Kenneth Branagh: Playing Wallander Left Me in 'Permanent State of Anxiety'
Actor tells Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner about depression caused by playing a Nazi and how meditation helps him stay calm
Kenneth Branagh has described how playing the angst-ridden eponymous hero in TV series 'Wallander' put him in a “permanent, acceptable state of anxiety”.
In an honest and engaging appraisal of his career, the award-winning actor and director talked to the Guardian’s editor-in-chief Katharine Viner about his use of meditation and mindfulness to still his racing mind as well as the impact of his early life in Belfast and early success.
Describing Wallander, the inspector hero of the crime novels written by Henning Mankell, as “like an open wound” Branagh admitted that only one role had really depressed him: playing the Nazi architect of the final solution, Reinhard Heydrich, in 'Conspiracy', a TV film.
“It led me into a depression, there’s no question about that,” he said of the 2001 BBC/HBO production, before adding: “Of course it was meaningless and superficial in relation to the thing itself.”
The way he approaches parts means he is left exposed to deep feelings, he told the audience at Cannes Lions. “As I get older it gets under the skin more ... I don’t leave it at the office as much as you wish you could.”
In a fascinating explanation of the art of performance, Branagh, who won two Baftas for his role in 'Wallander' and was knighted in 2012, said he meditated twice a day for half an hour a time “to calm that racing mind” as well as “hear instincts” or “uniformed hunches”.
He quoted his friend and fellow Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance for calling this loud inner voice the internal “Mr Gobby”.
Of his roles, he said: “Your goal is to put yourself into vulnerable position. The performance demands solitary introspective ... a sort of nakedness you couldn’t do unless you’re very scared yourself. Without indulging in a sort of emotional masturbation you have to try to strip it down.”
With a version of Shakespeare’s 'The Winter’s Tale' – which he will perform and direct – opening at London’s Garrick Theatre later this year, Branagh talked of how much he enjoyed a mixture of high and low culture following his successful directing of big budget films 'Thor' and 'Cinderella'.
“I don’t see any barriers between them ... Sometimes people want it to be one thing or another, I enjoy the mixture.”
Having moved to Reading in 1969, aged nine, the Belfast-born star talked of how his schoolfriends didn’t understand him for about two years before he adopted an entirely English accent.
A huge star by 28, he wrote his only autobiography when his hit 'Henry V' stage performance was made into a film. “For a nanosecond in the pre-internet pre-digital age, I was a hot young actor, in the sense of popular, and then it passed.”
Calling the autobiography the “zenith of arrogance” he explained how he didn’t feel that way. “It was pretty overwhelming when I was 28 or 29 – there were times when I wanted to rip my head off my shoulders just to stop the noise,” he said.
He continues to enjoy working in Hollywood and on stage he says.