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When Kenneth Branagh agreed to direct Disney’s Cinderella (which opens March 13), he knew everything rested on the casting, and said he put his eventual choice, Lily James, through as many as nine different auditions.
“You don’t know that you’re going to make the movie until you make that piece of casting,” he said Feb. 25, speaking to students at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film & Television. “You have to find the actor. It was a long process. I joined Cinderella, and they’d been working for a little while. There had been some screen tests. They’d seen hundreds and hundreds of girls. And Lily came in to read for one of the stepsisters. I remember [the casting director had] sent me a tape, and I was going to grab something, and I heard her. It was literally the voice to start with, because it’s that warmth, those colors, that we needed.”
Branagh, 54, took part in the interview series The Hollywood Masters, which this season also includes Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Quincy Jones, Gale Anne Hurd, Ken Burns and Ethan Hawke.
The five-time Oscar nominee, who received his first two Oscar nominations for starring in and directing 1989’s Henry V, said that even though it’s been 15 years since his last Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost, he is ready to tackle another.
“A Shakespeare that I will do that I haven’t done is The Winter’s Tale,” he said. “They’re all unbelievably difficult, and all unbelievably simple. You could also argue that’s a very simple play, and it’s interesting to me that I’m attracted to it, because I’ve just made a film which is a fairy tale, and you could argue that The Winter’s Tale is a fairy tale. But those stories [the late Shakespeare plays] are very dense. They appear on the surface to be simple fables or morality tales, but they just reach much further down into psychological depths than one imagines.”
He said his decision not to direct the sequel to Thor had nothing to do with Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige’s considerable input. “It was a long time [making the first film] and they were way too quick for me to get straight back into another,” he noted. “[But] it was a pleasurable experience and a film I’m very proud of.”
Speaking of Feige, he added: “Kevin is a muller, he goes away and he thinks. When we came to cast the two boys, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, that was a long process. And even on the morning in which we made the calls, we came in, and I remember Kevin wandering around this tiny little conference table. It’s just me and him and one of the executives on that Saturday morning. I’d already booked a call to Hemsworth and to Hiddleston — and he still wasn’t sure whether we were going to go with this. I kept saying, ‘It’s these guys. It is these two guys. Chris Hemsworth is Thor. Tom Hiddleston is Loki. You’re going to be OK.’ And he knew it. We made the call and it was lovely, but it takes a long time to do it. Working with Kevin is very, very enjoyable. I regard him as a very, very dear friend, [but] that process is very unusual.”
Watch the video of the Q&A below, and read the full transcript starting on the next page.
GALLOWAY: Hi everyone. I’m Stephen Galloway and welcome to The Hollywood Masters, filmed on the campus of Loyola Marymount University. I have a special warmth for our guest today, and not just because he grew up a few miles from where I did in England. I remember hearing his name, and people talking about “Kenneth Branagh, Kenneth Branagh,” and not knowing who he was — and then I saw Henry V, and it was astounding. And I read his book, which I really recommend to you — he wrote an autobiography when he was 28 or 29 years old, and it’s actually very good — and he talks about what goes into making it. For all of you who want to be directors, actors, you expect things to be easy and they’re not, and that book will tell you just what went into it. He’s gone on from there to do several Shakespeare films, wonderful performances on some television miniseries; he’s played Roosevelt, he’s appeared in Valkyrie, he’s directed films including Thor, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, in addition to Henry V. We’re also going to see a clip later of his new film, Cinderella. I’m thrilled to welcome Sir Kenneth Branagh. [APPLAUSE]
BRANAGH: Hello. Thank you.
GALLOWAY: Spring 1970, you were living in Ireland. You weren’t born English. And then you made this huge move over the sea into a completely different world. What was going on in Ireland then? Tell us about your background and why did you make the move?
BRANAGH: I was born in Belfast, in 1960. And my father was a joiner, or carpenter, as you might say, but that was a very specific kind of carpenter, a joiner. Brilliant with his hands, a practical gift that I have not inherited in any way, shape or form, my wife could report conclusively and disappointedly. But he was a great fellow, but he, in the ’60s, in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, there was the resurgence of what were called The Troubles, and it was the political conflict between Catholic and Protestant groups in the North of Ireland, which really kicked off sort of spectacularly in sort of ’66, by about ’69, ’70, it was very intense, but my father also had started to work away in England, and so he got a job, and we who were settled in, they each had enormous numbers of siblings, my mother had was it 10 or 11 brothers and sisters, and my, the Irish of course didn’t believe in contraception. And the Irish working class, it was what they did to keep warm, as my father used to say.
GALLOWAY: Don’t we all?
BRANAGH: So he had lots of brothers and sisters. Anyway, we had tons of cousins, and life was very secure, big extended family, so we came out, this small nuclear family. My brother and my soon to be sister, the three of us in the end, quickly, when we got to Reading in Berkshire, Reading’s about 40 miles west of London, Oscar Wilde once said the best way to see Reading is going through it on a train. He however had been in prison there, so he had a particular grudge against the place. But not as bad as he said, but, and very interesting in lots of ways, but we came and, in 1970, we started this sort of new life, and I always think that when I was in Belfast, I had the strong sense that I knew exactly who I was. You know, it was, although Belfast is a city, it’s a small, it’s a village city if you like, and you, I felt then, in what seems like a sort of golden world, you could go to, you know, you went to school on your own from quite early on, you were unaccompanied, you couldn’t get lost, it felt like the city was so small that everybody knew who you are, and obviously with that many cousins and uncles and aunties, quite a lot of people did know who you were, frankly. And it was a very tight knit working class community. So we came and were, you know, then it was pretty traumatic to come to a little jump up, slightly bigger house, you know, still quite a small house, but a slightly bigger house, and we spoke with very broad, Northern Irish accents and we were in the middle of a piece of Southeast England that was rather sort of warm and cozy and middle class, and they were all perfectly fine, but we were kind of fish out of water. And it was the beginning really, although, you know it’s difficult to sort of psychoanalyze yourself but you know, I remember just people didn’t understand what we were saying very clearly at that point, it wasn’t an accent that people were very familiar with, it hadn’t been on the television much, it became very, you know, always was a beautiful accent, just wasn’t very well known, people were quite intolerant of it. So across the following years, I suppose the accent changed, my accent changed. My parents, I think found it very, very difficult. And in a way, you know it was, one kind of, you know sort of, in a way one retreated into books and films and TV, and imaginative ways of dealing with, in lots of ways being sort of lonely. And not knowing who you were, ’cause now you didn’t speak like everybody else. And now you didn’t have the family you used to have, and now you’re in a strange place, and now it isn’t so easy to go to school, and everything about it was sort of unusual. I had a slightly bigger garden, but that, and that seemed to be pretty exciting.
GALLOWAY: You said you were bullied at school.
BRANAGH: There was a bit of bullying that went on when I was in, about 11, 12. And again I think it was part of, I think this happens to actors sometimes, you know you find that for a bit you show off, and then you show off, and you stick out a bit, and then some people don’t like that, ’cause they’re annoyed, ’cause maybe you get a few laughs, and you know, you become a bit of a, you know, like an exception. And so there was, yeah. There was a little bit of that going on, which wasn’t very pleasant, and what happened in England, I don’t know if it happens here, but the, my kind of salvation was that I was relatively good at games. I was always sort of average student really, in most things, but you know I didn’t, I had absolutely no fear on a football field or a rugby field. Rugby, a very intense contact sport as you probably know, and I remember in a very, very small minded way, taking some relish then, I’m not, nothing I’m proud of, in tackling the very bully, the very guy who had been, who of course to be, as only bullies can be, a complete coward on a rugby field, and I remember just tackling them. And it was something, it taught me something about myself, it’s like I felt as though I was, you know fairly courageous when it was, when the rules were clear, and when everybody played fairly. And I was by contrast, a little naïve in the real world where I didn’t quite have the capacity for the dirty tricks. I didn’t say I was a saint, but I just, you know it was, it was just, it was easier. So, and then, you know the sort of sand settled on that, so somehow you found your way, and my way was to be a sort of acceptably sporty, but essentially sort of arty creature. So I you know, little weird combo. Reads books, he’s not quite one of us, but also not fully fledged, isn’t wearing glasses and being you know, in the library the whole time, so I managed a little sort of hybrid existence, sports and arts.
GALLOWAY: Was there one moment where you thought, I’m going to be an actor?
