Kenneth Branagh Likes Long Reflective Walks, Beach Optional

Wall Street Journal, 31 December 2011
By Alexandra Cheney

Kenneth Branagh is looking for more time to do nothing. Having recently completed his role as Laurence Olivier in “My Week With Marilyn,” Branagh says he was blessed with time to ponder his character. That didn’t include tweeting or facebooking, (and the actor has no plans to begin social networking.)

In fact, he’s searching for more time to unplug, which may or may not include long contemplative walks. Speakeasy caught up with Branagh just before he flew to England on holiday to discuss the nostalgia of times gone by and what it takes for the actor to truly relax.

“My Week With Marilyn” falls into a category of films along with “The Artist” and “Hugo,” that embrace a time gone by. Why do you think there’s this tendency toward nostalgia?

I think when I saw “Marilyn” for the first time, that quality of affection for a more innocent time was what struck me. I said to Simon Curtis, the director, that the film was a remembrance of things past that was different from just sheer nostalgia. The film doesn’t suggest necessarily that things were better but it does suggest, in “Marilyn,” a degree of innocence was at play. Even if it was in a world with higher passions and higher dramas, the film has a elegant simplicity as embodied by Marilyn’s melancholy with what what you might call a graphic example of the price of fame or the price of her insecurity. There is something still touching about the fact that things could go on in private. There are worlds in which there is some value to the fact that while they are making “The Prince and the Showgirl” they are not tweeting or immediately running to Facebook. It’s happening behind closed doors. That notion of privacy or simplicity or innocence at least is part of what I saw in the film and may be part of what is catching people’s eyes.

You have yet to tweet or Facebook. What’s your take on social networking?

It is, of course, a miracle. When I came do to “Marilyn” I can well imagine what it was like for Laurence Olivier to not just sit at a computer terminal but just to sit underneath a camera looking live looking at real actors as the scene played out. That’s how I started out, I made my first film as an actor and director, which was “Henry V” without video assist, without mobile phones and all the things we were required to do were achieved. So it is quite amazing at the other end of my filmmaking career, I direct a film like “Thor” and watch as huge visual effects are pumped down to me. That is something that wasn’t possible before.

What about personally?

As far as in my own life, I value what this movie presents, which is the relative isolation of the artistic process. I like the fact that you go into old quaint buildings and you get on with it behind closed doors. I am on the whole happy with the entertainment I seek not to know everything about it before I go in or to have seen every behind-the-scenes moments. Or to have a reality show that has three other reality shows attached to it about the making of the making of the making. With the talent shows it’s especially like that. You could watch the spin off shows 24 hours a day until the next edition of the same show came up. Personally tweeting, I don’t do. It is a choice currently simply from a point of view of time. There are other things, I already have plenty of communication with the people I need to and I think the most valuable thing for me as an artist is time for me to reflect and ponder. And the instant nature of most responses required means that these days you have to carve out the time to have no time. Frankly you have to also explain to people that you also haven’t become an insane person. Now its revolutionary to not be contactable for 45-50 minutes because you get emailed back after a half hour. I think things like reading books, reading screenplays working on cuts of movies, more valuable than ever is the time spent away from communicating about it. And often doing nothing except reflecting on it, taking long walks and pondering.

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