Kenneth Branagh can hardly take offence at accusations that he's
legless in his latest film.
For as the evil, demented Dr Arliss Loveless in comedy Western Wild
Wild West, he appears as a mere torso strapped to a bizarre,
"It was most painful," recalls the RADA-educated actor, who stars
alongside Will Smith, Salma Hayek and Kevin Kline in the film.
"My legs were strapped beneath me in a strange box contraption which
was in theory containing my mechanical entrails, and then they
screwed a metal
plate down onto the box to hold my thighs and legs down, and keep my
close together as possible. It was terribly uncomfortable.
"I tried to be a hero for a week or two and then I started waking up
with back pains and leg pains. It became blood circulation hell
"When you look at the film, you might imagine it's all
computer-generated images, but my body is actually there - only
screwed up and contorted."
In the role, Branagh, 38, is surrounded by four stunning women who
his operation and tend to his every whim and desire.
"Well, yes, the job does sometimes has its benefits," he laughs.
In real life Branagh has been with actress Helena Bonham-Carter, 33,
for four years, after meeting her on the set of their 1994 movie
Shelley's Frankenstein, bringing an end to his six-year marriage to
Throughout the ensuing media onslaught, the very private couple have
maintained a dignified silence.
"A third party doesn't break up a relationship. It just means that
weren't meant to be," reflects Branagh. "Em and I are friends, we
although it's sometimes hard for me to watch the films we made
"In a sense you've got visible memories of rather happy occasions,
although it takes you a while to get to the point where you view
way. It just is what it is, you know?
"It's always sad, marriages breaking up. But I refuse to be affected
over issues like this by how the world at large appears to feel.
it's lights, action, cameras. And we're all exposed. And not in a
"It was not an easy time, and there were moments I was tempted to
to America to escape it all, but in the end those things that are
at the time, they blow over. I don't believe in flouncing off. I
used to wake
up and think, 'F****** hell, what's going on?'
"But now I don't analyse it. I've got this background, which helps -
like an instant switch that I can throw and it tells me who I am,
where I came
"I think some people might find that rather bland, they'd rather I
confessed to some terrible dark side and that I wander around with
hanging out of my arm, falling into the gutter.
"But I am who I am. I have done these things and there's no point
worrying about it or trying to analyse it."
Kenneth Branagh grew up in Belfast, a place he remembers as a small
city with a village feel. His father, was a joiner and both his
laboured at the docks. He says it's the only place where he's ever
consistently happy and he looks back on his Belfast upbringing as
one of the
happiest times of his life.
"All we ever did was play on the street. There was no fear. When we
were called in for tea mum just stood on the step and yelled our
perhaps that's where I inherited some vocal projection," he says.
The extended family atmosphere was important to him, and he
lots of nights in with his parents listening to their tales of their
"My parents would sit us round the fire and tell us about growing up
in their large families in poor neighbourhoods during the war. My
uncles would visit and neighbours pop in and everyone would do their
His dad had been working in England and commuting to Belfast at
weekends since 1967, but Branagh's mum and the rest of their family
But in 1970, The Troubles began to disturb the family's life and
Kenneth's mum decided it was time to move. He was nine when they
Reading and claims that losing his accent was an act of self
"They just couldn't understand us. It got me down after a while but
felt very ashamed at losing my accent. So for a while I would be
school and then come home and be Irish because I was so afraid of
mother," he says.
Branagh returns to Belfast about twice a year. He is the patron of
charities and all his films have their premieres there.
"It was difficult for us at first," he says, referring
to his blue-blooded girlfriend as Helly, "but we are today surprised
gratified that the British Press has finally realised people around
don't wake up every morning wondering what I'm doing in my private
"I've never really felt victimised. True, I've suffered my share of
slings and arrows but it goes with the territory.
"What's kept us going is the fact that Helena and I both have very
politically incorrect senses of humour.
I think that's what drew us together in the first place," he says,
holding a Marlboro cigarette to thin lips set amid jowls that look
accustomed to smiling than frowning.
Compact and evenly built, he is wearing jeans, a dark leather jacket
and shaggy hair.
He looks and sounds less like a prince of Denmark or an English
monarch than a lad from a rugby team; more comfortable with a pint
than the china coffee cup he now holds at Beverly Hills' swanky Four
If he is not of the people exactly, he is as close to them as anyone
from the Royal Shakespeare Company currently renting a house in Bel
likely to come.
While his ex-wife Emma Thompson is now expecting a baby by actor
boyfriend Greg Wise Branagh is in no hurry to do the same.
"I love kids. There are lots of friends who can't have them and so I
never assume. But we haven't been actively trying, so it may or may
not be on
my dance card," he says.
While he refuses to reveal whether he has officially moved into the
London home Helena bought two years ago, he does admit to enjoying
around in her garden and trying new recipes.
"As far as celebrity goes, I try not to get too caught up in it.
possible to find a normal way through it somehow," he say.
He's a Spurs supporter. He's partial to a drink. And when not
penguined out for some gala performance, he wears jackets and
look slept in.
"Woody Allen told me the best thing about being famous is being able
to jump the queue at restaurants. I don't know whether I approve of
it does have its benefits," he says.
"For most of the time, I'm left alone. It's not as if I'm Brad Pitt
But he's in hot demand nevertheless. Branagh has done five new
in the space of the past 12 months - sci-fi drama Alien Love
Wild West; animated feature The Road to El Dorado; and serious drama
"I'm happiest when I'm busy, although I don't know whether that's a
good or bad thing," muses the man who once again turns to
Shakespeare for his
next film - a musical version of Love's Labours Lost set in the
his fourth movie adaptation of a Shakespeare play.
"I'm a much happier guy these days. I've always had so many dreams
my life, and when I take the time to reflect on what I've achieved,
me great peace of mind to see that I have realised the greater part
"But by no means do I feel like I've accomplished everything I
to do," he adds. "I'm an onwards and upwards kind of guy."