BRANAGH: I had a teacher who, in a sort of situation like this where he was a supply teacher, he was in for somebody else who was ill. And he happened to be directing a school play that I was in. Oh What a Lovely War it was called, and it was a very sharp, satirical piece on the First World War. A wonderful piece, it had been a great and spectacular success in London in the 1960s with Joan Littlewood and her theater workshop. It was a great expose and critique of the war. Tons of parts, amazing number of scenes and things. And so I got to, you know be an American and a Russian and Brit, and you know, we were dragged in, a lot of us from the football team were dragged in ’cause it was a big cast and nobody wanted to be in it. So I was brought in, and then ended up sort of showing off and doing, just, I was amazed, it was just such fun, I couldn’t believe it was such fun. And it felt like a sort of natural place to be. And so we’re in this assembly where this fellow’s taken over, and he says, I wasn’t expecting, I didn’t hear it, but we’re in a room like this and he says, by the way you should all come and see the play, and you should see it because of the guy in it who really could be a professional actor. I thought god really, I wonder who that is. And I, and then the, and then really the penny slowly dropped that he was talking about me. And it really was like what do you mean? What’s a professional actor, what do you, you mean you, you could, you could get paid for this? You could, you would actually go read, so then I just, I mean it really was, from our background it was just, it was a, you know, we were, at that point, perfectly nice comprehensive school, were saying that the three options are to go to the Army, Prudential Insurance Company, and the railways, British Railways. All perfectly fine, just not ones that were, not, these were not career routes that I wanted to go down. So I went to the library, got the careers, all the careers information on acting, which was one sheet of paper. An A4 sheet of, which the opening sentence of which was, a lonely, an empty theater is a lonely place. Well after the applause has died, you know. And then it goes on to say that 85 percent of British actors are out of work. And you know it’s not a make you happy service. The determination was to put me off. I started finding out about things called drama schools, I’d never heard about them before. And just, you know, then the possibility that maybe you could get into a drama school and maybe you could find a way to pay for it, that was the next thing, Jesus, if you get in.
GALLOWAY: How did your parents handle this?
BRANAGH: With surprise, and with some suspicion, and I mean they just thought it was going to be a phase that I grew out of. The problem was that they couldn’t help me, you know, they didn’t know what to do, they didn’t know how to be, it was just such a strange world. If I had done anything that was to do with helping my father, or doing anything practical, being a builder or a carpenter or going, he did a five year apprenticeship, he left school at 14 and at 19 he came out knowing how to build things, and then starting at the bottom of a certain kind of ladder. That’s what he expected from the world of work. And my mother worked part time and she looked after us. And this is what they knew about, and of course we had a trillion contacts through all these various family members. But nobody anywhere near show business.
GALLOWAY: Did it bring a gulf between you, the world that you moved into and the world that they came from?
BRANAGH: It was a bit odd, a bit odd to begin with, I mean I suppose it always is, isn’t it, you know, leaving home is a funny old thing anyway, and yeah, I mean I moved into digs with a very flamboyant actor, who, the house was like a sort of theater museum, and I remember, I remember ringing up, because it was a card on the wall, RADA was the college I eventually got into, thank god, and so I was looking for a place to live in London, and being in there every day trying to get the evening standard newspaper before 11 o’ clock because at quarter past 11 everybody would’ve had all the decent accommodations that was there, so you had to be, and this was the pre-internet age, so you were, you know queuing up outside a public telephone box with a couple of the Evening Standards. The bed sit in two [SOUND EFFECT]. And so I found a card at RADA and it said there’s two rooms in this place in Clapham. And I answered the phone and I began to say hello, and oh my goodness, oh. It’s 11 o’ clock, I’m still in bed, now you know what a proper actor’s life is like, and just, he did like a minute and a half before I got a word in edgewise, you know. I thought well he’s interesting. And I went down, he was an amazing fellow, who had been an actor all his life, and he was in his, probably his late 50s then, his wife had died recently, and he, and they would, and he was taking a lodger. I remember when my parents came to that house, that was pretty unusual, kind of meeting. They came for tea. Each of them came for tea, my mother and my father. Because my fa-I mean you know, these were people who embraced everybody and everything, but there was a moment where they needed to know whether I was, as a result of being an actor, gay.
BRANAGH: Or that I would be gay.
GALLOWAY: I, by the way it’s hard to sort of remember those times, the prejudice, by the way, racially, sexually…
BRANAGH: Well I think ’cause, in fact, it spread back to the issue of equality, religious equality in Ireland. We came from working class Belfast background, but my parents, we lived on a mixed Catholic and Protestant street. My parents always absolutely in-built this idea. You’re the same as everybody else. Catholic, Protestant, it’s a, you know, it just doesn’t matter, and nothing else matters either, other divisions don’t matter. And so as it were, philosophically, they had nothing against, as it were, me or anybody else being gay, just, they just like going into acting, they didn’t know what to do about it, didn’t know what, how to help. They knew it was, as you rightly say, it was troublesome as it were, for all sorts of ghastly reasons, but I remember, you know one time a strange moment where my father, a man who could be embarrassed at the slightest thing, deeply emotional man who found it difficult to express emotion, did say, and it was you know, a sentence full of pauses, he was doing something else or maybe he was trying to, you know, peel some potatoes before our Sunday meal, and he was Irish, obviously, so I just uh, I just want to check that uh, you haven’t become… And then he was building up, there was a long pause, and he dropped the knife to go, that you haven’t become like that. Wow, can you imagine? So, this was like the international code signal for, like that, and the he was back on the knife again as well.
GALLOWAY: How did the tea go?
BRANAGH: The tea. [LAUGH] The tea. The tea with Angus went very well, they were, I mean they were, you know they were darling, darling people, but they were just scared, they were scared.
GALLOWAY: RADA was a different universe. This is the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, which is the number one theater school in England.
BRANAGH: A theater school in England, not necessarily the number one, lots of very good colleges.
GALLOWAY: But I think you could also have gone to Central, you did choose RADA.
BRANAGH: I did, I did, I had, I just had a great feeling about RADA, and the process, often the, you know the fairly challenging process of auditioning was just a bit more human at RADA. I mean not that it was inhuman at Central, just it felt a little more like the kind of…
GALLOWAY: Did the good feeling continue when you were told to the zoo and imitate an animal?
GALLOWAY: You chose a crocodile.
BRANAGH: I did choose a crocodile, yes. Yeah. Not a convincing crocodile as I recall. Certainly my teachers didn’t feel it. Well, Hugh Cruttwell, a brilliant mentor who became very important to me in my subsequent career, and he was my acting coach on all the pictures that I’ve directed myself and was in, he was there. You know, directing, he was brilliant. ‘Cause he saw me when I was 17, and I went in for the first audition, and I got a phone call that Saturday night, and my sister answered, she was much, much younger, and she said there’s a strange man on the phone, and he says yes, Hugh Cruttwell here, yes, your audition, everybody here wants to give you a place, but your kind of acting’s ten a penny, ten a penny. So you’ll have to come back, you’ll have to learn something else, and stop acting. So he was always very you know, tough with me, but he was very passionate about acting, he had, I believe he had no sort of ego beyond wanting whoever it was to do as well as they could, it didn’t need to be a better idea ’cause it was his. He just wanted you to be as good as you could be. And he was very, very, he was a natural teacher. And part of that was animals, he just thought that you had to, you know, lose yourself, and release your inner crocodile. And I think there was a bit of me like a lot of the actors who decided they would try and have a, find an animal that didn’t move very much. Because then during the process of being analyzed, you wouldn’t get so tired, so it was an innate kind of laziness in the student I think when it came to that. But it was a very good way, a very good way of studying other life forms and just trying to, you know, find out what makes a crocodile tick, and I think a few have surfaced in my performances since.
GALLOWAY: What did they teach you that was the most important thing that you walked away with, and what did they fail to teach you?
BRANAGH: The exposure to lots of different kinds of philosophies in regard to acting and directing was what was most special about the place. Also the fact that we were in front of audiences really, really soon, so in the second term, you know we, public audiences, we were right next to the University of London, which still is. And so that student audience would always come to see us, it was very reasonably priced. So we had a really a young audience, watching us from early on. And we would have, sometimes work with Stanislavsky, lead directors, we’d sometimes work with very, sort of by contrast, conventional directors. We’d have people try and break you down, we’d have improvised work, we’d have classical and contemporary plays. And we were on in front of real audiences twice a term, sometimes more than that. And just that sort of exposure, which a lot of drama schools didn’t believe in, they just felt you needed to be protected, you shouldn’t be exposed until you know, you’d been doing it for three years. They disagreed with that, and I think it was very valuable for me. Anyway, I enjoyed that.
GALLOWAY: Is there a philosophy that you follow?
BRANAGH: The philosophy is partly out of that, which is be open to all sorts of different approaches. I personally get a bit nervous when people tell me about how they work. ‘Cause I’d like to think there may be a new way in which we all work based on whatever this new project is, or this new film or book or play or whatever, I get a bit nervous when people get too, too rigid, because I get nervous that it blocks off surprise, you know. And I find sometimes the most technical people are the ones who have the most complete sense of their technique. And it usually is allegedly supporting spontaneity and reality. But in fact becomes a very complicated way of dressing up a very technical and unspontaneous end result. So I think what I’m talking about therefore, is that you live in a fairly constant state of fear, because you don’t try-you basically try not to develop too many habits, you know it’s hard to do. Not too many mannerisms, and not oh I always do this at the beginning of rehearsal, so I never learn the lines ahead of time, I hate when I hear that I never do this or I never do that.
