Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Express YOURSELF; Sir Kenneth Branagh Has Recruited an A-List Cast for the Retelling of Agatha Christie's Classic Mystery Murder on the Orient Express. the Stars Talk to LAURA HARDING about the Enduring Appeal of Christie's Work and the Pressures of Being Directed by an Acting Legend I Considered an ON THE BIG SCREEN

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Express YOURSELF; Sir Kenneth Branagh Has Recruited an A-List Cast for the Retelling of Agatha Christie's Classic Mystery Murder on the Orient Express. the Stars Talk to LAURA HARDING about the Enduring Appeal of Christie's Work and the Pressures of Being Directed by an Acting Legend I Considered an ON THE BIG SCREEN

Article excerpt

ALUXURY train has derailed in the middle of nowhere. Snow is falling and one of the passengers just turned up dead. So the stage is set for Murder On The Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie's most beloved and enduring murder mysteries.

Published in 1934, the timeless whodunnit - which leaves Hercule Poirot to determine which of the passengers is the culprit - has now been re-imagined for the big screen by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who not only directs the classic tale but also takes on the role of the mustachioed sleuth.

He leads a line-up of acting talent so starry it will make your head spin and includes Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe and Josh Gad.

While the double duty of starring and directing may sound like a lot of work, it made perfect sense to Sir Kenneth, who thought playing Poirot in front of the camera went hand in hand with being the film-maker behind it.

"It felt that there was a way in which those two things were very congruent with one person doing the same job because, crucially, I think Hercule Poirot is a director," he says.

"He directs the characters, and like a director, Poirot intuitively tries to listen to the way in which he can be specific and bespoke about how to create the mood that's required for each interrogation."

But being directed by an actor of Sir Kenneth's calibre was not without its stresses for Olivia Colman, who plays Hildegarde Schmidt, the maid to disgruntled Russian Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, played with dissatisfied aplomb by Dame Judi.

"Being directed by someone you know could do what you're doing, probably better than you, you don't want to let him down," she says.

There was also the added pressure of trying to impress Dame Judi, an actress she admires so much she skipped collecting her Golden Globe for The Night Manager so as not to miss a day of filming.

"If there is a choice, you would always choose Judi Dench," she says.

"I genuinely didn't think I was in with a chance anyway, I thought it wouldn't matter and no one would mind not going to the thing.

"When she found out that I had won something, I think there was a bit of 'silly girl, why are you here?"' The process was somewhat more relaxed for Sir Derek, a frequent collaborator with Sir Kenneth, who plays butler Edward Masterman.

"He has such humour, such humanity, such talent and he's a great actor and a great director," he says of the film-maker.

It was at the director's behest that Sir Derek, often hailed as one of the best classical actors of his generation, adopted an east London accent for the part.

"I quite enjoyed it," he says, "as I think I'm sometimes considered a bit posh as an actor, you know: classical and Shakespearean, so it's very nice to come down to earth occasionally!" BIG " It also helped that the star is a connoisseur of the Christie canon, having first seen The Mousetrap with his parents when he was 13. …

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