The Guardian Interview at the National Film Theatre
May 23, 1999
[thunderous applause as Ken enters]
MB: They're on your side! Welcome back again to the National Film Theatre where I believe you've been before?
KB: Yes [big smile]
MB: Can we begin fairly naturally by talking about Celebrity which the audience have just seen, indeed I've just seen. Perhaps you could explain to us how one gets into a Woody Allen film? How a Woody Allen film happens? Does a virgin script arrive in the post or does a phone call come from Woody Allen? How did it all happen?
KB: I think I'm still trying to work it out actually. I've heard many, many tales of people auditioning for Woody Allen, many actors, most actors I know are very keen to work for him but the process is mysterious. Sometimes it involves going into a very dark screening room where he does his auditions and I'm told that sometimes he sits in a corner behind a piece of cardboard with holes cut out and people are in and out and 2 minutes is a phenomenally long audition. [laughter] That didn't happen with me, I had a letter, a faxed letter came from the great man and to my astonishment they sent the screenplay, the complete screenplay. I think I had to sign something, some security document to say it would go back straight away as the world is waking up every morning, as you know, wondering what's in the next Woody Allen film! [laughter] Erm, and so I sent that back having read it and there was a letter that came with it that said a number of things which were very interesting and that was really the extent of what happened before we actually started shooting.
MB: When you say a number of things were interesting, what exactly do you mean?
KB: Well there was one phrase,
I hope he won't mind me saying this but - make of it what you
will - "This man is somewhat attractive to women, therefore
no facial hair". [lots of laughter from audience] That's,
I don't know, some kind of a mystery really.
So on the first day, the first thing we shot was with the, with Leonardo DiCaprio - the scene of the hotel where I meet him for the first time. And so the very first shot, the very first take - I'd only just met Leonardo DiCaprio, so I was a bit nerve-wracked anyway [laughter]. In fact he looked just like Mr Rabbit in the headlights [laughter] because I don't think Woody had spoken to him either so [more laughter] we were all in there, you know, wondering whether we were going to make it until the end of the day or whether the first day's play was going to, you know, get rid of us. So we start the first day, I think with the crowd scene; policemen everywhere. I think they were real policemen as well? You don't really get introduced, so I guess that's all fantastic for sponteneity....er...[laughter] I can think of other words to describe what it produces [tittering] but, erm, anyway, we start the first day. Woody's very quiet and so we run 2 or 3 lines, he says "Cut" and he came over looking sooooo miserable and sad [laughter as Ken physically hunches himself up and adopts a Woodyesque manner]. "So I think, erm, I think, I think you should do it again. Erm, it's too broad. It's like Jerry Lewis [laughter] and er, it's not funny [more laughter]. You shouldn't, you know you shouldn't do it like that." Don't do it the not-funny way. [back into the accent] "Don't do it the not-funny way". And then of course I relaxed after that [much laughter]. So I tried to do it, I tried not to do it the not-funny way [laughter].
MB: Does he ever talk about the ideas behind the film or the concept of the er, character? I mean, does he just give instructions scene by scene; in other words, like rehearse scenes?
KB [jumping in]: No rehearsal. I think he's very anti-anything that would create something that was too prepared, not having the sponteneity that is typical of his films. There's a bit of a, at least in my experience there was, a little bit of an illusion about the notion of improvising in his films. I think that he was very happy for a certain percentage, I don't know, maybe 10 percent, of a kind of, what'd you call it - conversational waffle [Ken begins with his stuttering "well, you know, erm, so, good!" Woody routine to much laughter and clapping].
But actually we got on very well.
He was very kind to me and we chatted away from the film. I don't
think he likes to look at the script in too much of the wrong
kind of actor-worrying detail. But away from the script we talked
lots about what's on in the current cinema. He's very interested
in what's out there. We also talked about sports and his interests
in the political scene. So we talked about all of that but we
didn't tend to talk about er, the part.
MB: But what's interesting is what you said about a lot of these hesitations, repetitions--the defining quality of a Woody Allen script--being all there, like Frankie Howerd's 'ooohs' and 'aaahs'. They are all written in, in fact.
