Branagh Does Woody, By Woody, For Woody

Ottawa Citizen, November 18 1998
by Jamie Portman

Kenneth Branagh says it only makes sense that in Woody Allen's new film, Celebrity, he should be doing an uncannily accurate impersonation of Woody in all his quivering, neurotic glory.

"After all, I am playing the Woody part," Branagh says.

Allen kept himself behind the cameras for his new black-and-white comedy, which takes an abrasively satirical look at the culture of celebrity. But Branagh had a field day taking on his director's nervous, gulping mannerisms and giving an Allenesque flavour to such speeches as "Really? Great, great ... cause I don't wanna be, uh ..."

Branagh jokes that having Allen write the lines for his character was a great help. More seriously, the British actor says that Celebrity was one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.

In the film, which opens Friday in most cities, Branagh plays a journalist who becomes involved in the lives of the famous (among them, Leonardo De Caprio as a pampered film star). Judy Davis co-stars as his estranged wife. Normally, the obsessively secretive Allen allows his actors only to see those script pages in which they're actually involved -- but not this time.

"Judy and I did get a full copy of the script, which was an unprecedented move by Woody," Branagh reports. "But it did mean that we spent a lot of time dealing with other cast members when they came knocking at our doors wanting to know what the film was about.

"Working with Woody was very interesting. I found that he directed much more than people led me to believe he would. He was very specific about what he wanted, and although he likes a degree of improvisation, he's also very concerned to protect the integrity of the script.

"The small percentage of improvisation he allows is only to protect a sort of natural rhythm, to ensure you don't get any sense of conscious performing. But he was pretty strict about doing something word for word, which I was delighted about because he writes much better than I, for one, can improvise."

Branagh was also impressed by the closeness of Woody's relationship with his actors. "I'd been led to believe he was much more remote."

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