GALLOWAY: Do you live in a constant state of fear now?
BRANAGH: I think that, no, I’ve learned to view it as excitement. But you…
GALLOWAY: That’s a euphemism for…
BRANAGH: Well, I think you can absolutely, positively make it work in that way, but it’s to do with an acknowledgement, I think that the best work, in my experience, and in my very subjective opinion, comes out of a state where the artist is exposed. Whether they are a director or writer, or actor, but basically that there is a rawness and a vulnerability. And, you know sometimes you have to direct yourself to get into that position, and be comfortable being very, very, very uncomfortable, and still doing it. And I think that that’s a, you know, you’ve spent some of your life resisting that, and wanting to have whatever it might be, you know, in a performance to kind of be the prop or the thing that keeps you, you know, away from that. But for instance, recently, across these last six or seven years, I’ve performed as an actor in a TV show called Wallander, he’s a Swedish detective, he’s a kind of — a sort of broken man. Oh well, oh, thank you very much, thank you. And he’s a very sort of raw character, I was thinking he’s kind of an open wound of a man. And so the whole time that you’re filming that is a very, very, sort of exposed period, and I, so I’ve just finished the very last one, there are 12 books from which we adapted stories, and I’ve just finished the last of them, and it continued right to the last minute. But you do learn to sort of embrace this feeling of the exposure, so that you are in a scene, you’re trying to get to this point, this is what Hugh Cruttwell was trying to tell me back when I was 17, stop acting, is just that you can be surprised, and in the moment, and all the things that are easy to say and hard to do. And so sometimes that involves, and you know what, fear is out of my vocabulary now, it’s just, it is what it is, and it’s, and it’s the place from which performers, and I think audiences can maybe intuit the work when it serves great writing, or a great, sort of situational scenario that is most illuminating. And therefore, you know, can go maybe a little further.
GALLOWAY: When you were coming off RADA, and you know you’re about to go into the world as an actor, and there’s, I would’ve thought more than 85 percent unemployed.
BRANAGH: Yeah you’re probably right.
GALLOWAY: How did you imagine your life then? What did you want?
BRANAGH: I hoped that I could have a career as an actor in theater. That’s what I hoped. And, but actually it was smaller than that, I hoped I could get a job. So, and I had, I liked then, and to some extent I still enjoy the kind of gladiatorial aspect of actually getting a job, you do have to, I still have to do, you got to, somehow you’ve got to dance the dance, bang the door down, and often it doesn’t work. Or you just have to be ready to be in the queue and get, find your moment, and if you…
GALLOWAY: Does rejection hurt?
BRANAGH: Well I again, I don’t see it as rejection, I sound like a sort of self help book don’t I, but I think, you can’t see it as rejection. It’s not valuable to see it as rejection, it’s not even accurate to see it as rejection.
GALLOWAY: But I was thinking when you auditioned for Amadeus, many times.
BRANAGH: Yeah, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Didn’t get it, and here’s the film directed by Milos Forman. By the way, I saw the play, I don’t know if you did, with Paul Scofield which was…
GALLOWAY: Just extraordinary, and very different from the film.
GALLOWAY: And you must have wanted that and go through all this, and you’re not yet, you know, you’re not yet Sir Kenneth Branagh, so…
BRANAGH: By no means. Well you just, well, you know, you try and remember, listen, I even got in the door, so I remember that was seven, eight, nine goes through, but I have to say, down the other end of things, I’ve just done Cinderella, and Cinderella had to come through the door eight, nine times.
GALLOWAY: Oh really?
BRANAGH: You know so, yeah, because they’re writing an enormous check, and they go, listen, we want to make sure we’re happy about this, you know. And way back, Mr. Forman and whoever was paying for that picture, certainly, I was 21, so 21 and dancing the dance, and… But it was fun, and it was exciting, and I, you know, I remember I got to do a screen test with Jeremy Irons, I was like, who didn’t get the part either. You know.
GALLOWAY: Thank God.
BRANAGH: So I remember it’s like all of London, you’re waiting outside and every famous actor you’d ever seen was going in for this thing, you know, and, of course they, more or less wanted a kind of unknown Mozart, given the nature of the piece, you know he was young anyway and he passed on, and they take him from very early, early, early on, and in the end they casted brilliantly, Tom Hulce was absolutely, absolutely sublime in that part.
GALLOWAY: Well you did get work, you did television, you did Another Country on stage. You created your own theater company.
GALLOWAY: In your mid 20s.
GALLOWAY: With a number of hits. And then having done Henry V for the RSC, you then got the film off the ground, so let’s take a look at St. Crispin’s Day.
GALLOWAY: I didn’t tell them in advance which clip they’re going to show, so I hope I’m choosing the right one.
BRANAGH: Yeah, let’s go ahead, thank you.
GALLOWAY: Hopefully. Possibly.
BRANAGH: I like that. Are these curtains going to open in a wonderful way?
GALLOWAY: Well, if they don’t…
BRANAGH: I’m very excited.
GALLOWAY: Hopefully our producer’s having a long conversation, good.
BRANAGH: Thanks. Did you spot —
GALLOWAY: Oh yes.
BRANAGH: — the very small boy on the left of frame, who grew up to be no other than Christian Bale.
GALLOWAY: Christian Bale, yes. We were talking about that earlier on. And I’m spotting Brian Blessed, and Ian Holm, and those amazing actors.
BRANAGH: Yeah, yeah. We had about four other Henry Vs from…
GALLOWAY: Brian was always one of my favorites.
BRANAGH: Yeah. He’s a terrific…
GALLOWAY: So here you are, you’re 28. What possessed you to direct…
BRANAGH: I was 27 you know when I…
BRANAGH: I was 27, because I remember it was the week before my birthday, and no, on my birthday, they gave me, the entire cast came in with shaving, completely covered me with shaving cream. And I just, I remember it was the week after that. Sorry, I interrupted.
GALLOWAY: Brian Blessed kept saying to you, you don’t have a fucking clue what you’re doing here.
BRANAGH: I’d say when he, yes, exactly he would say, that was, you never give any bloody notes to Judi Dench. You’re a creep. So, I was surrounded by a lot of people who knew me well and teased me a lot.
GALLOWAY: Woody Allen said it was easier when he didn’t know anything. Was it?
BRANAGH: Ignorance is a sort of bliss. The, you know we arrived at this position so unusually, we had a producer who joined our theater company, who wanted to get into movies, and he was, as kind of passionate about doing this as we were, and he, you know he begged, borrowed and, begged, borrowed and stole favors from lots of people, didn’t steal anything. And he was, thank God he was as ignorant as I was, ’cause he, you know he kind of let it happen. But we did, there was a tremendous momentum that built up, you know. And it was unusual, and even then I remember, I knew that it would make a big difference to the movie eventually, but I remember a conversation with the late great Sam Goldwyn Jr., who just passed away recently. And I remember about the poster of this picture. And I remember, we were going to bring it out here, and I don’t know where you get this kind of chutzpah from when you’re 27, 28, but anyway it was there, so maybe it was just stupidity, maybe it was ignorance, whatever. But I remember saying, sir, Mr. Goldwyn sir, I, this is a wonderful poster, we’re so thrilled that the film is even going anywhere that isn’t England, but please I beg you on my knees sir, would you include two more names on the poster? One is an actress who I believe you’re going to see a lot of in the coming years, her name is Judi Dench. It would be great to include her, ’cause I think she’d really appreciate it. And also, the one name that I did see as rather more important than any of the rest of us is William Shakespeare. So could that go on? But I think there was a, there was this kind of quality. We were on the road with the theater company until the Saturday night before we started shooting on the Monday, and absolutely everybody in that theater company was in the movie. Everybody, stage managers, the costume people. Everybody was in the picture. So that gave it a kind of heart that meant that when I was, as I regularly was, stumped and flummoxed by the process, that I felt able to do the one thing, when people ask me what’s the most useful thing to know as a film director, I would say that the most useful phrase is, I don’t know. When you don’t know, say you don’t know, and ask one of the many, many talented people around you, you know what they think, or ask the question that’s connected to your don’t know. So I could do that with Judi Dench, and all those people I knew, I could do it with the DP and all the rest of it. And in that way, I began to see that what work I had done did equip me with more information and experience than I was quite understanding, but it also allowed me to literally benefit there and then, and acquire some of that experience as we were going. What I did have was a passion for the story, and what I did have was pictures in my head.
GALLOWAY: Yes, I remember reading that you’d had this idea of this very long tracking shot. And it’s really good, I mean watching that again.
