Monday Night Clive

Transcript of appearance on June 13 1999
*transcribed by Catherine Kerrigan

CJ: One of the glories of the English theatre is that there has always been more than one contender for the title Great Actor of His Generation. But, if anyone has ever got close to monopolising the role, it's the man you're about to meet. What's more, he's played every king in the book without lording it over anybody. Stand and unfold yourself, Kenneth Branagh.

CJ: Kenneth, you don't strike me as a shy guy.

KB: Oh! I've been shy in my time. I think a lot of actors are - it's a funny little paradox, but it's always the case in adolescence - did you have in Australia, um, we didn't, that high school prom thing where you had to find somebody?

CJ: Oh yeah.

KB: We had discos and things that used to ...

CJ: On no, no, I was long before your time. There were no discos. We had to touch the girl. And if your hands, like mine, were dripping with water, with the sweat of fear ...

KB: Ohh!

CJ: I could actually hear the water falling off my hands.

KB: Oh no!

CJ: As I hid in the toilet - I actually did hide in the toilet for two and a half hours at the first social I ever went to. But I think your generation has been lucky. Were you shy at school?

KB: I, well, I was over issues like that. We didn't have to do this prom thing but there were discos and of course, there was this desperate attempt to, you know, find the gap at the end of the evening as the slow dances were beginning to emerge (shapes his hands as placing them around a girl's waist), and you just had that chance to, you know, instead of (mimes disco dancing) doing all that on your own, of actually moving in and holding on to her (hands once again as though around a girl's waist), but trying to get in there before whoever it might be, Chip or Chunky, you know, very much taller, very much more handsome young man whipped in and took his pick of the girls, so there was always a terrifying moment, the last ten minutes.

CJ: Tough school? Was it a touch school?

KB: Um, the discipline was very, um, particular. We had a teacher who used to have, um, ah, two, you know, gym shoes, one called Zebedee and one called Dougal, then you were called up to the front of class and if you'd been naughty or done something silly, and hit with one of them - Zebedee or Dougal.

CJ (disbelieving): You were beaten with Magic Roundabout characters?

KB (laughing): You see, I think, um, exactly. The names were, I think, we used to kind of take the edge off what was quite a savage thing. Some sort of fun to be had. Oooh, what's it going to be? Is it going to be Zebedee or Dougal? Oh, not the right hand, not the right hand.

CJ: I've done my calculations and you were practically playing King Lear when you were 8. I got the impression, because I was following your career at that time, that you went straight out of drama school and right in at the top. You went straight in and played the king. You never carried a spear, you always had a crown on your head. Is that roughly right?

KB: I was ever so lucky, ever so lucky. Although some people have said to me, you know, and in fact, a good actor friend of said, you know, what you needed was a really decent period of obscurity.

CJ: I kind of resented it when I read about your meteoric start to your career, because I could have been an actor. At school, I wanted to be one, but I always got the part with two lines in it and, you know...

KB: Were you brilliant though?

CJ: Well, no, because the part with two lines the guy is never brilliant, because he spends all night thinking of those two lines and then he comes on and gets them wrong. I would come on and say "The carriage will see you now, my lord".

KB: Yeah, yeah, you come on with that "What's that in the road? A head?

(Burst of laughter from CJ)

KB: Oh, "What's that in the road ahead?" Or "What is this thing called? Love?" Uh, "What is this thing called love?"

CJ: Your reputation as a Shakespearean actor, does that help you with your fellow thespians in America, or does it hinder? They're a little bit nervous about him.

KB: They get a little bit scary about - it helps once you've entered the room and I'm not wearing tights, fluffy white shirt, big thick book under the arm and going (puts on fruity voice) "Daahling! Ohhhhh!" and all of that.

CJ: That's the Royal Shakespeare roar.

KB: (Does it again) Yeah, or the surprise and delighted (mimes it) thing, surprised and delighted curtain call (mimes it again and takes 2 mock bows) and that sort of actor, actor-laddie voice (puts on very strange accent) when people talk in this strange way, very strange inflections, up and down (reverts to normal voice). So, uh, once you don't do that, they're kind of, they're happy. And anyway, the mission has always been to make it seem as though it's about here and now, Shakespeare.

