Shake, Rattle and Role...How Ken Came Back From a Nervous Start

Yorkshire Post, 13 March 2008
By Nick Ahad

**Thanks, Jude

The last time he was on stage in Yorkshire Kenneth Branagh asked one of his fellow actors what was the worst case of nerves he had witnessed. The actor looked at Branagh and told him: "Yours."

This admission relates to his performance of 'Richard III', which he played on what he calls the "magical" stage of the Sheffield Crucible in 2002. Directed by then artistic director of Sheffield Theatres Michael Grandage, who will soon direct Branagh in the lead role in a Tom Stoppard version of Chekhov's first play Ivanov, Branagh's interpretation of the king was hailed as a triumph.

"We decided that Richard would come on stage in a big metal contraption that stretched him out, then be released from it and the audience would see him twist into his stooped shape with his curved spine," explains Branagh.

"On the first night I was at the side of the stage and there was a rattling noise it was me strapped into this cage with a jock strap, rattling the chains with nerves."

Branagh is charm itself. He is chirpy, fun and accommodating far more than might be expected early on a Sunday morning.

Perhaps the fact that Branagh is in Yorkshire to collect a fellowship from the Bradford International Film Festival (BIFF) has put him in a good mood. Or perhaps it is the untypical bright weather that greets him on his first trip to Bradford.

"I was led to believe that the sun doesn't always shine here; friends have told me that there can be rain in the city from time to time," he jokes.

"I've just seen that wonderful statue of JB Priestley on the way in. That really is marvellous. He is one of my literary heroes, gave me hours of pleasure when I was younger, so I thought it was a good sign."

While making his way to the National Media Museum in Bradford, home to the BIFF, for a sell-out stage interview with the festival's artistic director and Yorkshire Post film critic Tony Earnshaw, Branagh was stopped by a member of the public.

"I met a fellow outside who had seen a film I did called 'Conspiracy', in which I played Reinhard Heydrich, and he told me about what the film meant to him, and that was nice to have a chat about that," he says.

"The wonderful thing is that I'll be somewhere in the world and a six-year-old child might point at me and say 'Professor Lockhart'. Film is a very strange and powerful medium."

Recognition for roles as diverse as the man who instigated the Nazis' Final Solution and the narcissistic Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter movies show the breadth of work the actor, director, writer and producer has achieved in his career.

The signs were always good for Branagh, but few could have predicted just how meteoric his rise would be when he graduated from RADA in 1981.

A West End award for best newcomer in 'Another Country 'pricked up ears.

A ludicrously ambitious self-produced project, 'The Madness', based on Tennyson's poem Maud, saw him learn 1,400 lines of verse for the one-man show. The notices made heads turn. An enormously praised 'Henry V' at the age of 23 for the RSC, and he had arrived.

Hits came and went occasionally films such as 'Mary Shelley's Frankenstein' proved Ken was mortal after all and then came what many considered the apotheosis of his career, 'Hamlet', in 1996, which was screened after his appearance.

Branagh isn't in the audience, and not just because he is pressed for time, being in the middle of filming a new Richard Curtis movie "the reason for this strange moustache".

"I haven't seen 'Henry V' in 20 years," he says. "When you are finishing a film, you watch it so many times then you really can't bear to watch it again.

"I finished making 'The Magic Flute' last year and at the beginning I remember listening to the music and wondering how you could possibly ever get tired of hearing it.

"It took three years to make the film and after listening to it every single day, well, some of the music from the opera came on the radio the other day and I lunged at the dial. You end up feeling punch drunk from seeing and hearing the same thing day after day."

The Bradford International Film Festival is at the National Media Museum and runs until Saturday.

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