BRANAGH: Thanks. Well there’s a moment at the end of the battle that reminded me of it watching this. At the end of the battle, in fact there’s a sequence where Patrick Doyle, my long time music collaborator who just did an amazing score for Cinderella, and you know, multi-award winning guy now and 50, 60 scores in. This was his very first score. He starts by singing the non-notice, it’s not us God, it’s you who provided this great victory, and I pick up this boy and it turns out to be Christian Bale. The only time I’ve ever been able to carry Batman in my life. And I, we go the length of the piece, but it was my first experience also of, you know some challenges that include on the film, a fellow comes up to me, he’s one of the crowd artists, there’s probably 300, and he says, “Excuse me Mr. Branagh.” We just, it’s early morning and we’re just walking around just measuring the track, “Excuse me Mr. Branagh. I was thinking about my character, and I believe that he has a very particular form of pancreatic disease, and I think I want to see, I think when you pass,” I said, “Well hold on a second. Nobody says anything in this, and it’s great, I love the details, fantastic. But it sounds like you, as a dead body, you are less likely to show us some of that than the people who are alive, so let me come back to you on that.” And I spoke to the first assistant, said, this guy, I love his enthusiasm, but it’s just a bit much, and I’m a bit worried in case he does a bit much, so make sure he’s just not too close to camera. We carry on planning the shot and everything, and I’ve been practicing now with a dummy for Christian Bale, and then I see the real guy pick him up and think oh Christ, I’ve got to do this too many times. And then the very same guy comes up to me and says, Mr. Branagh, I’ve been thinking about the pancreatic stuff and that may be too much, I appreciate that. But I do think as the camera passes, just you know, they were very full of dysentery that he should throw up, I think it would be great if he throws up. Just maybe he just… I said hold on, two seconds, just hold on. Hold on. This guy’s going to talk to you. Right at the back, right at the back. Put him right at the back. Well I’m about nine months into the post production on this film, and I thought, I wonder what happened to that guy. Because I mean god love him, he was having a go and everything, but he was just a bit, you know, a bit dangerous. Anyway I said to the, I remember saying to the first assistant, I said what did you do with that guy? He said we put him on a spike sir. There’s, like there’s a whole, that’s what they, they put 45 degree spikes for the French Army to march onto, horrible, horrible thing. But anyway, we have him there and we go past him, so literally he’s impaled on a pike, I said well that’s probably, god love him, but you know, that’s probably the place for him to be, to stop the pancreatic thing or the vomiting thing. However, about nine months in, and I’ve watched this tracking shot with me and Christian Bale for a thousand times, and then just about halfway through, I go oh Christ, and I just grab the editor. And this guy is dead on a spike, and as you’re the camera, he’s like this, so he’s as dead as a man dead on a spike could be, and as the camera goes by, he just goes [SNIFF]. So if any of you really love that film, I’m sorry to spoil it for you. But you will find, during what’s known as the Batman tracking shot, that there’s a fellow dead on a spike blowing his knows. And that was one of the things I learned about the film directing.
GALLOWAY: When you said there were things you didn’t know, I don’t know. What was the thing that you learned the most from it? That was different from your expectation of film directing?
BRANAGH: I suppose that there was, for me anyway, there was, it was possible to make the bridge between the vast areas of knowledge of let’s say, the shot composition, choice of lens, lighting approaches, you know, all of which, although I had had many conversations in the brief time I’d been working, six, seven years of working, always talked to the light and cameramen. What I found from them, and from other creative artists on the film, was that as long as you did have that feel for character, the scene and the drama of it, then in fact all of those conversations became very, very fruitful. And so when you talk about what the scene was about, or the mood that you might wish to convey, or what an actor might feel in a particular moment, that if those other people were involved in that, then suddenly they would say, oh well in fact that sounds like an 85 mil to me, sir. In terms of where the close-up was. Or for instance, a real, I mean a head scratcher was one Monday morning, I’m sitting in my trailer there, and the first assistant came in and said, so it’s quarter to eight sir. I need to take you out, we’ve got to start the Battle of Agincourt. And it was eight o’ clock on a Monday morning, I’m like god, there’s like this epic battle, epic action sequence, and I remember going out to this film in Shepperton, and oh my God, what am I doing, this is the moment when I get found out big time. And plus I’m in armor, ’cause I’m in it. So it’s, you know, it’s a challenge. And all I had was my guts, saying, but I, you know I just didn’t know quite where to put the camera, or what to do, but I said look, to the light and camera, here’s what I feel this battle should be like. It’s a cross-section, this slicing down this battle, okay. And we need to be right inside it, but I want to be not so physically close that people can’t swing swords and stuff, so first of all how do we solve that? He said well you want to be further away. He said, you’ve got to be further away on a long lens. Okay well what does that mean? Well over here, and how long a lens, well he said what about a 600 millimeter? I said that sounds very long to me. He said well, let’s put one on the viewfinder, and let’s walk up here, and let’s put you on a platform, and let’s put three horses, two guys facing each other, 100 yards away. Is that what you mean? Yeah no, that’s what I mean, exactly. And so we started the process and now it’s five past eight, and we started the Battle of Agincourt. ‘Cause we’ve had that conversation. So once that began, then I was able to talk to the stunt guy, Vic Armstrong who’s done a lot of pictures for me, did Thor as well, a great Bond stunt director as well. And then we gather our 300 guys, and our horses and now, and suddenly it started, it started, I got past the, where do I put the camera, and where you put the camera becomes, well what do you feel about this scene, well the scene’s this, that’s where you put the camera. It’s a 600, oh it’s a 600 mil, great. There’s a platform here, there’s a stunt guy there. Bring me, and suddenly it’s happening and now it’s half past eight, and now you’ve got two cameras, and so you are learning and driving it at the same time. I mean what it requires is people who are very generous about that, you know, and kind, and you know, I mean I’m sure they, you know, often laughed in the other direction when I came along, but there was no doubting the passion one had for it, and the feeling of how…
GALLOWAY: How do you do with just the exhaustion of it? You’re acting, you’re directing, you’re dealing with money issues.
BRANAGH: Well there were a lot of ups and downs, the two weeks before, no, like a month before, David Puttnam, great British producer, he produced Chariots of Fire, won his Oscar for that, he’d done wonderful work, he was involved for a while, and then a month before we began shooting, he called me into his office and he said I’ve got to tell you Ken, that this film will collapse. Either two weeks before, or two weeks after, principle photography begins, and any notion that you might ever have a career in film, will die with it. So I’ve got to be clear, he said I’m putting it in dramatic terms because that’s what it means. This financing is like a little stack of cards and it’s all going to fall apart. So then I go back to Steven, our producer, he says it’s going to fall apart, what are we going to do? And meantime, you know, actors are ringing up, so it’s happening, yeah? So that’s a nerve-wracking moment. But we really, it was a real kind of brinkmanship moment, finally I remember, I don’t know, the day before the read through, I was signing what looked like, I don’t know, a dozen telephone directories for contracts, and I said, first page, I said Jesus Christ, is that what I’m getting paid? Bloody hell. More money than I’d ever seen in my life. And then he said, don’t get too excited. And then as I went through the stack, I signed some of it away. And then I signed the rest of it away. And by the end of the stack of course I’d signed back all the money that I was ever going to be paid, I would have done it, I’d have paid them for goodness sake. But we finally got that done, and off it went, and we, you know we managed to make it happen.
GALLOWAY: Do you still love Shakespeare as much?
BRANAGH: Yes I do. I do, and I continue to feel very motivated to do more Shakespeare. On film it’s interesting in this ever-changing world in which people see their moving images in so many different ways. But no I feel very passionate that…
GALLOWAY: Do you love the same Shakespeare, or do you love different Shakespeares? Do you look at it the same way, or differently?
BRANAGH: I think it changes, you know. From the vast, vast age of 54, you maybe think of, you maybe think and respond to different things, but, and different plays. But you are more and more awed by the achievement that the writers made, but because he wrote about every kind of human condition, every kind of situation, every kind of family dynamic, all of the experiences that we have are touched, all the profound and primal experiences in our lives are touched on by this writer. Frankly, you know, so you lose your parents, and you, he’s written about that of course many, many times, and so those plays maybe have a different impact.
GALLOWAY: Which Shakespeare would you want to do that you haven’t done?
BRANAGH: A Shakespeare that I will do that I haven’t done is The Winter’s Tale.
GALLOWAY: Unbelievably difficult.
BRANAGH: Yeah, well they’re sort of all, they’re all unbelievably difficult, and all, and all unbelievably simple, you could also argue that that’s a very simple play, and it’s interesting to me that I’m attracted to it, ’cause I’ve just made a film which is a fairytale, and you could, a lot of people would argue that The Winter’s Tale is a fairytale. And why would this extraordinary writer end his life by using such a simple, and some would say dismissively simplistic form. But I think you’re right to say it’s very difficult, because those stories are very dense. They appear on the surface to be, you know simple fables or morality tales, but they just reach much further down into the sort of psychological depths than one imagines. But it’s interesting that play first caught my attention, I had a girlfriend who was in a production of it when I, she were 19. So I saw the play, ’cause she was in a very good production, it was the National Youth Theatre, I saw it maybe 10 or 11 times in a row, and it totally branded itself on my system then. And I was, you know very young. And I still felt very moved by it, and it’s fun, it’s funny as well. But it feels, I mean the thing that I love about The Winter’s Tale is just the question that it asks amongst many things, Shakespeare’s always about so many things, but in as much as my superficial understanding of it reaches at right now, what attracts me is the idea that the difficult issue of whether anybody can ever be forgiven for a terrible act, or a terrible mistake. Is there any redemption for, you know, those who have transgressed in profound ways.
