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Monday, September 27, 2021

From Shakespeare to Thor

Kenneth Branagh,the acclaimed Irish actor and director,often considered to be contemporary cinema’s leading interpreter of Shakespeare,has surprised many fans by directing a $150 million adaptation of the comic book Thor

Written by New York Times |
May 8, 2011 3:41:08 am

Kenneth Branagh tries to devote only five minutes a day to the future. His reason is simple: it’s impossible to predict anything,especially in the entertainment business. That said,Branagh also knows full well that in his profession “anyone is only a phone call away from a life-changing event.’’

Branagh got that call in 2008,when he was asked to direct Marvel Studios’ big-screen adaptation of the comic book Thor. Now,that’s the bigger story: Kenneth Branagh,the acclaimed Irish actor and director,a man associated with Shakespeare is directing Thor?

“There’s a slight implication that comic books are more superficial or simple or easy than many other forms of entertainment to produce,’’ Branagh concedes. “When it came up,I was excited by the possibility,because I knew it would be fiendishly difficult. So the idea of that kind of challenge,of learning about the new technology,of understanding the whole digital and CGI world … I was captivated by that.’’

“Now,some people may be surprised to know of that kind of enthusiasm and interest in me,’’ he says,“but I read the Thor comics as a kid. And I do like going to the movies.’’

Two-plus years and a reported $150 million later,Thor released May 6. Chris Hemsworth stars as the Norse thunder god who is banished to Earth by his father,Odin (Anthony Hopkins),only to wind up protecting mankind from his estranged brother,Loki (Tom Hiddleston),and,of course,falling for a mortal woman,Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

Branagh explains that he considered it vital to focus on the human,relatable aspects of Thor,the characters and their relationships. “The story of Thor is a coming-of-age tale,an identity tale,’’ the 50-year-old says. “It’s the story of a prodigal son,a man who,in order to find out who he truly is and in what he truly believes,must face adversity and trials and humiliation in order to potentially gain some insight and some wisdom and some happiness.’’

“It’s about script,script,script,script,’’ Branagh says. “I knew all of that stuff was almost giddily exciting to play with,the idea of the scale and the possibility,imaginatively,of who we could engage to make all these dreams come true,’’ Branagh says,“but none of it would seem anything but empty unless we had a great,big character study and a dramatically strong structure.’’

Branagh goes on to describe a tough-but-fulfilling shoot and collaboration with a cast so “intelligent’’ and “passionate’’ that it made the characters of ancient myth as compelling as if they has been created yesterday from whole cloth. “Even when the characters are silent and thinking,’’ the director says,“one wants to watch them.’’ He also points out that Thor will stand out because it’s about gods,and gods among men,rather than superheroes.

Once a golden boy of the British theatre,the seemingly indefatigable Branagh seemed to be everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s. He was a dashing star of stage and screen,a respected director and even a tabloid regular as the one-time husband of Emma Thompson and later the longtime partner of Helena Bonham Carter.

Branagh has been married since 2003 to art director Lindsay Brunnock and his projects during the past few years have included Warm Springs (2005),As You Like It (2007),Sleuth (2007),Valkyrie (2008),and the upcoming film My Week with Marilyn,in which he will play Laurence Olivier opposite Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.Branagh has announced his intention to take a break of several months before returning to the stage to act in a French farce in his native Belfast in Northern Ireland.

“I’ve enjoyed living over here in Los Angeles for a year or two,’’ he adds,“and so has my wife. It feels as though I’ve been as busy as ever,’’ the actor/director continues,“but I do like doing all the things I like doing,like going to watch soccer games,reading books and going to the movies.’’

“There’s been no conscious decision to slow down,’’ Branagh says,“and the really dangerous thing is that I’m about to have a break for two or three months. The last time I had a break for more than a few weeks was followed by the most productive year I’ve ever had. So my wife is getting slightly nervous about that.’’IAN SPELLING

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