(V funny) Interview transcript: Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline

Cranky Critic, March 2000
*thanks to Kate T

Oh joy, says Cranky dryly. Two actors sitting and talking at the same time. From past experiences, that usually meant half a dozen journalists desperately trying to get two lead mouthed actos to say anything. That didn't turn out to be the case with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh who, simply, wouldn't shut their mouths. As Kline would put it, "Just doing an interview is a competition." Even as their fast paced back and forth dialog in The Road to El Dorado is very funny in a Hope and Crosby mode (which is what the film's creators wanted -- if you don't know who Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were, learn) so are the pair in real life. When the duo got crankin', well, one day there will be bandwith enough that you'll be able to listen to this because the sexual double entendre was flying thick and hairy. I've tried to include the back and forth -- read it very quickly because that's how it happened -- but I don't know if it'll translate. Both actors are known for bringing Shakespeare to stage and screen, so we'll cover that as well as this flick. To begin, one of our colleagues quoted some dimwit in the print press who wrote that the film had several ambiguously gay moments . . .

Both (in disbelieving mock horror and LOUDLY): Ambiguously Gay???
[huge laughter from both sides of the table]
Kenneth Branagh: No, it was a butch-butch thing
Kevin Kline: Ambiguously gay moments? (to Branagh) That's the accent.
Kenneth Branagh: (to Kline) I was doing giddy. I never did gay. I did giddy.
Kevin Kline: (to Branagh) It comes across gay.
Kenneth Branagh: (to the press) Giddy and butch. I was so butch I woke up in the mornings and frightened myself.
Kevin Kline: Ambiguously gay. Well, it's because it's two men and they're partners and so naturally . . . we're both in touch with our feminine side, I think, especially Ken . . .
Kenneth Branagh: I do what I can.
Kevin Kline: . . . So people will project on to us whatever makes them comfortable.

CrankyCritic: So how does that strike you, as an actor, when you put forth one idea and it comes back at you as another?
Kevin Kline: Nobody sees the same movie. I'm sure there are people who saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and thought "Finally a gay movie about men who really care about each other. Thank God!" That's not what I saw necessarily but I don't think any two people see the same movie.

CrankyCritic: What was your professional relationship before this?
Kenneth Branagh: None of your business! [laughter] No, this is the first time we've worked together. We have known each other and admired each other professionally and personally
Kevin Kline: I love Ken's body. . .
Kenneth Branagh: in a non-sexual way
Kevin Kline: . . . of work
Kenneth Branagh: and Kevin's got a great body . . . of work . . . also. And we admired our bodies prior to meeting and working together and using our bodies together in this film
Kevin Kline: Yes, it's nice to admire someone else's body when you're busy admiring your own.
Kenneth Branagh: Your oeuvre
Kevin Kline: It's an amazing thing.
Kenneth Branagh: It gives me a chill. Because it's enormous. An enormous oeuvre.
CrankyCritic: and he showed it to you [laughter]
Kenneth Branagh: It's pretty publicly available.
Kevin Kline: I screamed. I said "Listen, before we work together I think it's important that you know where I'm coming from. So I screened all of my movies for Ken. He was strapped to a chair, and forced to watch, like A Clockwork Orange.
Kenneth Branagh: Sedated.

at which point we all paused for a quick breath . . .

CrankyCritic: Did you find yourselves looking at the road movies or Butch Cassidy or other "buddy" movies to get in the groove of.
Kenneth Branagh: The gay movies. We looked at all the gay movies.
Kevin Kline: I watched In and Out frequently.
Kenneth Branagh: Well you practiced . . .
Kevin Kline: I actually did that movie as preparation for this.
Kenneth Branagh: I was originally in the Tom Selleck part.
Kevin Kline: I did Silverado, that was my preparation for El Dorado. No, I didn't because even though that was the model you wanted to make it fresh. To come from the chemistry that is the two of us, really. You don't want to start stealing, or try to imitate or impersonate anyone else. You want to make it your own. So I deliberately ... and because I'm lazy I stayed away from that kind of research.
CrankyCritic: A lot of actors like making animated movies
Kenneth Branagh: Well, you don't have to learn (the part) for a start. You get to read it. No hair and makeup in the morning. No trailer problems.
Kevin Kline: Ironically, the great attraction is that you don't have to meet the other actors [laughter]. But then, Jeffrey Katzenberg kind of threw me a curve and said "We want to get the chemistry, so we're going to get you two together" I had done a voice in Hunchback of Notre Dame and never had to meet one. You never have to clap eyes on another person and deal with their ego, their tardiness, the fact that they're always trying to upstage you and always speaking over you when you're trying to talk [which is what Branagh has been doing all this time].

CrankyCritic: Since we're talking 'toons and since both you guys have notable work doing Shakespeare, Which Shakespeare would make the best animated movie?
Kenneth Branagh: We were talking a little bit about this. I think anything with the fantastical or supernatural in it. I think A Midsummer Night's Dream would be terrific because of the transformations that occur. Or The Tempest, things like that. Extraordinary larger than life or supernatural element. Or Magic. So many plays with magic in them that would be a terrific invitation to an imaginative animation team.