GALLOWAY: And your answer is?
BRANAGH: And the answer is I’m going to do Winter’s Tale.
GALLOWAY: You know, I did an interview with Glenn Close online, and she said something very — we were talking about this then, and I’m sort of forgiving in practice but not really in theory. I can never really understand why you need, you know, someone who said terrible things. My mother’s a holocaust survivor. I thought well how could you possible forgive and she said an extraordinary thing, she said but if you don’t forgive you can’t move forward. And it completely changed my mind, in one sentence. How often does somebody in one sentence change your view of fundamental things in life, you know?
BRANAGH: It’s very interesting.
GALLOWAY: Yeah. Henry V was really [Laurence] Olivier’s most famous Shakespeare on film and then you came to play him. I want to talk to you about Olivier, but let’s take a look at a clip where Sir Ken plays Sir Larry with Marilyn Monroe.
BRANAGH: All right, ah-ha.
GALLOWAY: There you go. I really love this scene by the way, love it.
BRANAGH: Oh, good, good. Thank you. I wonder what happened to this guy. [LAUGHTER]
BRANAGH: Thank you. Ahh, funny. Shall I speak?
GALLOWAY: Yeah, you what was interesting is I was watching you watching it and you observed yourself very differently with the Henry clip, where I could see you watching weighing and evaluating. And then you watched this with a kind of relish and joy. Why is that?
BRANAGH: There’s something about the stories like this, I was very fond of the film, the experience of playing it was great fun. When this came to me I was in the about two thirds of the way through the post production on Thor, which was an amazing experience, but very, very sort of taxing in certain ways. And so this was an absolute release into the world of Sir Laurence and there’s an enormous amount of material about him as you might imagine. And so drinking all that in, including quite specific recollections of this moment, this read through moment. I mean people really did remember what happened at that read through and you just felt, everybody who was there, which there were a number. We had like this script supervisor came on our set and various actors who knew Olivier very well, and he spoke about this. He was crazed by what happened here, really haunted him. He hated it. And the sense of this sort of beautiful fun, if you weren’t right in the center of it, kind of crash happening in slow motion before your very eyes was something very sort of compelling about it. And also the quality in him, he just, it seemed as though he could not, they were all like this, but he could not resist giving a performance of everything anywhere. Whatever if happened to be, whether it needed to be the leader of a company or whether, you know, the sort of coquettish kind of oh my best kind of thing. And all with this kind of fun, fun, fun, fun, so. But all in all, he had a terrific edge.
GALLOWAY: Did you ever meet him?
BRANAGH: I never met him. No, I wrote to him when I was at drama school and I was playing a part that he’d played. I was about 60 years too young for it and I said could you, you know, would you advise. Is there anything you read or watched or looked or listened to that I could listen to perhaps and be inspired by it? And he said, no, I can’t advise you about this. My advice is to have a bash and hope for the best. So I tried to follow that. But I knew lots of people who knew him very, very well and it was really a fun thing to do. Michelle was fantastic and so was Eddie. They were darling people to work with. I was thrilled for him the other night..
GALLOWAY: What was difficult about playing the Olivier role? What was questions you had to ask yourself to create that?
BRANAGH: Well, you know, he’s a very sort of sacred creature in our country. Although the cultural memory, you know, passes so quickly these days that frankly, you know, that actually people knew about Marilyn Monroe much more than they knew about Laurence Olivier. And in a way one wanted to pay tribute to this fellow who previous to, let’s say the digital generation world, was really when you thought actor or great actor you thought Laurence Olivier. He sort of dominated things. But there was that pressure. A lot of people, as I say, the other side was a lot of people knew him and therefore knew what he was like and the most pleasing comments were from people like Derek Jacobi, Anthony Hopkins and Maggie Smith, who all knew him and who all felt as though the performance got somewhere near it and that was very touching to [find, so?].
GALLOWAY: What I love is it’s both slightly poking fun and him and still very real and you both get the theatrically and the genuine problem with oh my god I have to direct this woman. And you see all of that in a few minutes. It’s just a beautifully done performance.
BRANAGH: Thank you very much. Thank you. I really appreciate that. And of course, I mean I do love actors and I love the process of acting and I do, you know, often what we do and the way we get worked up about it can seem and sometimes actually is just very, very silly. But at it’s best, it’s you know, it can be part of a process that really unlocks beautiful and important things and I think it’s, you know, part of being an actor is working very hard to do the latter, but often it involves doing quite a bit of the former.
GALLOWAY: Is there anybody you turn to for advice?
BRANAGH: People like Hopkins; Anthony Hopkins is a great source of sort of inspiration and Derek Jacobi, who’s in Cinderella.
GALLOWAY: Like what would you ask Hopkins or what would you ask him?
BRANAGH: Well, I talked a bit about this, for instance. Or I remember when it, I think I’m going to shall I? I’m not going to say, the Scottish play by William Shakespeare. [LAUGHTER] Now there’s an example. You know you just think well I might, I just won’t just in case, you know. So when I came to play that played on —
GALLOWAY: Thank heaven they all know what you’re talking about.
BRANAGH: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, for those who don’t, there’s a play with the name The Scottish King by William Shakespeare and it is famously theatrically inappropriate to say it. If you say it out loud in a theater, it brings bad luck, serious bad luck, tons and tons of it over. It counts of how — I’ll tell you one account. OK, just quick, quick, which is OK, so we’re in a theater like this that then the Scottish play by William Shakespeare, let’s say his name is Patty. OK? So they’re doing Patty by William Shakespeare. Two actors, you’re playing McDuff and I’m playing Patty and we’re talking about the superstition about the name and you’re saying Arthur please grow up, grow. Oh no he’s saying grow up, this is ridiculous, ridiculous, we’re grown people. You know it’s like not walking under ladders, so you know so stuff you and Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty. So he says it in the dressing room. Normally if you do that you have to walk outside, you have to turn around three times, knock on the door and then come back in. You can understand some people will take an issue with that because they haven’t got enough time in their lives to deal with that superstition. So he keeps saying all the way through the prep work, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty. This is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the old one in Stratford, 1500 seats, completely packed; one seat empty in the middle of the front row. So they do the fight. The go all the way through. And off stage is where he’s going Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty, Patty. Then they come to the fight, they fight with two enormous broad swords and they’re going at it like their clappers and just at the last minute of the fight he goes bang and the top half of the sword goes [MAKES NOISE] straight into the empty seat. [MAKES NOISE] To which McDuff in the wings says, see, told you. [LAUGHTER] There’s your warning.
BRANAGH: So when it came to that play, I remember asking Anthony Hopkins about that play and that part. He played it famously, just before he came to this country actually. And he said what do you want to know. I said would you say some of the lines and I’ll copy you. So that was my- what would I ask him? I’d ask him that. I once directed it an actor had actually told me that and I thought you know, that’s sometimes that’s a great way, sometimes you got to make it your own, but sometimes… I was going around the houses and saying maybe I didn’t like, why didn’t we feel his pain more maybe and he said just listen just say it the way you want to say and I’ll copy you. All right? Because in fact you never copy slavishly, so it’s one way of shortcutting things.
GALLOWAY: You’ve done the Shakespeare’s. I think the last one was Love’s Labour’s Lost. And then you sort of shifted into different filmmaking, some as a director, and the one that completely caught me by surprise, which was the Marvel from Thor, so we’re going to see a clip from that.
GALLOWAY: Talk about it.
GALLOWAY: So you are now stepping into the Marvel universe and I don’t mean the Marvel universe on the imaginative level. I mean let’s talk about the practically of the one with Kevin Feige, working with Marvel. What were the conversations leading up to this?
BRANAGH: Oh, there were many. One thing I love that music from Thor in that clip as well and it’s good. I loved doing that scene, you know, Hopkins is so, yeah, he’s just such a marvelous actor. And those two lads are just fantastic, fantastic. It was just sort of great. It was just a big 150 percent pleasure. Just great to, just great, great, great- I’m very proud of them. They’re darling, darling, wonderful guys, wonderful. So…
GALLOWAY: I wasn’t going to let you miss it.