KB: I thought of playing it as Frankie Howerd for a while [big grin from Ken, laughter from audience]. In fact I found that there's something quite --------big bit difficult to hear but seems to be about not wanting to do an irritating Woody impersonation??---- It's a very particular, as far as I can understand it, anyway, it's a very particular kind of comedy, and the character of Lee is a particular kind of Woody Allen comic engine for the piece. And early on where Woody didn't like it, it was almost always where I would try and somehow adjust or adapt or play a different kind of rhythm. I was very struck by the rhythmic quality of the writing. A lot of times it's the necessity to score a nervous energy that adds a kind of pace to the scene, against which other people react - that you can puncture or react to, and to not do that would make the scene go very flat. So he was very keen that that be maintained and inevitably because of the voice in the script, it sounds like him.
MB: There's a key line in the film (Celebrity) where the hack says 'I'm awash with self-contempt' and that to me is the defining (something) character, and indeed Woody Allen's thesis, isn't it, actually, they're aware of their own self-hatred?
KB: And obsessed with it as well. Comically, er, obsessed with it.
MB: What about the thesis of the film? It seems to me that there's a line where someone says, you know, you can define a society by the people it celebrates? That in America now, people are celebrities in their lunch hour, lawyers are celebrities, (something) are celebrities, etc, etc. The idea of talent and fame is being debased and degraded.
KB: Well, he spoke quite passionately at one point about this, er, during a piece of the film where Joe Mantegna's parents, er, are talking about hostages and (puts on an American accent) "Well, what did they ever do? They just got kidnapped, you know, they just became hostages, what is that?" (drops out of American accent) and Woody spoke about the same thing. He's astonished that just by circumstance, albeit in the case of those people, extraordinarily tragic circumstances, that suddenly has produced this dangerous 15 minutes of fame. Another line that talks about this has an odd resonance is when Judy Davis's character says, 'You know, I've just become the kind of woman I always hated and I've never been so happy'.
MB: (I can't work out what Billington is saying - something about the concept of the film and the public.)
KB: Yeah, for whatever we may feel is gratifying about this issue of being a celebrity.
MB: Let's just talk a bit about celebrity and fame, because you lost your anonymity quite early on. You became famous very young. You've been famous for the last 18 years. I mean, obviously, that has some advantage in being able to get things done. It enables you to get projects moving in a waythat you might not otherwise. Are there negative aspects of fame?
KB: I guess there are things that irritate me, I don't feel all that comfortable talking about the downside. It's something that you're aware of, it's a part of what we do, and the cliche's you fully accept that. You have human reactions to the downside of it, but I don't think, that um, I think it's inappropriate on many occasions when celebrities talk about being, uh, I don't really feel much sympathy with the kind of celebrity victim. You know, there are times when, depending on the degree of celebrity, depending on the heat as Hollywood describes it, there are intrusive elements of attention and that's unfair, in anyone's life, not just the life of a celebrity. I think that there are lines you can draw in the sand that are there, and they would be there for everyone. But, otherwise, if you are doing work, privileged work where, you inevitably you are creatively exposing, as an actor, your face, your body, your talent, such as it is, then you have to accept the criticism and sometimes that's taken to a ridiculous extent, and sometimes that's irritating, but it's not a great drama.
MB: But does celebrity insulate you from the lives most people lead, because celebrity carries obviously perks with it. After all you don't have to stand for the bus in the rain anymore, do you, or wait in the Tube for the Northern Line.
KB: Well, you can choose to do
that, though. And that's I think the core of it. It's easy I
think to become identified with the alleged problems of celebrity
and sometimes they're actual and perhaps (something) feedback,
but it's very easy to get carried away and I think it depends
on what point you experience it, how old you are, how able you
are to deal with the some of the intensity, the molestation,
the constant attention, and sometimes that can happen, you know,
explosively and in a very exponential fashion and then it can
be alarming for a while, but then I think you can choose to not
identify with the horrors of that. If you want to stand, wait
for a Tube on the Northern Line, then go and do it. On the whole,
no-one is waking up wondering what we're up to. You know, the
world, people are much much more interested in themselves and,
so you start going crazy when you are worrying that everyone
is somehow thinking about you. They're not. Whatever juicy gossip
might be of interest to them they don't go out of their way to
find it. So once you start assuming that that's the case, then
you live the life that you live. And in a way this issue I think
is much harder for people on primetime television and soap operas
where they are in people's living rooms three or four times a
week, I think that produces a different kind of relationship
with celebrity and I haven't experienced that and in a way, thus
far, have sort of had an entirely acceptable, more than acceptable
level of celebrity experience. Mind you, Woody Allen defines
it as being able to get to the best restaurants. So being a celebrity
gets you to the head of the queue in the best restaurants.
