Dad Would Have Risen From Grave If I Hadn’t Taken This Knighthood
Says Sir Kenneth Branagh
The Sun, 23 June 2012
By Leigh Holmwood
Newly knighted Kenneth Branagh accepted his gong in memory of his father.
The actor joked his dad would have risen from the dead if he had turned it down. The star of BBC1’s gritty Swedish detective drama Wallander, which returns on July 8, had rejected a CBE in 1994.
But he believes his father William, who died of cancer in 2006, would have been horrified if he’d done the same with the knighthood, awarded to him in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last Saturday.
Branagh, also famed on stage for his string of Shakespearean roles, told TV Biz: “At this stage in life, my practice is, if people are kind enough to acknowledge what you do, it seems impolite not to say, ‘Thank you very much.’
“I am in a business that is so lucky. At the end of a stage performance, the audience applaud me. But I have friends who work in offices who don’t get that. And I know my father would have risen out of his grave if I hadn’t said, ‘Thank you very much, Ma’am’ — so I was very pleased to.”
But Branagh says the honour will not go to his head — and he will not insist on anyone calling him by his new title.
He said: “No one has called me Sir yet and I don’t think they will — but I think I might insist once every ten years that my wife calls me it in the house! Otherwise I will stay just Ken.”
Branagh is to reprise his BAFTA-winning role as Inspector Kurt Wallander for three more feature-length episodes on BBC1. The first episode will be the show’s most harrowing yet, with Wallander investigating the gruesome deaths of young prostitutes. But Branagh believes it will be a ratings winner.
He said: “The darker the episodes get, the more people seem to like them — I don’t know whether people look at them and think, ‘My life will never get that bad.’ When I read the script, I said to the producer, ‘This is the bleakest thing I have ever read. Do you think we can show it on a Sunday night at 9pm?’
“But I think it makes people think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Sometimes it is very riveting to be on the inside of someone else’s nightmare.”
He asked Swedish author Henning Mankell, who wrote the novels the drama is based on, how he had managed to imagine so much degradation.
Branagh said: “I wanted to know how he was when he was writing this sort of stuff for months on end. He said he had to stop writing some books because it got too much.
“I asked if people thought he went too far sometimes — because the next episode is fairly extreme. But he said nothing he has written goes anywhere near the extremes of his research in terms of human trafficking, paedophilia and the appalling things people do.
“I certainly did have a feeling of how powerfully dark the latest episode is.”
The new series starts on a lighter note, with Wallander setting up home with his girlfriend and her son and dog. But tragedy is not too far behind.
Branagh said: “What is so touching is that you start off with the possibility of some sunshine — there is a home and a possible home life. There is a kid and a dog and a place that ought to be nice. Then suddenly you have this idea that someone has got it in for Wallander somewhere and there is a body in the garden.
“From then it is almost sort of blackly comic, that this degree of things should happen, and maybe the intensity of it is very compelling. There are a few moments, even now when I know things are coming, that I still jump.”
During filming, Branagh would forget how dark things could get. He said: “I remember there was one time, it was about 4 pm, when I was with a friend and we had forgotten what we were walking down a lane to film. We were having a natter, I had a cup of tea and a bun, and we turned round the corner and I went, ‘Oh, my Christ!’ — and there was another dying prostitute lying on the floor. I quickly put down the bun and the tea and had to recalibrate.”
Despite having portrayed policeman Wallander since 2008, Branagh still finds it difficult to switch off during filming — and resorts to watching trashy comedies to take his mind off things.
He said: “You end up using a bit of gallows humour to cope. I found I wanted to be around brightly coloured things and I watched a lot of very silly comedies — things that didn’t involve me using my brain. I tuned into a lot of Judd Apatow comedies. This was my evening viewing — anything that would make me instantly laugh and make me be completely in the opposite direction.”
Branagh’s second wife, art director Lindsay Brunnock, who he married in 2003 following his divorce from actress Emma Thompson eight years earlier, lived with him during filming in Sweden last year.
He said: “It helped me hugely to have my wife out there with me. During the first couple of series of Wallander I found it quite difficult because Kurt is so empathetic, he gets so wrapped up in the cases and part of trying to play him well was to try and do the same.
“But frankly, you get so exhausted that you are entirely pooped for the next day. So the switch-off thing was better this time. I compartmentalised things better and could have a bit of fun out there.
“There was a dog in the drama, which was very nice. I would play with the dog and we bonded early on. Also, the good part about Sweden is that they like to play football. So we kicked a football around at lunchtime. This time I made sure we were living on the water, too.
“I wanted everything to be the opposite of what I was doing in the drama. You want to see the sun shine.
“Scandinavians have this in their character. The winters are severe so in summer the Swedes are wild. Midsummer’s Night is a huge party night. They throw themselves at long days and heat because, for six months of the year, they are dug in and it affects their character.”
The return of Wallander follows the recent popularity of Scandinavian dramas such as 'The Killing' and 'Borgen'. But Branagh doesn’t believe there is a danger of overkill. He said: “If the Scandinavian crime dramas are good, they will keep going.
“I think there is maybe one more Wallander series, of three films, to be done. I’d like to make a final trilogy.
“The tenth book has just been written. It takes us to a very significant, dark place in Wallander’s life. It’s called Troubled Man. And there’s one other book which we haven’t done, The White Lioness, which is partly set in South Africa.
“Those are likely to make a trio of films. That would be the end of the Wallander saga for us because it brings him back to his relationship with his family — which is where it all started.”