BRANAGH: Marvel, yes so, I mean you know, there was quite a lot of talking to begin with just to establish did we want to make the same film. They, you know, they were very interested and intrigued in working with me, but at the same time I just made a number of films that not many people had gone to see, including Love’s Labour’s Lost, so I was not exactly hot. But they also interestingly, because the Marvel universe has expanded in such a way and now seems like it’s this unstoppably successful ever, ever hit making machine. But at that stage they were just two movies into this new world they’d just done Iron Man brilliantly with Robert. And then the Hulk, which had not been quite as sort of conspicuously commercially successful, but was still, you know a wonderful piece of work in its way. So this was going to be, they all said the most difficult thing to do because you know, a big blonde guy, horses riding across like a rainbow bridge in space, hmm, not so sure. And there were various faces they used to put up on the wall of things that we mustn’t be and I didn’t know this character, but you will maybe, Fabio? Was it Fabio was a guy — [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
BRANAGH: You know there was a phrase can’t be Fabio. Can’t be Fabio. Okay, we’ll try not to do that. And so it took quite a while. It took a while of conversations and I remember coming out here and I think I got the job, and this was definitely back to auditions, and this was definitely something where I had to, you know, show them that I could sort of do and that I was interested. But it’s the same thing, it works the other way. I wanted to see well what do they fancy for this kind of thing and would they in fact allow a scene like that. Did they want a scene like this because I wanted that scene and that was a key scene for me in the movie. That gave it the weight and they all just sort of, you know, kind of pegs in the ground of a certain kind of intensity that allows you to get away with horses riding across a rainbow bridge because you feel the passions of that sort of deep, so they were. And I came and I was rehearsing a play, but I remember flying in the Friday and I arrived that afternoon and I went straight to the very tiny Marvel office that was then and I’d written three pages of a script. I thought I’ll do the first three pages of a screen play, so I’ll write it. Here’s the tone of the Thor that I would make and I read it to them.
GALLOWAY: Was there no screenplay in place?
BRANAGH: There was. Well, there was, there had been. But as you might imagine 50 years of comics and an infinite number of possibilities for how to start it and yet it needed to reflect or refer to the rest of the universe, but needed to be its own thing. There were a trillion ways to go, some very exotic. If people know this comic well, there’s a character called Beta Ray Bill, who’s incredibly powerful character. But maybe strong stuff for a first picture. There was just a million ways to go. They needed somebody to come in and say I’m choosing this. And so I read my pages and said look this is my spin on it. This is how I inflect it. And then I went away and then we kept having conversations and finally we sort of, they took a long time to arrive at any decisions is my experience in a good way. Kevin is a muller, he goes away and he thinks and when we came to for instance cast the two boys, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. That was a long process. And even then on the morning in which we made the calls we came in, I remember Kevin Feige wandering around that table. This tiny little conference table. It’s just me and him and one of the executives, Craig Kyle, on that Saturday morning.
BRANAGH: And it was five to — I’d already booked a call to Hemsworth and to Hiddleston and he still wasn’t sure whether we were going to go with this and I kept saying it’s these guys. It is these two guys, Chris Hemsworth is Thor. Tom Hiddleston is Loki. You’re going to be okay. And he knew it, but it was- and then we made the call and it was a wonderful moment. You know, we got Chris, he was in Vancouver making Cabin in the Woods and you know the length of the pause after which we said thank you very much we’d like to invite you please sir to consider playing the role of Thor in the film Thor, was a very long pause. And then we got Tom was at the pictures in London. He’d gone to see a- and he was so ever excited. He said oh I just come from a wonderful Albanian film, it’s so dark. It’s about this refugee. I said hold on a second that sounds great. Give the title at the end of this call, meantime we want to tell you that we’d love you to play Loki in Thor. And then there was another long pause, as long as the one that Chris as given us. It was a beautiful moment. It was lovely, but it takes a long time to do it. But it’s very personal, so long-winded answer, working with Kevin is very, very enjoyable. I regard him as a very, very dear friend and that process is very unusual. It’s a studio plus he’s the producer. He’s the studio and he’s the producer. And it’s very passionate and very [OVERLAP]
GALLOWAY: They have final cut?
BRANAGH: For sure.
GALLOWAY: What did they want to change that you hesitated about, disagreed over?
BRANAGH: Well, we didn’t have, I guess we didn’t have- one of the things that I think I tend to do is one on the way in to really establish what it is we’re doing. Rather than it being necessarily an experimental process or one where simply when we put all the bits together we’ll start throwing them up in the air and seeing what gets the most ticks in a box in preview. And with this I always thought, you know, there’s a least three movies in this if it’s successful enough to continue that just tells the Thor story, let alone the way it interlinks to the rest of the universe. And I think we were just; you just keep, my job really was to hang on to that. My job was to direct and hang on and not let it go flying off even though there were very good places it could’ve gone. There were never got to have this; mustn’t have that. That kind of stand off- I’ve only been in that kind of position once or twice and I certainly wasn’t in that position here.
GALLOWAY: Would you do another Marvel film?
BRANAGH: Yeah, I mean what I found was that I just enjoyed the process of working with those people and I loved the boys and the girl. The girls as well. It was great. So that was fun. But it was a long time and they were way too quick for me to get straight back into another single sort of story in terms of working on it at that time, so who knows. Who knows. It was a pleasurable experience and a film I’m very proud of and one I was very lucky to be able to make and did me a lot of good from which I learned an incredible amount, so I’m very grateful to them.
GALLOWAY: And then you go to this other fantasy archetypal character, Cinderella, so I wish they’d given us a long clip from Cinderella, but they gave us a very, very limited choices, so.
BRANAGH: A very short clip?
GALLOWAY: The film is a lot better than this clip. I will say though.
BRANAGH: Oh good. The clip’s marvelous though as well, I’m sure whatever it is.
GALLOWAY: It is. Well, you know I love the ballroom sequence in it. I just thought you pulled it off so beautifully and with a warmth and romance, I kind of wanted to show a few of that.
BRANAGH: Well, I’m sorry but that means these [OVERLAP] see the movie in two weeks time, Cinderella. Yeah. We can say the films a lot longer than this clip probably is what we can say, yeah.
GALLOWAY: Well, I guess…
BRANAGH: I’m loving this. I want to make a short film about what’s happening backstage every time we turn here. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Let’s get everybody ready for questions by the way while I’m just talking to Ken and then we’ll if those of you who have questions can get by the mic. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to cast Cinderella. I’m thinking you’re going into this film and everything rests on that. What was the process?
BRANAGH: Well it’s true. Just as it was with Thor actually. Everything rested on it. Well you know the process is partly laced by that very fact, which means that in a way you don’t know that you’re going to make the movie until you make that piece of casting because there’s no point in doing it with just an actor. You have to find the actor. It was a long process. I joined Cinderella and they’d been working for a little while. There had been some screen tests. I saw them. They’d seen hundreds and hundreds of girls. And we made a sort of a shift with the screenplay and the emphasis when I came on board and we saw lots of other girls and Lilly James came into read for one of the step sisters, and then the brilliant casting director, Lucy Bevan said you know what; maybe you should, let’s have a look at this other scene. And then I remember so she sent me a tape first of her and I remember I was literally doing something like this, I’d put it into watch and I’ was going to grab something and I heard her voice and I went like that. It was literally the voice to start with because I thought it’s that warmth, those colors that’s what we need. Already I’m hearing understanding, I’m hearing a bit of twinkle in that voice as well. Sounds like she’s fun. And then she was very natural, very real. And then she was very patient and fun and real as she then came in numerous times to read with me and then work on some scenes and then, you know, you try and get to know them a little bit just to — because in a way they’re straight parts, you know. You won’t be hiding behind, you know, an elaborate make up, you won’t have a transformative accent or a physical condition or whatever, just be you. Just be a real leading performance and so you need to know what they’re willing to share by way of their personality. They become sort of X-ray parts, you know, so once-
GALLOWAY: How do you find that out?
BRANAGH: Well, every casting is sort of an act of faith. It’s a leap of faith. But you go up to the point where you have enough time spend with them to understand whether there’s a sort of consistency of feeling about whether they’re funny, whether they’re intelligent, whether they deal with the situation. She dealt much better with it than I dealt with, you know eight times around trying to play Amadeus. She was funny. She was still funny about it. And it was important to go back to your original remark there, so much rests on them that you don’t want people to get the yips, you know, both her and Chris Hemsworth were amazing for the ability to, you know, know them. I mean this was a big, in Cinderella we built an enormous ballroom as you might imagine and we filled it with people, wonderful design from Dante Ferretti; wonderful costumes from Sandy Powell. You got Cate Blanchett. You got Derek Jacobi and it’s [MAKES NOISE] and her she comes, lady and gentlemen, Cinderella. And you’ve got to be able to carry that, you know, you can’t start wobbling at the top of the stairs. You got to say hello, it’s called Cinderella and I’m Cinderella. And I’m happy to be here and do that without being arrogant.
GALLOWAY: How did you get her to that point? Was there one piece of advice or direction that you gave her?