MB: Where were we? Yes, the work you're currently doing as of now, you're editing your film version of Love's Labour's Lost, your fourth Shakespeare project. Love's Labour's Lost is the most beautiful of Shakespeare's comedies, as you well know. But it is also packed with the most incredibly dense, sophisticated, Joycean wordplay, isn't it, especially in England?
KB: Not any more (huge burst of laughter and applause from the audience).
MB: Not any more.
(More laughter - there are more comments which I can't decipher through the laughter.)
KB: Well, I think also it is
the most beautiful of Shakespeare's comedies, but it has this
extraordinary history where, for two hundred years following
Shakespeare's death, where uniquely among the plays it was almost
never performed and essentially it was rediscovered fully, in
this century, with various landmark productions. But the very
issue that you brought up, about the density of the language,
is one of the things that I think makes it preventive and it's
also different in structure, with, you know, four groups - four
women and four men as a quartet.
MB: You've brought songs into it, haven't you, sort of classic songs of the Thirties and Forties.
KB: We have, with embracing the idea that on one level, as I mentioned earlier, it's a classic four-piece boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-boy movie and so the period also seemed to accommodate, just before the Second World War, the idea of that, a world in which this idea the men have at the beginning of the play that it's a great idea to study for three years, to give up women and do all those sort of ennobling, soul-nourishing things and then the four women come along and then (something), but that's the only thing of wars where they have the memory of the awful, tragic events of the previous war and this uncertainty of a world about to change, the idea, that idea being embraced by the king somehow in a blinkered fashion saying I resist the idea that the world is about to be turned upside down again, and then to do what life may not provide the opportunity to do, um, seemed like a good, good place for that play to live and it seems like it's a play that requires a strong directorial inflection. And then so much of the language, the vocabulary of the play deals with, if you like, the transforming power of love, it's not study that makes them sing and dance and become poets, it's love, it's the transforming power of love. It's (something) and that as subject matter, is wonderfully essayed, equally wittily it might be argued, by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
MB: Did you have to ditch a great deal? For example, there is a whole area which is a satire on pedantry. (Something) Nathanial, Holofernes, etc. Does that fit into your world or not?
KB: I hope it does. There's no denying that we edited a lot, we had to do that. In this case, we have a female Holofernes, who becomes Holofernia. Geraldine McEwan is Holofernia - she is very striking. She's the rather matronly head of a college whose aim is to tutor the boys in this academic enterprise, so we try and find, obviously it's a subjective judgement, the essence of what the story is in terms of character and it is also about the way we use or abuse language. But it is definitely an abridged version and we also respond with the songs and the dances to the language of the play which is very much about those things. Granville-Barker wrote a wonderful preface to this play, he begins by saying that the best way to approach this play is through song and dance, both things are referred to always in the play and it does have that quality to it and it seems, thus far anyway, it seems as though the piece is very much responding to that. And although the world of those movies is one in which, you can explore its bittersweet combination and the whole idea of a world in which you can sing and dance, the whole idea of a film which is a celebration of the transforming power of love without a strong edge of cynicism as, say, the character of Benedick has in Much Ado About Nothing. None of the male characters in Love's Labour's Lost has the sort of same sort of set philosophical attitude towards marriage, towards relationships, they're much more disposed to embrace the idea of love.
MB: Except the only thing is, I mean you said boy meets girl, of course in this story boy doesn't get girl, boy again - I'm talking about the end of Love's Labours Lost, at the end of this story Jack does not have Jill, it does defeat, doesn't it, those kind of romantic expectations.
KB: Well I think that ending is something that we respond to, I suppose, depending on our disposition and, it's undoubtedly the case that there's a question mark at the end of the play. One way of responding to it is to see it as a kind of wonderfully heightened holiday romance where everything's very very extreme. Again this sort of pre-war setting seems to somehow to bring that, a time in which people realised that life had changed, and people may die, the world may turn upside down. They're ready to go with the romance of all of this and yet at the end there is this problem where they may not be together and I think Shakespeare, in doing that, still leaves the door to one's own imagination to decide whether after a year, which is the time the girls set the boys to wait, if you like, and a learn a little about constancy, after all, they are the men who vowed solemnly for three years to study and not talk to women and they broke that vow inside of five minutes, so why should they believe them, as it were? And so, I think, he leaves it beautifully ambiguous, I think, and so the romantic can walk away and say, well I think they will be together, he said he loved her, so they will be together and the cynic can say, yeah well give it another five minutes, four more girls will show up and life will go on. So in that way, there's a lovely sort of reality that goes in there.