CJ: Well, your latest movie, you're directing it, Woody Allen is. It's Celebrity. And, um, I love it. I saw it, I saw it this week and it's just such a penetrating study of what it is like to be adulated and to want to be adulated and for your character who'll do anything he can to get his screenplay made, and we've got a scene here of you actually in action on screen with Leonardo DiCaprio who's playing the star you're trying to impress.

(Shows beginning of hotel bedroom scene.)

CJ: You, actually, in this movie do a better impression of Woody Allen than Woody Allen does. Was that your idea?

KB: Well, I think it was on the page. I didn't specifically try to, um, imitate him, but it's definitely in the writing, it seems to me, the little hesitations, and this neurotic (starts to do Woody) nervous energy, "You know, what, what are you crazy?" (Reverts to his own voice). This kind of, suddenly the shoulders go up and the neck disappears (demonstrates), and this kind of thrusting thing, the neurosis which is the kind of comic engine of it all and so I started doing that and he seemed to go for it.

CJ: He didn't mind?

KB: He didn't mind - he stopped me every time he thought it wasn't funny, but that?

CJ: I suppose the upside of stardom is that you can meet whoever you want to meet - you've met Sir Les Patterson for example.

KB: Extraordinary to be on the same show as Sir Les - one of Australia's finest exports and a wonderful, wonderful film critic.

CJ: Yes, he liked Celebrity an awful lot, didn't he?

KB: Yeah, he did, though he was a little unkind about the lips, given the nature of his dentures, but, you know, there you go.

(Big laughter and applause from the audience)

CJ: You never stay away from Shakespeare for long, whatever happens to your career, how big it gets in Hollywood, you keep getting back to Shakespeare. What takes you back?

KB: Well, it's always a challenge, um, over the years of the things that I've been doing it, there's been a significant mailbag from, um, kids in schools who've been introduced to the plays or to Shakespeare in general through one of my films or one of the other films that have been occurring over the last few years, and yet I have evidence, everybody has, that it is arse-paralysing! You just want to take that paint-drying thing out of it. The challenge is: keep coming back and finding it be real. The latest thing we've done is a musical version of a little-know, relatively little-known Shakespearean comedy called Love's Labour's Lost. And that is an attempt to say, with music and with dancing, with full-on numbers, all-singing, all-dancing, to try and release everything that I love in that play, that people don't know about.

CJ: You're in it? You're singing and dancing in it?

KB: I am singing and dancing in it.

CJ: Who do you play?

KB: I play Berowne who's the more cynical of four boys who meet four girls. Ah, the four boys have decided to give up women for three years and the moment they take that vows, they bump into four women and guess what happens? They fall in love and, you know.

CJ: They sing, they dance.

KB: They sing, they dance, they make you want to wear tights.

(Burst of laughter from the audience)

CJ: Well, I think for me, it was the movies that did it. When I was in school, you studied Henry IV in class and it was terrible and terrifying and I was almost lost to Shakespeare. And then a couple of years later I saw the American Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony, and it was Brando that did it. It wasn't Brando as The Wild One that did it for me - it was Brando as Mark Anthony.

KB: In fact, my first introduction to Shakespeare was Peter Sellars on some Sunday night - you were, it wasn't your programme, was it? Because you were a slip of a girl at that stage. But late Sunday night, when did the Beatles song, A Hard Day's Night, It's Been A Hard... he did Olivier.

CJ: He pretended to be Laurence Olivier pretending to be Richard III pretending to sing It's Been A Hard Day's Night.

KB: That's right. It was a post-modern impression, wasn't it? It was Peter Sellars as Laurence Olivier as Richard III singing* (starts to do it as Sellars as Olivier as RIII) "It's been, it's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog. It's been a hard day's night" (reverts to own voice) I should do that. (His right should goes up for the hump and he goes back to the impression.) "It's been a hard day's night. I should be sleeping like a log, but when I get home to you, I find the things that you do, they make me feel all right."

(Big round of applause from the audience)

CJ: It's been a pleasure.

KB (blushing): I can't believe I just did that.

CJ: Thank you very much, Kenneth Branagh.

KB: Thank you.

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