Branagh To Go Back To the Bard
San Diego Union-Tribune, August
by Arthur Salm
Kenneth Branagh looks relaxed and unhurried as he sits in a Paramount
Pictures hotel suite. But as he talks about what he has done,
is doing and plans to do in his astonishingly brief and brilliant
career, his very presence seems almost contradictory:
How can he accomplish all that
in one lifetime and still be sitting here, if only for an hour?
Branagh, after all, graduated
from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and within a few years
had starred in the Royal Shakespeare Comany's "Love's Labour's
Lost," "As You Like It," "Much Ado About
Nothing" and "Hamlet"; written and directed "Tell
Me Honestly"; produced, directed and starred in "Romeo
and Juliet"; co-founded the Renaissance Theatre Company,
for which he directed "The Life of Napoleon" and "Twelfth
Night" and wrote and starred in "Public Enemy";
directed and performed in a nine-month tour of "King Lear"
and "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
And, of course, adapted, directed
and starred in the triumphant, post-Olivier film version of "Henry
V," in which Branagh/Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech had
many in his cinematic audience ready to rise from their seats
to do battle at his side at Agincourt.
He's 29 years old.
Now he has directed and starred
in "Dead Again," a contemporary mystery/love story
with a supernatural edge. But Branagh, who plays a wiseguy American
detective, doesn't see the film as a lightweight departure. Shakespeare,
he pointed out, frequently dealt with ghosts.
"Our primal fascination
with the supernatural, the otherworldly, is keen," he said.
"I think that at the moment, in regard to reincarnation,
it's another manifestation of the meaning' we're all searching
for. The notion that a love in one lifetime that is ill-resolved
can be resolved in another -- that feeling is something that
goes very deep. It's something that gives substance and stability
to this brief life we live."
For "Dead Again" Branagh
rounded up his usual suspects -- Derek Jacobi, Richard Easton
and Emma Thompson, all of whom were in "Henry V." (Thompson
is also Branagh's wife.)
"I like to work with people
I admire," Branagh explained. "And yes, one can build
up an artistic family, and actors you get on with are rare. You
can go further each time. If the people you work with have a
shared history, it helps convey familiarity -- in families in
Shakespeare, for example -- and you build an atmosphere of trust.
It just makes artistic sense to have a central core. It means
that you can start from a slightly different place, and that
In the case of Branagh directing
Derek Jacobi, it was simple turnabout: For the Royal Shakespeare
Company, Jacobi had directed Branagh in "Hamlet" --
quite a thrill for Branagh, who at age 16 had first seen Jacobi
in the title role of "I, Claudius" on television.
"He was brilliant in a field
of brilliance," said Branagh of Jacobi and "Claudius,"
which is being repeated on KPBS.
One had to ask whether Jacobi's
very Claudius-like moment in "Dead Again" was Branagh's
directorial nod to that influential series. No, he insists, it
was purely coincidence. (Still, it's bound to generate giddy
shivers of recognition in all "Claudius" fans.)
Branagh is anxious to play Hamlet
again -- on Broadway, if possible.
"It would be interesting
to see whether a classic can still make it there," he said.
"It depends on the actors, the place, the time. It wouldn't
even have to be a period piece."
Branagh hasn't seen Zeffirelli's
severely truncated "Hamlet" with Mel Gibson, but he
says that for the cinematic audience the text has to be cut somewhat.
Actually, uncut productions of "Hamlet" are rare (although
Sledgehammer did one in San Diego last year). Branagh said he's
never seen one. If he does produce it on Broadway, though, he
says he'll try to do it uncut.
The next film he directs will
also be Shakespeare -- "a comedy, but I won't say which
"I'd like to use some American
actors. There's a quality to American acting, a kind of emotional
fearlessness, that I'd like to inject. It would also be a signal:
This is not a beast from another time -- it's a movie. Go see
Back to Articles Listing
Back to the Compendium