MB: You made a statement that this is a film or story that needs a directorial inflection and looking again at your three Shakespeare films, what struck me was the very strong idea in each of them of a controlling metaphor or concept, whatever word you want to use, that unlocks the film and obviously in Hamlet, it is the castle, this extraordinary Kafkaesque palace with its secret rooms. In Much Ado, it is obviously the metaphor of the use of the Tuscan countryside. Do you look, when you're planning a film, for something, a visual idea that is going to provide the key, if you like, to the film?
KB: Over a period of years, it
turns out that it seems that the idea, as the film is somehow
marinating, is to find key images or key moments that visually
are consistent with a world, a visual world, a historical world
in which you feel the play will unleash. And it's always a challenge,
because, you know, the stronger the idea, the more specific the
idea, then potentially the more dangerous it is in terms of what
possibly is always a consequence and a casualty of adapting Shakespeare
for the screen that some part of the play or some key idea or
some key theme of the play will be eliminated by the power of
the idea that maybe illuminated, you know, a certain part of
the play. So trying to find a world, and in my case, thus far,
it seems to have been an impressionistic sense of period where
you try and find a world, a period where you think the themes
of the play can come alive, so for instance in Hamlet, the idea
of the late 19th century, a period when European wars were happening
all the time, and borders were changing and so you could believe
that Fortinbras was a very vital and dangerous presence on the
Danish border and where you still could believe the idea of sword-fighting
and all of that. It was trying to find something that enriches
the play cinematically but try not to cut off the play or be
reductive to the power of the play. You try to find a way of
releasing the play rather than sealing it inside a single directorial
idea where, for every winning translation, you know, several
other parts of the play which may be working wonderfully well
and mysteriously for you through great poetry are lost.
MB: And I think the public dimension of the play is very strong. One device you use in your Shakespeare films, just to be very specific, which intrigues me is this use of references to events that are talked about but which the audience would not normally see. Obviously in Henry V, it's the reference back to the Eastcheap Tavern, Falstaff which is very understandable. In Hamlet, I mean, eventually you have subliminal scenes, don't you, Hamlet and Ophelia together in bed, er, you have that scene we see Claudius actually pouring the leprous distillment as it were into the ear of Hamlet's father. I mean, is there a danger in some of those that you could pre-empt what the audience is going to deduce anyway?
KB: There is and it's something
that one constantly challenges and, it's the case with the ghost,
that if you do it, you know, the ambiguity whether the ghost
is real or whether it's accurate or not is something that plays
harmfully with the rest of the story. It's something that is
potentially dangerous and I felt it was justified there. Anywhere
where I felt that there was an argument, a real sustainable screen
argument for, um, going that much further in revealing what,
as a group, actors etc had come up with, in terms of their back
story, in this case very firmly the idea that Ophelia and Hamlet
had had a physical relationship. For us, it made tremendous sense
of her descent into madness and the apparent, to us anyway, logic
of this in one month after the death of Hamlet's father, he's
back in a particular kind of world where Gertrude, having clearly
turned to Claudius rather than Hamlet, to grieve, something that
had she done might well have prevented everything that followed,
that isolates Ophelia, isolated by the world she lives in and
her father that operated the way he did, would very logically
be thrown together with Hamlet who in the intensity of grieving
and research tells us this is often the case, throws himself
into this need to create life, physically create life. It's part
of what people experience in grief and we felt strongly that
we wanted to show it and to make the kind of sense of something
that we felt that (a) cinema offers up, you know, you have these
opportunities, and that makes sense of the rest of Ophelia's
MB: I just find the casting of your films fascinating because you have these wonderful sort of collisions, not collisions, collusions maybe, not collisions but these encounters between Hollywood actors and the veterans of British stage, you know, you find Michael Keaton working alongside Richard Briers or Billy Crystal alongside someone like Simon Russell Beale. This element of, the Hollywood element in the Shakespeare films, is that simply casting for the producers or casting for the money men, or is that you definitely want those actors for those parts?
