coach and met some lawyers, one in particular,
whose voice I tried to model it on.
"And I had a couple of weeks
to go around talking Southern to people. I did the thing of working
through my embarrassment of going into shops and asking for things
in a Savannah accent. I got found out a few times.
"We'd walk into a bar and
I'd say: 'I'd just love a glass of wine here' speaking in the
"And the barman would say:
'What are you speaking like that for? You're that Shakespearean
Mastering different accents is
something that Branagh got used to long before he became an actor.
But it was necessity that forced him to lose his native Belfast
accent after his family moved to Reading.
"That was a little bit of
self-preservation after we came to England when I was nine years
old," he told me.
"The Troubles were pretty
intense and it was a pretty tough time for the family, my mother
"We moved from where there
had been a big support network of brothers and sisters to a place
where we were isolated and people couldn't understand us. The
first day in school I just repeated myself again and again and
"After a while that got
me down, so I did something about it. But I felt very ashamed
at losing my accent. For a while I would be English at school
and then come home and be Irish because I was so afraid of upsetting
"My brother, on the other
hand, went to school on the first day and came home with an English
accent. It caused terrific ructions within the family.
"It was a miserable time,
especially difficult for my mother and pretty traumatic for all
of us. But anyway, you get on."
Another trauma that Kenneth Branagh
has 'got on' with has been the collapse of his marriage to Oscar-
winning actress Emma Thompson. They had seemed like the ideal
couple. But it ended in tears. Now Branagh admits that during
the break-up of his marriage he'd been tempted to escape to the
"But my mates and family
were here, and in the end those things in the press are irritating
at the time, but they blow over. I don't believe in flouncing
off," he said.
Since then, he has been romantically
involved with Helena Bonham Carter, who was nominated for an
Oscar earlier this year.
"I won't tell you who I
voted for, but I think you can guess," he grinned.
The pair worked together on Theory
Of Flight, a touching drama in which Helena is a wheelchair bound
victim of motor neurone disease.
Not surprisingly, Branagh reckons
that Helena is fabulous in the unglamorous role.
In that movie, Branagh tackles
the unsympathetic role. That's something that he's been making
a habit of doing.
HE'S a lusty rogue in The Gingerbread
Man and in the big budget comedy Wild, Wild West is cast as the
villainous Dr Lovelace.
"He's a brilliant and diabolical
character who is planning to take over the world," said
And he admitted that despite
his Shakespearean hero image - he's been Henry V and Hamlet on
the big screen - he prefers avoiding the square- jawed roles.
"I don't think I can do
the clean-cut hero because I don't believe me in that role,"
he said. "I'd rather be someone with a less pleasant side.
"Like in The Gingerbread
Man, I'm a character who is led by his sexual organ rather than
his intellectual organ.
"My character is seriously
flawed, separated from his wife and has an empty personal life.
"Maybe they asked me to
play a role that wasn't so obviously likeable because British
actors don't have so much of a problem doing that as some Americans."
A John Grisham thriller like
The Gingerbread Man might seem an unusual choice for Branagh.
But he says that he loves thrillers and has read all the Grisham
novels and seen the films.
And the Branagh family obviously
share his taste.
"There are a lot of visual
red herrings in this film that throw the audience off the scent.
When I showed this film to my folks - there were 12 of us - we
put money in a pot to see who would guess how it worked out and
my mother was the only one who got it right," said Ken.
Even now, long after he has established
his reputation as a film actor and director, Ken finds that Americans
still expect him to behave like the classical Shakespeare actor.
They half anticpate that he will
turn up, clutching a book of Shakespeare sonnets.
"They are very surprised
to hear me swear. That is the first shock, the first devastating
blow to their expectations," he said.
"There is a degree of awe
and intimidation which disappears very quickly. Two days in,
I'm the foul-mouthed Brit."
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