Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Finds `Wild West' Role a Midsummer Dream

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Shakespearean Actor Kenneth Branagh Finds `Wild West' Role a Midsummer Dream

Article excerpt

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- My first meeting with Kenneth Branagh, then unknown in America, was over a veal chop in the dining room of the Beverly Hills Hotel on a summer night in 1987.

And did we talk about Shakespeare? Not at all. Branagh, who had never before been to the United States, had been flown from London to Hollywood by PBS for a TV miniseries, Fortunes of War. In it, he co-starred with his then-fiancee Emma Thompson, who was seated at the next table. He was fascinated, totally enthralled, with the American idea of being able to turn right on red at a traffic light.

"If the light is red and it means stop, how, possibly, could you go ahead and turn right?" he asked. "I was out today driving Em about, and people were quite impatient with me, because I wouldn't go through the red light. I was rather worried. Is it true that everyone here has a gun in their car? Would they possibly shoot at me, if I don't go through the light?"

He then hit me with his second most profound question of the night. "Could you give me directions to Disneyland? I'm driving Em there tomorrow." He was puzzled that I didn't have specific enough directions. "I thought every American knew how to drive to Disneyland," he said.

Already, even in 1987, Branagh had been hailed as the golden boy of British theater -- "the next Laurence Olivier."

Since then, a lot of water has passed beneath London bridge, and all other bridges. He formed his own theater company. He married Thompson, and he co-starred with and directed her in Henry V, Dead Again, Peter's Friends and Much Ado About Nothing. They became known internationally as the gorgeous Ken and Em, and were regularly compared to the Oliviers. Identical to Sir Larry, he was nominated for an Oscar for both directing and acting in a film version of Shakespeare's Henry V.

But things went awry. Branagh's version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with a budget of $43 million, was a disaster. He said that he "had to make an appointment" to meet his wife. They broke up. He now lives with ultra-pale British beauty Helena Bonham Carter, whom he met on the set of Frankenstein.

Flash to the present. …

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