KB: Well, I do enjoy the difference
that occurs in the room, in the rehearsal room when there are
people from different cultures, different approaches and I do
admire American film acting, very much, and so it is deliberate
if eclectic. I have no rule, there's no rule of thumb. I like
to work with actors I admire, or in this particular instance
have an appetite for the kind of work which is sort of exposing
where, you know, the actor, sometimes with limited experience,
gets to grips with what I think is the challenge in our films
where we are trying to find a marriage between something that
is cinematic but that also values words, where speaking of the
Shakespeare observes very technical and linguistic demands but
also seems effortless and of course to make that kind of thing
seem effortless requires a great deal of effort, a great deal
of energy and investigative work - you've got to work very hard,
you've got to be fit for it. And so, I like to work with actors
who are very excited by that kind of challenge.
MB: How do you feel about people making films with a different Shakespearean tradition to yours - I suppose the classic example is the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet which obviously has this sort of impact, doesn't it, of a rock video, I mean do you find that anathema or what?
KB: No, no I think it's dazzling, dazzling.
MB: But it's a different kind of Shakespeare movie, isn't it?
KB: Um, it's different, it's different. Thus far, I haven't found a way to come right up to the present day without feeling uneasy about some of the anachronistic bits, but I think he covered that brilliantly with the opening moment where the swords become pistols. The way in which language is used, I don't think he has been given enough credit for, the response to the heartbeat of the play, the sex and violence of the play, the real vividness of youthful love which is there, the sex and the danger is very real and compelling and (sorry folks but I cannot decipher the next section of what KB says about this and part of Billington's response).
MB: (Something) You, on the whole, preserve the integrity of the text as much as possible. Obviously for Baz Luhrmann using the text as a springboard for some (something).
KB: Yeah, but I think it is more than that. I think it's a very important film, it was a very, quite frankly, enormous (something).
MB: One thing that does especially intrigue me is the switches you obviously do make - writing, producing, directing ventures amongst others, then you go back to being, as it were, an actor for hire. How difficult is it to make that adjustment? Having been captain of the ship and owner of a shipping line, then being the first painter as it were?
KB: No, though I felt I was in a sailing film there. Carry On Overboard. It turns out to be very very exhausting to do the combination of jobs that I do. Normally when I finish a film that I've directed and acted in, I come up with some line like 'I will never ever ever do this again' and so I will happily then, if I'm asked, go and be an actor for hire, and let someone else do all the worrying, and then of course, the worry expands to fill the vacuum and you worry about your acting non-stop and you don't have that sometime luxury of being so taken up with anything else that's involved in making a film that you don't give yourself a chance for worry or angst about playing a part if you have all that to think about. But then I hug the director on day one and I hug the director the day after it's finished and I look at them and think about what they're going through - Bob Hoskins described being a director as being taken apart by a thousand pieces every day. It's a great privilege but it's one of the hardest occupations,but there's no doubt it's demanding, it's a lot of money, a lot of pressure, it's always intense, intense scenarios, so the emotion is quite, but I would hope now it's something that as a medium with so many angles and so much exposure to many many different approaches to acting that each time now I act in a film that I'm not involved with in any other way, it becomes very exciting to try and make some sort of application of this extraordinary access one has, the very process of filming and rehearsal and working with great actors. To me it's the chief joy of doing the whole of the kit and kaboodle is seeing when acting takes off in some way, it's a mystery, the idea of trying to work out what the circumstances are under which that can happen as readily is an eternal and fascinating a challenge to me. And to have that happen with other movies, to see the kind of choices people make over a series of takes and how and why they may have come up with that kind of choice is very very good, the confidence that they have is something that is (sorry folks I can't decipher the rest of this).
MB: Can I just quickly cover a couple of examples of the acting challenges that you mention there? The Gingerbread Man with Robert Altman. What was he like? Is he an actor's director or not?
KB: Oh he adores actors. He loves
actors. Um and uh, he loves crews. The crew would die for him.
