Kenneth Branagh on Why He Loved Playing William Shakespeare

Den of Geek: Do you feel like it was inevitable that you actually played Shakespeare at some point?

Kenneth Branagh: I don’t know about inevitable, but I’m very glad to have done it and it sort of sprang into life in a very natural way — a long, long conversation with Ben Elton across the years about working together; always wanting to see him, a comic writer, write a drama. I always like comic actors, I enjoy working with comic actors who do dramatic works, I think they bring some tone to it that is very detailed and full and warm and humane, and I knew that he would do that with a story like this, and so he produced this great sitcom, Upstart Crow, about Shakespeare; very funny, and I was asked to be a guest in it. And during that, we spoke, and I pitched to him the idea of this sort of chamber piece that was about this time in Shakespeare’s life when he goes back to Stratford.

I was, in my own life, trying to make a Shakespeare garden which could come in various forms but basically, often is just putting the plants in their period and the plays in an order — I’m no gardener at all but it was a starting point for me. So I was enjoying that, and then pitched this to him and he responded well and it just happened. Sort of natural momentum, you know? It came from quite a deep place rather than a kind of pushy place, just sort of emerged and when I saw what he did, he responded swiftly and we had a good relationship in the back and forth of the script editing. Very enjoyable. It just seemed to gather its own slow, strong momentum.

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People throw the term “personal film” around a lot, but this really seems to fit the bill.

Totally. Because I was able to do what I wanted in terms of big decisions like, “Okay, no artificial light; we’ll go with natural daylight and at night we’ll use candles. We’ll do lots of scenes in one take, we’ll have quite extreme angles, try and place ourselves there in some sort of dynamic way.” There was no need to explain to anybody, to sell anything to anybody, you somehow earned the right to do that. Plus, we were going to be making it quickly and for a low budget, so quite big decisions like that were important to make, it’s how you allowed yourself some time. Again, that was unimpeded, so it was very, very personal.

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