Branagh Moves from the Past to Past Life
Seattle Times, August 18 1991
by John Hartl
Although movies such as "Audrey
Rose," "I've Lived Before" and "The Reincarnation
of Peter Proud" have touched on the subject, reincarnation
hasn't received a serious treatment in a Hollywood movie in years.
Kenneth Branagh, the 30-year-old
wunderkind who was nominated for Oscars last year as best actor
and director for his rousing adaptation of Shakespeare's "Henry
V," thinks the time is right for another try. So does Paramount
Pictures, which made a fortune last year on "Ghost"
and produced the first American movie about hypnotic regression
and reincarnation, "The Search For Bridey Murphy" (1956).
Paramount is bankrolling Branagh's
first American movie, "Dead Again," which opens Friday
at 400 theaters and then goes into wider release over Labor Day
Branagh and his wife, Emma Thompson
(who also co-starred with him in "Henry V"), play dual
roles: a married couple in 1940s Los Angeles and another couple
in 1990s L.A. who appear to be linked to them. Thompson's 1990s
character has lost her memory and reverts to a past life during
"We have an endless fascination
with the fates, especially when death robs us of a loved one,"
Branagh said during a recent trip to Seattle.
"Once you get married, or
you're in a relationship, at various times you're tempted to
consider if you were just thrown together or if you'd met before.
There's this deep connection with certain friends that's rather
mysterious. As the script points out, there are more people in
the world who believe than don't."
Ironically, the author of the
screenplay, Scott Frank ("Little Man Tate," "Plain
Clothes"), doesn't believe in reincarnation at all. He came
up with the title first, then the idea for the story. Branagh
thinks Frank's disbelief may have given him the objectivity to
keep the Hitchcock-style thriller aspects of the story on track.
"I hadn't been looking for
an American vehicle when I came to L.A. in early 1990,"
said Branagh. "I was trying to get the studios interested
in Thomas Hardy's 'Return of the Native,' which seems to me a
wonderful filmic opportunity. That didn't pan out at the time,
though I'm going to work with a writer on a new script later
Branagh is also preparing a movie
of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," which he
wants to film in Italy, "with an international cast and
a very Italian kind of acting style. It should be sexy, funny,
not Elizabethan but in period, and I can think of several American
actors who would be perfect for it." Another Shakespeare
play he'd like to tackle on-screen is "Coriolanus."
He has also talked to Gerard Depardieu about playing Iago to
Depardieu's Othello on film.
Financing, of course, is crucial.
Although it earned $ 20 million worldwide, "Henry V"
has not yet broken even. The similar middling success of the
Franco Zeffirelli/Mel Gibson "Hamlet" has not encouraged
a rush to film more Shakespeare. If "Dead Again" is
a hit, Branagh may be able to get these other projects off the
He's encouraged by preview audiences
who comment that they can think of no other films like it. That's
how he felt about the script when he first read it.
"After 'Henry V' came out,
I was offered three separate scripts about life of Shakespeare,
and another about Tolstoy," he said. "But really good
scripts are so rare. Even the best of them need a bit of polish.
"Then out of the blue came
Scott's script. I had a very powerful reaction. My disbelief
was utterly suspended while I was reading it. It reminded me
of some of the movies I first saw on television: the woman with
no memory, the private eye, the creepy house, the hypnotist.
I thought of Hitchcock's 'Spellbound' and its big dramatic score,
the Salvador Dali designs, the dramatic lighting. I knew the
script had been read by many other directors; perhaps the melodrama
frightened them off."
Branagh wanted to do it only
if he and Thompson could play dual roles, and if Derek Jacobi
could be cast as the hypnotist. He then recruited Andy Garcia,
Hanna Schygulla, Campbell Scott and the uncredited Robin Williams,
casting them against type in key supporting parts. Sydney Pollack
signed on as executive producer, and helped Branagh to convince
Paramount that the 1940s scenes should be shot in black-and-white.
"I went through a lot of
Hitchcock pictures while I was preparing it," said Branagh.
"I watched 'Spellbound' and 'Vertigo,' as well as 'Citizen
Kane' and 'The Third Man' and a few modern thrillers, such as
'Jagged Edge.' I ended up thinking that the key to the whole
thing would be a breathless pace.
"We went through about five
distinct cuts of the film before I felt it was working with audiences.
At previews you can always tell if they're bored or if they don't
understand something. We went back for one day of reshooting
to clear up three story points and to get the effect I wanted.
"I always felt it should
be full-blooded - some would say overblown - a roller-coaster
ride that never lets you off the hook," he said. "There's
a lot of dazzle and showmanship in it. Women seem to love it.
I've been told it's a great date movie."
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