I've never seen such loyalty in a crew for a director and everyone
seems to have worked for him a million times, and he insists
that everyone watches the dailies every day. We were on location
and he got very annoyed if you didn't come - as far as he was
concerned that was the movie. I mean, he's so, he's been around
the block so many times, you know that putting his eggs in a
basket and watching them over the weekend and all type of thing
and the whole nightmare of (something) action, especially if
you work with the wrong kinds of partners and he's very worried
therefore about making the film and all the dailies he produces,
you wouldn't believe how many dailies, and he's an absolute maestro
at organising chaos. You didn't know what was going on half the
MB: I think its fair to invite questions from the audience now. We've got about 20 minutes left.
[audience member makes comments on In The Bleak Midwinter - how much she enjoyed it, how it shows a love of actors and acting etc]
KB: Well thank you very much [big grin]. I'm glad you feel that. I don't know if everyone heard that, it was a story about In the Bleak Midwinter and attitudes to actors. I think I will say that then I was in a very romantic moment about acting at that time but, [laughter] the best part, er. I talked earlier about, you know, being fascinated by watching actors work, and I am. It really, it's a thing that's just so mysterious and fascinating, especially when it's effortless, apparently, especially when you can't see what's going on and you're utterly moved and compelled and all the rest of it, and the best time that I've had exploring that in either theatre companies or in fact, what we've essentially done with the Shakespeare films, is essentially to recreate the same kind of thing. Where there is a sort of loose ensemble and essentially the same kind of work - it's a combination of, you know, the company and new people, having the luxury and privilege of this *struggle* to just try and do something very well. The film kept trying to say 'I know it's not your intention but in its own way' you know, ---short incomprehensible sentence---
MB: Is that a film...I'll just interfere on that question if I may, er, is that a film in any way, erm, in a sort of Woody Allen mode - before you'd worked with Woody Allen?
KB: Oh, it's a shameless, shameless rip-off [much laughter]. Shameless! Simply, a series of copycat shots [said with tongue firmly in cheek; more laughter from audience]. Partly because there was no money for that film. Everyone on that movie got paid four hundred pounds per week, including Joan Collins, and the drivers and the caterers and everybody. It was a democratic process there. In fact we did sell it for a little more than it was made for and the cast and every single body on that crew got a cheque for a couple of pounds profit - I, what was your question? [laughter] I've just gone completely off! [laughter again]
MB: It was about Woody Allen, how did -
KB: [interjecting] Exactly! Woody Allen, yes! We had no money, right and so, ---difficult to catch because he's now in full enthusiastic flow--- there were lots of sort of static camera shots and I love it when people go out of shot and come back in. And, and where it's all about the actors and the internal pace of the scene is completely dictated by the actors. I love that, I love that! [laughter] But it's a shameless rip off -----something further about nicking from Woody Allen--- [laughter]
MB: A question there. [question from audience] That's a good question. Do you have a desire to direct in the theatre again?
KB: At the moment, as I've mentioned earlier, a lot of what I love, loved about the theatre er, has been immediately and fantastically available to me in the work that we've done in the cinema. So er, for me, the problem, my problem with the theatre is, as opposed to what I'm doing at the moment, is one of economics. It's just that its kind of frustrating ---?--- you work in the theatre and it's available to a relatively small number of people and with what we're trying to do I'm excited at the prospect of getting more people, and getting to them the same kind of challenging work ---fast talking!--- and because film is a little more financially accessible. So at the moment that's it in a nutshell, but I'm sure that I'll return.
[question from audience] MB: That's directing, what about acting in the theatre?
KB: Well, it's entirely the same answer, of er, enjoying obviously the camaraderie that's being achieved with the kind of work we do on film and this question of accessibility. But I do miss the, and I don't mean this in the wrong kind of way, [stammering] there's a certain kind of importance that I can feel in my mailbag, and I don't mean that in a pretentious way, there's an importance in what we're doing getting things out to people. But I *do* miss the live experience. As and when I get back, I hope it'll be touring, because that's what I'd like to do. We'd come to London as well, but I'd like to tour. I'm sure it'll happen sooner rather than later.
[question from the audience] MB: I'm sure everyone heard that! Is it odd to have a retrospective (of your work) before you're forty? [laughter]
KB: The reason I'm here tonight is because of my sister who's also here tonight, because when she read about this she rang up to check I wasn't dead [laughter]. So I came along to absolutely confirm that I was not retrospectivised and dead [laughter] But it's also very flattering, very humbling in fact. It's also very delightful for my mum and dad, who are thrilled to bits [laughter]
[question from the audience about how Ken seems fearless!]
MB: I'll summarise your question which is about how do you put aside the fear and doubts that you're prey to?
