Empire Public Access: Kenneth Branagh

Empire Magazine, May 2000
*thanks to Marie Grayson

Was he really up for Obi-Wan? Does he prefer popcorn or ice cream? Is he single? From Wild Wild West To Love's Labour's Lost, Kenneth Branagh answers all your questions ...

Who did you play in the school nativity and were you any good?
Katherine Wroath, Tavistock

Actually I got out of it! They wanted me to play Joseph in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and I got a note from my mother saying "He doesn't have to do it..." because I was so thrown with anxiety. Bizarre. Absolutely bizarre. I wound up in the chorus instead - I was about nine at the time and it was a big part for me.

Having just seen Love's Labour's Lost, I wondered whether the songs determined the period setting or if it was the other way around...
Caireen Kennedy, Little Venice

I think it was the other way around because the period setting (late 1930s) was an attempt to exploit the precious nature of the time these people had together in the memory of the Great War, the dread of the world turning upside down and where saying "I love you" was important because you might never see them again. So underneath the story there would be a very emotional charge. And of course, all that worked for these songs, so the setting of the play came first and the songs afterwards.

After doing so much Shakespeare, do you ever find yourself using dialogue when you're not working?
Stewart McHaven, Dundee

I don't, no, and in fact, I often disappoint people by never being able to come up with quotes when I am asked. People say, "Oh you must know, this stuff must be buzzing around your head," but I find once I've done the slate's wiped clean. I'd have trouble quoting from Hamlet.

If you had to switch to another profession in 2001, what would it be?
Johannah, Sydney

Musician. I try and play around a bit of keyboards and guitar and stuff, it's so relaxing and enjoyable. I only wish I had the talent to go with it.

I once read that you were in a band (the name was the "Fishmongers" or something). What with all the singing in Love's Labour's Lost, have you ever thought of releasing something, and if so, what would you do?
Laura Stevely, Southampton

Leading on from that last question, no, because I am very aware of the talent level of The Fishmongers. We are actually still going, but we're literally a garage band, that's where we play. It's fantastic relaxation - there's about seven of us in the group now and we're always having guest people in; it's a case of if you can play the triangle, you're in The Fishmongers. We've got no plans to release anything because we all have such busy lives, but never say never, as it were. We've got Adrian Lester singing for us now, and he's giving us a darker side, but our influences are eclectic - we sing a bit of everything. We're just finding our own style.

What's the one thing you try to do every day?
Karen Vera, Manila

Have a good walk, actually. Get out into the air, have a walk. Everything's better when you've got a little bit of oxygen more cleanly whizzing around the lungs.

Movie food: popcorn or ice-cream?
Katie Leivers, Durham

Popcorn. Salt. And occassionally a hotdog, actually. I always have them with such anticipation and delight and as soon as I've just finished it's like, "Christ, what have I just eaten?!" It looks a brilliant prospect, the colour of the mustard and the colour of the ketchup are just brilliant, the mustard in particular - it's like no known yellow. And the the bread is always so fantastically awful. But it always looks so good, and then you have it and you wish you hadn't.

Have you ever found it difficult to get out of character and back to being yourself after the completion of a film?
Melissa Dow, Pittsburg

I don't think so, but people have told me that's the case. When we were doing Dead Again and I was playing a tortured composer and chirpy private eye, the crew told me I was much nicer to have around when I was playing the private eye. I didn't see it myself, I thought I was the same throughout, but I think it affects you more than you realise. In fact when they put make-up on you in the morning, even when it is something silly as Doctor Loveless in Wild Wild West, even halfway through that extravagant make-up you start to go quiet and it does alter your personality.

How have you overcome the problem of onstage corpsing, and what is the worst fit of giggles you have suffered in front of an audience?
Katherine Mellor, Southgate

Um...the worst one was actually doing a reading of a play at the now famous Almeida theatre. It was a Sunday night, we were all very tired, it was right in the middle of an intense lot of work, and I don't think I got through a single line of the play without laughing. I was an hysterical wreck for no good reason, and the beginnings of my pulling myself out of it was a letter the next week from an enraged punter who said it was absolutely disgraceful, it had ruined her entire evening, she'd travelled up from Brighton. I really did feel absolutely guilt wracked and it's never been a problem since. Maybe I'm getting older and more frightened (nervous laugh). Although it was occasionally difficult on Love's Labour's Lost. Nathan Lane sets me off, he is a man whoes eyes just twinkle. And Richard Briers sets me off a bit. On the DVD of Love's Labour's Lost, we will not only have half an hour of cut footage, but about eight minutes worth of gag stuff.

