From TV Guide (Canada)
By Greg David
Established star of both the stage and screen, Kenneth Branagh takes on the lead role of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton in A&E's four-hour miniseries "Shackleton", airing April 7 and 8, ET 8 pm/PT 7 pm (reviewed in the April 6, 2002 issue of TV GUIDE). The movie traces the steps of the British explorer as he and 27 men attempt to be the first to cross the Antarctic in 1917. After becoming trapped in pack ice, the men had to struggle for their survival. TV GUIDE writer Greg David spoke to Branagh about playing the British explorer plus his role in the new "Harry Potter" movie.
TV GUIDE: Let's talk a little bit about "Shackleton." This project and [chilling Holocaust TV-movie] "Conspiracy" seem to be departures for you, doing TV-movies. Did you find the experience rewarding?
Kenneth Branagh: Yes! In both cases it had to do with exceptional material. Really sensational writing and two very opposite but fascinating characters. You look for that and if you're lucky enough you find it on the stage, on the screen, on television and they came my way within a short period of time. I knew ["Shackleton" director] Charles Sturridge's work very well and I admired him enormously and I was very aware of Shackleton. I have a friend ... who has actively talked about Shackleton and I'm an avid reader of explorer and adventure books, so it was an eat and drink for me.
TVG: So, you did know something about Shackleton before you agreed to do the part?
KB: I was aware. In the last ten years there's been a resurgence of awareness and interest in Shackleton that's hard not to be aware of. However many times you read about the accounts [of his journey], whether it's his own or books that have been written about it ... it remains an awe-inspiringly impressive tale.
TVG: You obviously did a lot of research on the man in preparation for the project. Did you at any point wonder, during your research, if he was gambling with the lives of his crew just to satisfy his own ego?
KB: No, at no point did I think that. I mean, you could argue that the expedition itself was an implicit gamble. Many people would argue, particularly the British expeditions, were to a certain extent unprepared. Neither Shackleton nor Scott were experts in the use of dogs. The dogs that Shackleton used and the dog handlers disappeared early on in the expedition. I think the triumph [with Shackleton] is the priority of human life was absolutely the thing for him. He quickly realized that if circumstances were against him, the important thing was to get home alive and not simply to win the prize.
TVG: He was a very driven man ...
KB: He certainly was. To a certain extent he was an outsider, you know Irish coming to England and in relative terms an impoverished family. He didn't have the background or the connections in which to swim in the circles that he'd like to. He relied on his wife's income, which was a cause of some embarrassment I think and a shame to him. Various business ventures went wrong. I think he discovered – whether it was his best attribute or not – was that he was at his best under pressure. As he once said "I'm at my best in the wild with men." That seemed to be his particular strength. When it came to raising a family or making a living he was less successful. He had the drive to prove that he could be the best that he could be.
TVG: Would you do a TV movie again?
KB: It's completely dependent on various elements. First would be the script and then the director. With some luxury of choice, you follow your instinct. And one of the things you realize when you do television and you haven't done it in a while is that you're aware of the massive instant impact of the piece in terms of numbers. A film you might spend 18 months on or in my case might be considered an art-house movie, you struggle with the film for quite some time and a few hundred thousand may see it in one territory and on one night in television, four or five million people see it. It was quite exciting to be back in that medium and the degree of immediacy.
TVG: Were there any challenges that you weren't ready for, like the environment? It looked cold on those shoots in Greenland.
KB: It was certainly cold, but nothing like what the real men would have been through in any shape of form, but you did find yourself aware of what they constantly talked about in their diaries. You become obsessively interested in food and in keeping warm, particularly keeping your feet warm. The surface of the ice was constantly shifting and icebergs would appear that weren't there 20 minutes ago. We were on bergs that began to break up and we had to move pretty sharp to get out of the way.
TVG: What are your next project(s)?
KB: I return to the set of "Harry Potter," where I will finish my role as Gilderoy Lockhart in the second "Harry Potter" movie, "The Chamber of Secrets."
TVG: Right, how is that going?
KB: Very well, very enjoyable. Daniel [Radcliffe] and Rupert [Grint] and Emma [Watson] are just delightful young people. There's a real family atmosphere on that film and it's a big tribute to Chris Columbus, who's the director. It's an enormous movie. I've never seen so many people on a set. It's an enormous undertaking and really a fascinating experience to be around that scale of filmmaking. I mean, logistically the kids have all got to go to school, the physical management of the children ... it's sort of a military operation in itself. Plus the scale of the sets and the detail of the sets. It's quite something to be a part of. The atmosphere is very warm and [Columbus] is a good leader.
Read Greg David's review of "Shackleton" in the April 6, 2002 issue of TV GUIDE, on newstands April 1.
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