BRANAGH: I think that she was very; she was a great listener. On screen she’s a great listener. So you look at her and you feel as though she’s listening and therefore you’re interested to watch her. So I knew that in repose, in the large part of the movie, which is simply reacting, not speaking or doing anything, she would be very, very compelling to watch, but the fact that she did listen, the fact that she was still listening. I sometimes see when you’re giving an actor a note a kind of look of, you just see the eyes glaze over and you’re streaking but they, you know, you’d be saying anything, the same thing will happen again in a minute because they’re just paralyzed, rabbit in the headlights thing and they, you know. So you know, they say I’d like a glass of water and you say now really be angry, really angry with it the girl, okay, good, brilliant, brilliant, thank you. I’d like a glass of water. Terrific, terrific. Okay, and now so sad, really, really sad. So I mean go much further than you might expect. OK, brilliant, thanks for the note. I’d like a glass of water. Okay, all right, that’s brilliant, brilliant. Took every note perfectly, you know. Ahh, help. [LAUGHS] And she was not like that.
GALLOWAY: When you say that the script shifted direction, is that because they were not happy with it or because you wanted it pushed in a different way? And what specifically changed?
BRANAGH: I think I felt that we could strongly make an uncynical film in which we invested largely in the idea that courage and kindness were qualities that could be positive, exciting, active, sexy, electric and not sappy, sentimental, saccharin and silly. And so that was going to be achieved I felt by the way we approached the acting, which would be with as much fun, for sure, but even in a scene like the one you just watched, you still get this edge. Whereas Cate Blanchett, you just that’s cruelty, that’s, you asked, we talked about bullying earlier on, you know that’s one of the things Cinderella is about is bullying. And you see an example of it right here with edge underneath it, beautifully played by those girls. Because what’s nice Sophie McShera comes up with the name, but then you see the guilty look as well of just, ooh, I’ve gone too far but I’m going to be in this mob and if somebody else, you know, confirms it I’m going to join in because we’re mod handed. If I was on my own, maybe I wouldn’t. It’s how it happens sometimes, you know. Numbers, you know, do terrible things to human behavior in that situation. So we always thought that an attempt to find as much depth in the acting as possible would be…
GALLOWAY: Why did you come in so late in the game?
BRANAGH: They’d been working on it for a while and I think they weren’t happy with how it was going or to be honest, you never quite know and you don’t ask. You either, you come in and you know it is what it is, you see it and in my case I read the script of Chris Weitz. I worked on a script with before for a picture that didn’t get made and I liked him very, very much, so I knew that we’d be able to talk. I like the writing process with me from that point onwards, as a director, is that however many voices are involved everybody gives their notes, but in the end the process is me and the writer in a room on our own and I will select and edit and direct and inflect and say here’s the way I’d like you to take it. And I knew we would have fun doing that and he was a joy, he was a joy.
GALLOWAY: Beyond the casting, what was the toughest decision you had to make?
BRANAGH: Toughest decision? Interesting. They were —
GALLOWAY: I can think of so many, just on the conceptual level — the look of it, the tone.
BRANAGH: I suppose there always, I mean I think you’re right about that. But I never, it doesn’t usually come down to one. It’s usually a series of things. Tone is key. Again Kevin Feige in describing what he wanted from directors coming into the Marvel world was to guide tone. And here, well to give a few examples, you know, you come in early on my first visit to Cinderella was to go into Dante Ferretti’s art department which had built huge models of all the sets and had lots of illustrations. And I suppose I went around to almost everyone, changing everyone a bit. But so specific example, in Cinderella’s house there was a staircase which was at right angles. It went up at right angles and I asked that that be circular because it felt therefore a little less English. And also I felt that I would get more interesting pictures for the version that I started to see. When it came to Sandy Powell and the costumes, the amount of detail and the amount of sort of flamboyance on the livery of the footman, etcetera, was all part of what would either make the film feel like you were eating too many rich chocolates or feel like you were having a wonderful experience in a beautifully judged, you know, confection. So those were daily, daily, daily decisions. And then bigger decisions about making most of it real. We physically built most of the sets and most of it we shot on 35mm film. We didn’t shoot digitally. And we rehearsed. I like to rehearse. And yeah, it was a series of decisions, which you step back every few weeks and go oh I see; now the whole thing has shifted a bit like this now. That’s how it happens.
GALLOWAY: Last question before we turn to the audience. Is there one film you’d love to direct that you haven’t been able to?
BRANAGH: Well, I’m been, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky. When I came to this town, 25 years ago, I’d made Henry V and I went to meet people with a screen version of Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native. And that did not go down well. People weren’t that interested in making that movie at that stage. I’ve always had a hankering for that novel. But I also would like to make a great horror film. That’s what I’d like to do.
GALLOWAY: That’s interesting.
BRANAGH: Yeah, genre horror film.
BRANAGH: I think they’re incredibly difficult to do. I don’t know what people here feel. My wife loves horror films and the routine is that she’s seen everything, therefore I’ve seen everything. Everything. I mean all the bad ones. I mean that ones that never make it into a movie theater and all the ones that do. And it’s always prefaced by, I want to see a really good horror film tonight, so she selects one. We watch it, she’s behind the chair. She’s terrified. She screams. And at the end of it she says well it wasn’t really scary, was it?
GALLOWAY: Do you have a favorite horror film?
BRANAGH: Favorite horror film? I love and I’ve said this before, I love, it’s not really a horror film it’s a thrillerish horror film, but I there’s a movie called Night of the Demon. It was made in about 1957 in England. It was directed by a French director called Jacques Tourneur. It was probably was a B picture. It starred America’s Dana Andrews and it’s about a specialist in the paranormal who comes to the U.K. to investigate the cult of this particular sort of it seems devil worshipping fellow. It’s based on a short story by Cambridge academic called M.R. James and the original story was called Casting the Runes. And the basic, the sort of bit that’s great about it is that once you’ve got this runic message on a piece of paper, you pass it on to somebody. If you take it from me, you’re dead. And what happens is it will blow out of your hands and it will burn. If you can stop it burning you will survive, but if you can’t you’ll die. And you’ll die because the demon is then summoned up with this thing. Sounds maybe a bit hokey, but in this ’57 B picture, it’s very, very creepy in a noir smoky, foggy, London. And Dana Andrews who was sort of at a twilight moment in his career is a very convincing as this broken skeptic, this American skeptic and it has sort of devil worship in it. Because of the birds in it, there’s a great scene with kids, a kids party that goes wrong in it that’s very, very weird. It’s sort of brilliant sub-Hitchcockian kind of, so I speak all this. I mean why would you want to make it for Christ sake. It’s very good. But what I love about it is the clever thing they do, smart thing, I think they had no money so they did it for this reason, but the demon doesn’t arrive until really the last minute, so you don’t show your monster too early because you’ll, you know, people will get used to it. But that one, like The Omen, the original Omen. I remember watching that film and walking home in the fog.
GALLOWAY: I did the same thing, yes.
BRANAGH: Oh my god, I thought I was going to die of fright myself.
GALLOWAY: OK, let’s take questions.
BRANAGH: I’d taken the train to Maidenhead and Reading not too far away. You walk home, you know, past the fields, there’s nobody there. You know, the devil’s there. The devil’s out there. [LAUGHTER]
GALLOWAY: Don’t forget to introduce yourself.
Q: Hello, my name is Grace Heidig and I am a fourth-year screenwriting student here at LMU. So after taking a class last semester on writing adaptations, I found that they can actually be even more challenging and difficult than creating your own story and after seeing your Much Ado About Nothing, as well as others I’m just kind of in awe by your ability to adapt Shakespeare. So I was wondering if you could offer some insight into how you adapt such intimidating stories or some advice.
BRANAGH: Well, hi Grace and thank you. And I suppose the thing that I find myself acknowledging upfront is just that there are infinite ways to deal with pre-existing material. Sometimes people have said to me, you know what? Never adapt a book that’s already a classic or a play that’s already a classic. What you want is a great idea in a bad book. That’s what you want because then you can make a great film, but otherwise you’ll just disappoint people who loved the book. I think with that in mind, I think you have to try and park that feeling at the door and say you know what, for the people who love my favorite scene, the best scene in Much Ado, the thing that makes it Much Ado is the scene I just cut, usually what happens. And you have to somehow just, if you feel, if it speaks to you in the way it does. I mean an example that clearly for a lot of people I got completely wrong was, Love’s Labour’s Lost, the relatively little known Shakespeare play that I put through the vehicle of the Hollywood musical of the sort of late 30’s. And it just didn’t work. People didn’t get it, you know, and yet based on the experience of playing in the play, I felt as though I pulled out everything that I thought worked wonderfully well and left out all the stuff that people had found problematic dramatically. But it just didn’t work for some, you know, people didn’t like it, simple as that. I think you just have to follow your own style on it. I think my tip would be bold is better. Bold is better because the novel, the play, will be there afterwards. You are not burning copies of that. So what’s really interesting is to see Grace’s version of, you know, play X or novel Y. However, crazy and detached it is because it’s everything you bring to the interpretation that also allows you to be still creative and not caught in kind of a halfway house between oh I have to be observant and reverent and there must be some things I must do. I think once you decide to do it, my advice is give yourself maximum freedom because the great thing remains regardless of what we do.