When are you going back to the stage?
Jennie Crocker, Austin

I think sooner rather than later. I think I'd lost my appetite for being in the theatre, but it seems to have come back. I have no specific plans yet, but I'd like to think it would be quite soon. I'm looking forward to it.

How do you think your career would have been different if you'd won the part of Mozart in Milos Forman's Amadeus?
Jude Tessel, Cincinnatti

Absolutely no idea. I'm glad that it didn't happen, because I'm glad that Tom Hulce got the part: he gave such a fantastic performance. I think it would have been incredibly "throwing". I feel so privileged to have had this career, and jumped the queue in so many ways, and I think that would have been the ulimate in queue jumping. I sometimes have sympathy for people have those spectaularly early successes, because you have to worry about sanity - you're pitched into the level of unreality that the business produces these days, and that makes it quite hard when it comes to following your own instincts.

Honestly, were you ever really up for the role of the younger Obi-Wan Kenobi?
Chris, Suffern, NY

Not as far as I know. What I understand happened, right, is that in the intervening years between the triology and the new prequel, there was admidst the vast army of people who were fascinated by Star Wars and the whole merchandising, convention and website world, an Austrailian guy who was an artist who produced trading cards. And in one of those dead periods when nothing was clear from Lucusfilm as to whether there would be a film and when, he suggested me on a trading card, and that's where it came from. Then when people were of information for the new film, years ago, he suggested that I would make a good Alec Guinness. And that was it - there was never a glimmer of interest from Lucasfilm, and it started so long ago that by the time the film came around, not only had I never been thought of, but I was about 15 years too old. I endessly explained to people that there was absolutely no truth in the rumour at all, but it happened around the real intensification of the Internet, and was an example of how a rumour like that can travel around the world in 24 hours.

Where do you think Wild Wild West went wrong?
Hayley Russell, Stockport

I don't think I really know. I'm not crazy about actors who go on about bad films they've been in, because there were loads of people working on that film who didn't set out to make it bad. On the whole, when I'm asked questions like that, my sympathies immediately go to (director) Barry Sonnenfeld, who worked his socks off. What I think was implied in some of the criticism was that there was a smugness around the project to do with thinking "Oh we've got high concept, we've got Will Smith, we've got Barry..." There was a sense that the filmmakers were licking their lips in anticipation of the next $500 million coming in. In fact, it was quite the opposite. From the inside, I know the attempt was very honest. There was also a resistance to the massive machinary of films with that kind of budget, and it was extraordinary to see that many people around. I felt at the very least, the movie was inoffensive, but I think I had too much invested in it, in terms of liking the people, to know. I enjoyed it, but at the same time, I respect the opinion of those who didn't. I suppose if I had known what wasn't working I'd have tried to say so at the time, so clearly I was as blind to its flaws as anyone else.

But I was very sorry for Barry because obviously when you take the hit on a big show like that, it's more public than anything else, and I was amused and faintly pleased the other week when we were nominated for the Golden Raspberries - that's a nice thing to have on the CV. Whenever I get carried away by people saying nice things about me, I can remember amongst many other remarks, I now have the proof with a Golden Raspberry nomination.

Do you still have the Candyland and Chutes and Ladders games that Jay Leno and an American fan gave you (I was behind her in the line after a performance of Hamlet). Have you ever opened them up and played them?
Monica Carrico, Knoxville

I have to tell you, I haven't played around, although they have been played in my house. They're in a pile with Rummikub and Jenga and Cludeo, the "one a.m. games", but I haven't played those. I feel a bit guilty about that now.

How does it feel to be the UK's most eligible bachelor? I know plenty of women who would like to take you off the list...
Anne Lee, Los Angeles

Plenty of people would disagree with that! I don't feel especially "bachelor-y" or eligible at the moment. Perhaps the reason I appear to be is that I've worked so much that I can't imagine having much room for anything as nice as a marvellous relationship. But I have lots of friends - that seems to do the trick. Of course, Anne and her friends are welcome to try.

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