KB: You certainly don't put it aside for a moment. ---- something about contacting Derek Jacobi---- way, way back in 88 when I asked him to direct for our theatre company Renaissance, it literally took two days of walking round the flat, rehearsing what I was going to say, then writing it out and then, I'm sure he must have thought he had a stalker or something [laughter] I rang up several times and put the phone down! [laughter] I had a very shakey, shakey hand and er, ------- I was petrified. It's a paradoxical thing. -----too much tape hiss, audience coughing and shuffling :( ------- I have some kind of enjoyment of the gladatorial aspect of what we do.--------
MB: Does the panic and fear get less with time or not?
KB: No, it doesn't. One rarely speaks about it because you just think 'Oh shut up and get on with it, or do another job for chrissakes! [laughter] [puts on his best 'luvvy' voice] 'It's all so difficult you know. [laughter] I get terribly nervous and'. Of course you can do that, there was a case during LLL. You know, cueing the scene, dancing -you know, except for I'm not Fred Astaire I can tell you. [laughter] But, I love those films and I love singing and dancing, and I ---hope to take it to a higher level [laughter] ---- It's important, because people take their looks from you and so you do have to be optimistic. But for sure, every *single* morning in rehearsals for that. Every day, that terrible knot in the stomach and the fear that you'll be found out, that you won't be able to help people or you can't do a scene or you're CRAP [laughter]. You can cut that out! [more laughter] -------
MB: People in the theatre obviously have days when they don't feel like doing it, don't feel up to it - that sort of thing. In film there's some way of hiding that If you've got a headache or just feel unwell then *lots of audience coughing obscuring the rest*
KB: *a bit more coughing, something about turning up without an idea* It's part of the challenge and sometimes the excitement of being a director *incomprehensible* God knows how many of the cast will have an idea so it's OK to say that you don't know, I mean it's taken a long time for me to be able to do that *noisy* the genuine moment when you say you don't have an idea
[question from the audience - if a film performance is crap then you can always cut it out, is it an ultimate high then when on stage things fall into place and you produce an incredible performance?]
KB: Erm, I don't know if it is often a high to me, although it's extraordinary when that happens, it's extraordinary when it happens amongst a company. We did a tour of King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1990, playing them over there for many months -- incomprehensible -- Alone, almost over 9 months, there was one performance which seemed to us. Something remarkable happened -incomprehensible - you could feel the audience responding, a higher 'something' happened. There was heartbreak and emotion, and really excitement and passion. Er, and for one night only. So those kind of moments --incomprehensible--- at the same time and still ---- I do rather but the side of trying to capture, if you like, separately, all those moments at that kind of rare excitement ---incomprehensible-- across a film. In fact, if you can produce through some sense of confidence, through rehearsal and through the plan of the process, you can invest the *whole* film with that. I think it does transmit itself. In a way, making a film's theatrical (?) and in a sense what I'm trying to find is unusual in film [this is difficult to catch but I think the gist is that he tries to keep the sense of theatre in his films, in the environment in which they are made]
MB: ... the lady in the red sweater ...
Our own fair Laura:
LM: You seem to go for the straight comedies, which are beautiful and charming, but I wonder how you feel as an actor and director about the so-called "problem-plays" like Measure For Measure?
KB: Well for me, the process of getting to the point where I might think of doing one, is that sometimes I've done it in the theatre. It means a long relationship with the play, whatever that is, and reading and re-reading, seeing or listening to it on video or audio-cassette. I don't find myself currently in a kind of er, you know, particularly meaningful relationship with for instance that piece of work. I'm very interested in Troilus and Cressida, I quite like that --incomprehensible bit of fast talking-- I think at various points in your life, different plays speak to you in different ways so perhaps I'll have a mid-life crisis and all the problem plays will be there [laughter].
[question from the audience about the development of his relationship with music in films]
MB: What is your relationship with music and how has it changed?
KB: Well it does change. You may know I've done a lot of work with the composer Patrick Doyle who's composed many of the soundtracks for our films. It's something that he and I have talked about a lot and we probably have overdone it sometimes. So we're constantly trying to work on that. For Loves Labour's Lost which has the kind of structure for a musical --- incomprehensible-- where we get to the point where there is no longer a need to speak, there is a requirement to sing. Somehow the emotional point of the play requires you to sing. This play for me had those moments so that, er, some of the people in the 19th century said it was Mozartian --inaudible-- One moment he uses --- He talks about the nature of love, he talks about [here Kens tone initially doesn't change, but somehow it becomes more intimate as he continues on and you are drawn in...] how
A lover's eye will gaze an eagle blind.