GALLOWAY: Good and next question please.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hi, I’m Christopher Perpich. I’m a first year screenwriting major here. And first of all I’d like to thank you for coming. And my question is, is for someone whose filmography as both an actor and a director is so diverse. Like, you have your Shakespearean adaptations. You have Harry Potter. You have like Valkyrie and Cinderella and all that. How do you decide between like, is there something in a script that’s like ahh, that’s what I want to do because I mean they’re so different. So what is the big key?
BRANAGH: I think a bit of me has determined to try and be diverse in that way for a number of reasons. I like being surprised. We were talking early on about don’t get too this is the way I work, you know. I do Shakespeare. What I find is that when I do the Shakespeare’s that the insight into dramaturgy, playwriting, scene construction, the arcs, climaxes, all the rest of it, is an illumination I want to put right back into something very different. And I personally enjoy the idea of surprising people. It irritates some, it frustrates some or maybe it’s not, you know, they want you to be a specialist in something or you know. Whereas I think I begin to see as I do more of the work that there is a basic, you know, kind of connection underneath all of these things that actually probably represents for anybody who’s interested or has a look, sort of view of the world that I kind of have involuntary. And I have always enjoyed trying to be surprised and be diverse and to answer your question it’s what is the one that just keeps me turning that page knowing that just as a viewer I go and see as many different kinds of films as possible. So I delight in the variety and I find and I encourage others, but it’s you know, to each his own, to go maybe as a writer from genre to genre or from dark subject to popular subject to art film to, you know, maybe more mainstream. I think always reflects back positively is my view. Where you may do esoteric material, you may find that you developed muscles that open it up in a way that you wish to and when you do populist material there’s no reason to suddenly say it doesn’t have to be as deep as you possible can make it. There’s no reason for that. So I have found variety is good and the common factor is does it make you feel passionately enthusiastic about it.
GALLOWAY: Thank you. Next question.
Q: Hello sir, thank you very much for coming out and speaking to us. My name’s Tyler. I’m a film production major, theater minor. And I wanted to ask you how do you feel about films like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or the upcoming Cymbeline film where they take a Shakespeare play and kind of put it in the modern day and keep the original dialogue? And also, would you ever consider directing or appearing in one of those films? And if so like which one and where would you set it?
BRANAGH: Well, hi Tyler. And I remember seeing Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in a theater in Boston on a Friday tea time on the first weekend. And I was the only one in there who wasn’t sort of 13-year-old girl it seemed to me. [LAUGHTER] And I remember thinking my God like the sexual energy in this room is unbelievable and all of it is headed towards Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. And I thought it was fantastic. I mean it was a whirlwind. To go back to what we were talking about with Grace there about if you’re going to take a classic, you know, go with it. And I think the amazing invention from the very first simple but brilliant, I mean simple’s always hard, use of sword for guns, you know, in the early part of that. It completely, you know, allowing the contemporary idea to work. When I was first introduced to that play our teacher said to us who’s interested in sex and violence and then said so let’s talk about Romeo and Juliet. And Baz Luhrmann caught that. So I thought that the energy of his vision was so brilliant in that. And once again Romeo and Juliet remains untouched. If you want to see something that doesn’t have all those things, it’s there. And even if those kinds of films and then, you know, enrage I think it’s a very positive engagement. So I look forward very much to Cymbeline. I think it keeps it alive. It keeps it all alive. I’d been entirely open to being in such a film for sure, but no one’s asked yet, so I’ll watch this space.
GALLOWAY: Next question.
Q: Hello my name’s Beth McLaughlin and I’m a freshman film production student here. My question is how does being an actor influence your directing style?
BRANAGH: I think that obviously or not obviously but it happens to be the case that I admire very much acting. Again, what we talked about earlier, fear. I know that most of the people I’ll be working with will be terrified in some way. It doesn’t matter how smoothly they present it. It’s just a fact. It just is; the best stuff comes that way. But I mean I’d say it doesn’t just apply to actors, you know, it applies to other artists. It applies to people sometimes in all sorts of other avenues. But I think it can be a peculiarly exposing thing to do just part of the job, even if you love it. Even if you love it you still, your love has to be paid for at the price of this vulnerability. And so my style is influenced by the fact that I admire that. I register it and sometimes I try and allow for it. So I’m very careful about some practical things, like the atmosphere on set, the amount of noise, the amount of preparation. Sometimes a lot of preparation, sometimes there’s not. I like to talk to the actors about what they would like. I like to sometimes have surprise in a positive way. And I sort of give them primacy on the set in terms of if somebody needs to go again and like many times we often do probably more takes than most people might. And the goal being that it just has to be alive in that take; doesn’t have to necessarily, you know, fit some preset version of the performance. And so I think I’m very actor sympathetic because in its particular way I think it’s sort of in the world of the arts. You know, it has its own level of courage that I admire and so I try and protect it. And so a lot of the energy on set goes that way. And sometimes style in the movies goes that way in terms of how long you might hold a particular scene. You might be holding it simply for performance because you think if you don’t cut your judgment maybe that this scene played on this actor with this long uninterrupted take may produce the most extraordinary work as opposed to, you know, cutting it up.
BRANAGH: And even if you cut things up, for instance in that sequence from Thor, one of the things I did I said to Anthony Hopkins, we’re going to start with the close up. So at 8 o’clock in the morning we’re going to plan for your close up, not the wide shot, not Chris spinning out of the thing. We’re going to start on your close up going you’re unworthy, you’re unworthy. Because he’s what Clint Eastwood would call a fast start up actor. He’s there [SNAPS FINGERS] right away. It also means that the whole of the studio knows that the first shot of the day, sometimes it’s a wide shot, sometimes it’s a smaller thing. You attempted in some weird way to think it’s not as important. Everybody knows the first shot of the day is in the movie. Tony Hopkins close up is going to be in the movie. So everybody needs to be on for that. And he knows that. He also knows one of the more difficult parts of his day will be over soon and there’s a curious kind of, you know, psychology to that that is helpful. And we did the other boy’s close ups early as well. I’ve learned to do that in Wallander and it’s partly, it’s to capture the fear. It’s literally to be there before people get too used to it, before it gets too smooth, before it gets too fluent. Its capture it while it’s still happening. So to that extent it’s had a big influence.
GALLOWAY: Thanks. Next question.
Q: Hello. My name isAnn Marie Skagnin. And I’m a third-year communications studies and theater minor. Now my question for you is when you directed and portrayed Hamlet in your film adaption, what kind of work ethic or techniques did you use to solidify yourself into that character.
BRANAGH: Well, hi. It’s Ann Marie, yeah?
BRANAGH: Hi. You’re all incredibly impressively communicative by the way. [LAUGHTER] I like that. This is nice. I like- it’s good, it’s good to communicate, isn’t it? I had played Hamlet when I was at drama school. I wrote a long letter to my principal explaining why and how and please let me. Everybody got a big part in the last, you know, two terms and so we did it with a cut version with nine people. And so one thing that prepared me was the very first time, at least in my experience, you play a big part like that it’s like, it is a bit of a crash happening. Because it’s, you know, you run on, you got to remember that, oh my god there’s so many lines, oh you come off here, oh my god now I say to be or not to be. Oh god now there’s another famous bit, oh there’s a fight to remember, all this, you’re off and on. Just literally the mechanics of going through one of those big Shakespearean parts was somehow already in the system. And also the beginning of the sort of philosophical underbelly of that was begun. For example, Hugh, this mentor, Hugh Cruttwell said look you’re 19 think about Hamlet like this; there are four medieval humors. I’ll get these wrong now, choleric, melancholy, sanguinity and phlegm.
BRANAGH: Am I right about this? Which all represent characteristic according to this sort of ancient world of alchemy, etcetera. They break up the human character in that way. So why don’t you work out what of those characteristic Hamlet shares. Why don’t you work out what you feel you have and work out what the difference is and if you feel it’s important to attend to that and bring some of what he has that you don’t have and do that and think about it that way because it will make you go back to books, as indeed it did. And explore these strange words I’ve just mentioned to you and then bring it to the piece. So I did that and then fast forward to like seven years later and I was playing it again on stage. And I became very sort of obsessed with the idea of Hamlet being a play about the necessity to grieve. You might say amongst many other things about a play that’s unknowable in a way like that that the play happens because Hamlet cannot say goodbye to his father. The grief has been stopped because time has been contracted and his mother marries his uncle way too quickly. And so that had an important impact and then eventually by the time I got to make the film of it, I felt as though I sort of allowed it to be, and as far as I can understand it, about many other things as well. But still the same experience of the first night at RADA when it was sort of beautiful disaster and on the road with our company and then I did a production at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I did it on the radio. I deliberately just kept going at it. I kept going at it. So to answer your question it was to do it as many times as possible in order, when I got to the screen, to do as little as I could. Some would argue about how little I did. But as little as I could so that as much of what I’d learned about this thing came up. But I mean only to drive the other multifarious things that I, you know, billion times bigger than me, which is Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
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