Interview: Actor Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), 12 March 2012
By Joseph Airdo

Upon reading Adrian Hodges' screenplay for “My Week with Marilyn,” actor Kenneth Branagh became interested in the project primarily because it did not take the route of a conventional biography about Marilyn Monroe or Sir Laurence Olivier.

“I thought that it was very clever in the way that it took a single snapshot of a moment in their lives where there are lots of incidents that were revealing about their characters,” Branagh said during a recent interview with “It offered a chance to look behind the public, iconic faces of these two characters and get a sense of who they could be and what their problems and challenges were like, which I feel to be very human, vulnerable and recognizable.”

In “My Week with Marilyn,” which will be available beginning Tuesday, March 13, Eddie Redmayne plays Colin Clark, a production assistant who introduces Monroe (Michelle Williams) to the pleasures of the British countryside during the filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl.” Branaugh plays Olivier, that film's director and Monroe's co-star.

“I very much enjoyed the detective work,” said Branagh, noting that he watched as many films and interviews featuring Olivier during that time in his life in order to get into character. “We went to great pains to get the right hair color and to get the eyebrows arched the way that his were. Then we came up with this prosthetic piece that would allow for this little cleft in his chin as this very striking, familiar feature of his face.”

In fact, Branagh said that his experience planning for the part was so immersive that he felt as though he was attending “Olivier University,” so to speak. Meanwhile, the actor added that simply walking on the set was a very intoxicating experience that essentially felt as though he had traveled through time. After all, “My Week with Marilyn” was shot on the same sound stage as “The Prince and the Showgirl.”

Branagh was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “My Week with Marilyn,” which was directed by Simon Curtis. Branagh said that being acknowledged for one's acting always delivers a positive feeling but that is especially true when one is playing someone as recognizable as Olivier. The actor adds that he was filling some pretty big shoes.

“People have plenty of examples – films, documentaries and photographs – to compare and contrast so there is a long way to fall,” Branagh explained. “To have been recognized with a nomination by the Academy – a group that cherishes the work of Oliver – was such an honor, a pleasure and also a relief that people felt we had not in any way failed to acknowledge the man's extraordinary talent.”

Of course, Branagh is also grateful for the other blessings that his experience in “My Week with Marilyn” has bestowed upon him. Most notably, the actor learned a lot from living through Olivier's attitudes in response to Monroe's tardiness. This encouraged him to consider the ways in which he deals with actors when he is directing.

“Laurence Olivier did not get the film he wanted out of 'The Prince and the Showgirl' but, ultimately, I think that he and Marilyn learned an enormous amount from the picture,” Branagh said. “He went on to give one of his greatest performances just a year later in 'The Entertainer' and she was about to make 'Some Like It Hot' in which she was also tremendous. They both emerged from it doing work that might have been affected by the experience they had working with each other.”

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