MB: What gave you the guts to go out and make Henry V as your first film given the Olivier comparisons?
KB: One has to try to put aside the Oliver and any kind of er, you know, futile competition. The compulsion was to make the film in the way that the play speaks today. Suddenly I didn't fully understand, but was in the grip of the passion but assumed, er had the hope that with the theatrical history of that play that at the time there were many interpretations of it available - as there are for all the plays -- different generations and historical moments --- Certainly the idea of a different film of that kind something totally different from a theatrical production. And I suppose I just tried not to think of it very much [laughter]. His film was a long time ago and we're not doing it the same way. Were not quite as colourful and dandy [laughter] I just tried not to think about it essentially and because I also wholeheartedly admired the other film and so I didn't er feel as though there was a competition. I felt it would be important to have the, er you know, repectful but not reverential attitude towards previous productions of the play that one has in the theatre and not sort of assume because a film was made of that play it's off-limits, even a great one by someone like Olivier.
[question from our own dear Isabel]
EO: First of all congratulations because I think that your work is terrifically good. We want to know something more about your next projects - with Shakespeare plays and not Shakespeare. Thanks.
KB: Errrrrrm, ah, the next film I'm appearing in is Celebrity and after that a film which is released here in August called Wild Wild West directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, in which I play the brilliant and diabolical Dr Loveless [laughter] whose er, taking over the world. [beat] Big stretch for me there. [much laughter] And then we hope very much to ---- make our next project Shakespeare's Scottish play, the name of which I'm not going to say in here. Forgive me for being a wussy old superstitious thing.
MB: You could call it 'The Scottish play'!
[Incomprehensible reply with much laughter - sorry can't catch or remember what was said]
MB: All your Shakespeare films hithertoo have, they've always seen you prepare in the theatre. This is the first one you haven't.
KB: I haven't, I haven't.---missed--
[question from audience] MB: -----can't catch this either-----
KB: Well it's an interesting issue. I mean, I hope I suppose, that what we're doing with this film and the passion for doing it comes from a passion for the film musicals of the er, 30's, 40's and 50's. Enthusiasm about the ------ the smile on your face, the lightness of touch, the charm etcetera, the brilliance that is er, something that was a wonderful world to be part of -----. I'm on the side of enthusiasm for something which talks about the same subject matter, but in a different way, making it easier in a different way, in a different medium, in Love's Labour's Lost. And yet both to my mind anyway, equally brilliant ----- a *massive*, massive, amount of heart. -------------song and dance with the play. It's certainly been an ambition to do that.
[question from audience]
MB: Can I paraphrase quickly, have literary critics been of help and influenced you as you prepare your films?
KB: I think they're marvellous [laughter]. Marvellous job you do. [much laughter]-------inaudible------------ Mysterious thing, about the plays themselves------The Scottish play contains a lot about witchcraft-----I've been reading about the context in which the play was performed and how it related to say the Gunpowder plot------ Indeed, the whole Shakespeare film thing has thrown up quite a lot of literature now about the plays and er, is I think always helpful, so I get it anywhere I can.
MB: We have to end it there but just before we depart, I think you've got a little surprise in store. I think you've got, have you not, a clip from the all-singing, all-dancing version of Love's Labour's Lost [loud gasps from audience]
KB: No, don't hold your breath. [laughter]. It's what we call work in progress. This is er a number from the play. It precedes a moment in the play where the boys and girls have met.... this has literally just come from Shepperton this, this reel and so we haven't had time to practise so I hope it's in synch and everything okay. So, but anyway, so it's a moment which precedes one where Berowne and Rosaline meet for the er first time with the rest of the boys and girls. And er, he says 'did I not dance with you in Brabant once?' and she says 'did I not dance with you in Brabant once?' and he says 'I know you did!' and so she says 'how needless then was it to ask the question' [laughter] but not only does she say *that* but she goes on to sing the response...
MB: Just before we see the clip, can I thank Kenneth Branagh on your behalf for giving us an absolutely smashing evening. [prolonged applause]
Start of clip and end of interview.