Renowned for being a star of both stage and screen, Kenneth Branagh has been part of the British acting fraternity for over 30 years. Most famous for his Shakespearean adaptations such as Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry V which he both starred in and directed, he has also featured in the likes of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Frankenstein and The Boat that Rocked. His latest work has seen him take on the direction of Marvel comic adaptation Thor,which sees the mythical Norse god transposed to modern day Earth.
Recently in London he spoke to View's Matthew Turner about his obsession with drama, the impact of working on a big Hollywood film on his career, and how he was inspired by the original Thor comics as a kid.
How aware of Thor were you before you did this movie?
I was, as a kid, growing up in Belfast. I remember seeing this very colourful, very dynamic comic with. .. actually, some of the framing, some of the kind of dynamism in the way we tried to put the picture together in the movie. But I remember being struck by how colourful, vivid and massive it was. The first picture I ever saw of Thor – we never did this in the movie – was Thor’s arms yoked around a tree trunk with his arms thicker than the tree trunk and Loki behind in the classic pose on the throne.
How important was it to nail the relationship between Thor and Loki?
Well, we felt that in terms of the approach, the approach was three-fold, it was to definitely be on a contemporary Earth ... to bring this story to Earth and to bring humour to the story, and then to both create characters and cast it with a kind of detail in the characterisations and in the execution, that was as real as we could be. It’s a relative reality in a comic book movie but I think what works very well is when the boys, who’ve done wonderful jobs in it, catch your breath by the intensity with which they feel things.
So, when you’re rehearsing with the two of them and Anthony Hopkins, and talking about that dynamic between two rival boys and a father who is demanding, and you’ve got some scenes that can take the intensity and passion that can spring from some of those challenges, it felt as though that would be part of what distinguished the film and make it a little different. We could do that in the drama depending on who we cast and how they did it, and I think they both did a fantastic job.
It sounds as though entering the world of Asgard meant fulfilling a childhood ambition? Are there now only two left that you have any chance of fulfilling: playing for Linfield and appearing in Coronation Street?
Well, I think the Linfield one has very probably gone! It was a fantastic opportunity and a great adventure. In a way, it was a great surprise to be considered for it and to do something that I actually hadn’t done before, which was spend a couple of years in Hollywood. I’ve never done that before ... I’ve flitted in and flitted out and been privileged to be asked to go and do things there.
The whole combination of some of the story elements that, you wouldn’t be surprised, interested me in terms of those big problems in royal families have been in some of the rest of the work I’ve done. But the great sort of mystery of visual effects, CGI and 3D, developing stories that are part of a great big film universe that are fiercely protected by the people who have worked so hard to create it across a long period of time, and keeping your energy and your focus on the job ... that was quite something. So, I was in some familiar territory with great talent, and I was in some very unfamiliar territory. So, I sort of deliberately, once I had the joy of doing the job, was putting myself way out of my comfort zone. But it was a very thrillingly bumpy ride.
Coming from a theatrical background, are there any similarities between stage acting and green screen acting?
Well, Natalie Portman said at one stage, interestingly, that she felt that actors should have special training in how to act in green screen, when there’s nothing there. But because Tom [Hiddleston] and Chris [Hemsworth], probably a year before we started shooting, were rehearsing, and rehearsing again in summer, and rehearsed for a couple of weeks before we started shooting, and rehearsed on their own, all of that was there for them to call on, not only when they worked with us but when they worked with the second unit. So, all of that was money in the bank for us by way of preparation.
And given the popularity of the comic books, did you feel under any pressure taking on this project?
It’s so thrilling to be making this picture and not be answering questions at this stage that begin with: “Why have you made a remake?” So, that’s exciting. The pressure, from purists, has always been there. You know you can’t please everyone but you hope you can entertain everyone. I love the passion and the debate that’s attached to this material – to have that many people that interested in what you’re doing, it’s an absolute thrill, believe me. I’ve sometimes been trying to promote films where that hasn’t been the case ... so I’m very happy.