Magazine article Variety

Branagh's Rise from Belfast to 'Dunkirk'

Magazine article Variety

Branagh's Rise from Belfast to 'Dunkirk'

Article excerpt

Kenneth Branagh's career spans 30 years of grand cinematic accomplishments. Able to jump from acting to directing with total ease, the fivetime Oscar nominee starred earlier this year in Christopher Nolan's WWII blockbuster and awards hopeful "Dunkirk." He is getting ready to release his latest dual effort as actor-cum-director, this November's "Murder on the Orient Express." After that, he'll direct "Artemis Fowl" for Disney.

"It's been a great year and I'm enjoying every moment of it," says Branagh, who will be honored with an imprint ceremony Oct. 26 in the TCL Chinese Theatre forecourt. "Doing 'Dunkirk' was an experience I'll never forget, and considering that I loved Sidney Lumet's original and Agatha Christie's novel, I'm excited to be bringing this new version of 'Orient Express' to life. I love train films and confined thrillers, and by doing it in 70mm, we really wanted to put the audience on that train."

Branagh spent his childhood enamored with acting and classic big screen fare.

"Some of my favorite films include David Lean's 'A Passage to India' and John Ford's 'The Searchers,'" he says. "I saw those with my family, and I quickly became obsessed with the widescreen format and the compositional nature of the frame."

After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, the Belfastborn Branagh received acclaim for his work on the British stage as an actor and director. He cut his teeth performing and directing plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, a period he describes as "intrinsically important to my growth as an artist."

But it was 1989's Oscar-nominated "Henry V" that catapulted Branagh to international stardom.

"'Henry V' opened a lot of doors," Branagh says. "We had to get past the Shakespeare fear factor, and we did it with a directness that thankfully worked for modern audiences."

Some of Branagh's other Shakespeare screen adaptations include 1993's charming and whimsical "Much Ado About Nothing," 1995's gothic and intense "Othello," and his stunning 70mm treatment of "Hamlet" in 1996, which was "both a challenge and a blessing, and one of the films I'm most proud of."

In 1991, Branagh's romantic drama "Dead Again" became a critical and box-office hit.

"Scott Frank is a magnificent screenwriter and the double roles in his reincarnation thriller were the stuff of a young actor's fantasy" Branagh says. "It's a genre I love and it gives me enormous pleasure to have seen a favorite picture develop a cult following."

Branagh's ability to confidently switch between playing the hero and the villain is yet another dimension to him as a thespian that continually proves to be surprising.

"Good guys are hard to play because it can be challenging to add in that bit of complexity of character for the audience," he says. "Playing the villain can be delicious and beautiful because it gives off a feeling of release for the actor when you're portraying someone who exhibits reckless morality."

When it comes to acting vs. directing, Branagh enjoys tackling both disciplines. "I love getting directly involved in all aspects, and I relish the work," he says. "It's all about looking for every way to make it fresh, and when I'm acting and directing, it becomes a symbiotic combination that feels natural."

One of his most dynamic and memorable performances is in Phillip Noyce's shattering 2002 Aboriginal drama "Rabbit-Proof Fence."

"That was a great moment of watching a terrific director working with the perfect material," Branagh says. …

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