CrankyCritic: Picasso, I think, said the artist is in touch with something child like inside them. And when that person becomes more adult-like, the artist loses. Do you believe that?
Kenneth Branagh: I do think that, for instance, we've been very lucky to have theatrical careers and be associated with Shakespeare which sometimes gives you a kind of bogus kudos. No, I mean you might happen to do the work quite well in ways that people like but sometimes just in doing it you get a bogus kudos for somehow being brighter than you are and you start to take that seriously, to sort of think of yourself as some expert on it all rather than being able to enjoy it; retaining your enthusiasm and your wonder, the thrill and excitement you feel about being up there. Even doing something like this is exciting to do. It's fun to do. There was no hardship. There was no [in an exaggerated master thespian voice] "Kevin? Kevin shall we do a cartoon? Do you think our public will accept this?"
Kevin Kline: Yes, I wonder what it will mean in the larger picture . . .
Kenneth Branagh: As if anyone gave a toss. It's not important. You know, we hope the film is loved and watched by millions of people, but it's just a movie like in a way a film of Hamlet is just a movie. In a way there's exactly the same energy behind it which is the desire to communicate truthfully and entertainingly to people and transmit your joy to them. And also the thrill you feel, talking of actors, the extraordinary thrilling opportunity that we have to do this kind of [profession]
CrankyCritic: So it's not hard to be friendly with an actor.
Kevin Kline: Not at all. Is it hard to be a friend to someone who wants love more than anything else. Whose childhood, no matter how emotionally crippling. . .
Kenneth Branagh: and twisted.
Kevin Kline: . . . has now made him or her so needful and so desperate to be loved and embraced and accepted for who they are and that's what you yourself need -- it's a match made in heaven. Actors get on wonderfully with other actors.
Kenneth Branagh: Actors are the best and the worst of people. They're like kids. When they're good, they're very very good. When they're bad they're very very naughty. The best actors, I think, have a childlike quality. They have a sort of an ability to lose themselves. There's still some silliness. I worked with Judi Dench many years ago and she had this child-like thing and she was absolutely in the moment at all times, whether it was something sad or funny. The years dropped away. There's something about; something winningly like a kid. Sort of incredibly appealing. And of course at our worst behave like badly behaved children. We're self obsessed and mad and stupid -- not that other people can't be the same way -- but the extremes are kind of honest in some mad way. Anyway, I like them.

CrankyCritic: How far is too far in taking liberties with Shakespeare?
Kenneth Branagh: I don't know that there is too far, actually. I think there's only too bad. If it's bad you've gone too far. The elasticity of Shakespeare is extraordinary. It seems that people have got all worked up this century about "oh! they've cut so much of the text!" Go back to the 17th century, David Garrick, who was responsible for the revival of Shakespeare's fortunes and was responsible for the Silver Jubilee of Shakespeare in 1764, he was part of a whole generation of theater practitioners who changed the endings. I mean, Romeo and Juliet lived (!) in the David Garrick version of it. King Lear is reunited with his daughter who's no longer dead at the end of King Lear and those were the very productions that reestablished Shakespeare after the whole hundred years (when) his plays weren't done. The radicalism that they applied, which kept it very lively and in the popular imagination and in fact gave us Shakespeare were way more brutal with a playwright who continues to be bouncing back from all of that. Stimulated and revived; revivified is the phrase I think. If it's good art, it's good. If you've done a brilliant version it becomes something else. Shakespeare then becomes the source of fantastic inspiration. I resist the idea that there's one way to do it. Otherwise why see a Shakespeare play twice? why hear a Beethoven symphony twice. Why look at a van Gogh painting twice. They're classics. Their very quality is their ability to resonate from time to time through, in the case of Shakespeare, the personification of the characters through living actors that's why you want to go see Kevin Kline's Hamlet or Daniel Day Lewis' hamlet. You don't go "Oh I've seen that. I know what happens. Doesn't he go mad or something?" [laughter]

CrankyCritic: You've both done definitive Hamlet's in your fields.
Kevin Kline: Well, one of them must be more definitive than the other!
Kenneth Branagh: (to Kline) Yours was more definitive.
Kevin Kline: (to Branagh) No, yours was, while you were doing it, was definitive.
CrankyCritic: Did that come up at all in your professional relationship.
Kevin Kline: (You mean) I'll show you my Hamlet if you show me yours? And which one's bigger and longer? Well, his was uncut so he gets the [our side of the table starts laughing. Branagh doesn't let Kline finish the double entendre]
Kenneth Branagh: It may not be the best, but it was the longest. Somebody once said about my stage Hamlet "It may not be the best but it's the quickest" because I spoke about a million miles an hour.
Kevin Kline: No, the whole point is that's the joy of doing the classics like that is that you are a link in the long chain that goes back four hundred years and the more people that do it, it's fun. I remember going to London; I had just met Ken socially and in London his movie of Much Ado About Nothing had just come out. I called him and said "I'm making a movie here. Do you know of any place to rent a flat?" He gave me some pointers on where to stay and said "you must go to the West End. There's a production of Much Ado About Nothing with [Mark Ryans?] that's absolutely brilliant." And I thought, well, that's great. Here's a guy whose movie is playing in theaters who is going to see another Much Ado and recommends it. There's no proprietary feeling. You put your mark on the part during the moments that you are on the stage or capturing the moments for all posterity on film, but you're just letting it filter through you. You want to see as many different people as possible.
Kenneth Branagh: It's exciting. At the moment we've got two Richard II's. Ralph Fiennes is about to open in that and another terrific young actor called Sam West is at Stratford. I want to see both. It's exciting. And excitement being in the air, we would like to thank you for this special time.

And with that they exuent left.

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