Kenneth Branagh: Making Love


"When it comes to the bottom line, the songs and Shakespeare's words show us the same thing: that our thoughts about romantic love have been the same through 400 years. That we act just as strangely when we fall in love: we write sobby poetry, we don't sleep well, we hang around on corners hoping to get a glimpse of the one we love."

Branagh's radical bet is paying off--finding the international audience for "a musical comedy flood of glamour" (El Mundo)

(Thanks to Lida for the Norwegian translation, and to Isabel for the screen captures.)

The following are excerpts from interviews, press conferences, articles and appearances connected with the making of Branagh's innovative Shakespearean musical, Love's Labour's Lost.

Excerpts from the Madrid press conference:

Question: When you began to work on LLL did you consider giving more importance to acting or dancing? Did you think about doing it with professional dancers?

Ken: The first idea--the guiding idea--was primarily cast people for their acting abilities. After that, they had to be physically coordinated and hold the tune, but I wanted all the singing and dancing to be believable coming from the actors as characters, and not suddenly to turn into something different.

Did [Woody Allen's] "Everyone Says I Love You" influence you on the film?

I enjoyed that film so much. The thing I most enjoyed was the end sequence between Woody Allen and Goldie Hawn, because it was glamorous and it was fantastical because she flew, and it was highly romantic and certainly made me think that audiences could perhaps again accept musical work in that kind of way.

What do you think of the Olivier and Welles' versions of Shakespeare?

Well, I think that in their way they were very radical and pioneering adaptations. In their times, they were themselves pioneers and extremely innovative. But certainly no one has gone as far as actors and producers did then in England. From 1750 to 1800, they not only cut the plays, they rewrote them--so that Romeo and Juliet don't die, they get together at the end. King Lear and Cordelia don't die at the end of King Lear. So, in fact, no one in 20th century film has been as radical as the theater in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Question (from Isabel): Congratulations to you, Mr. Branagh for your great film. How did you decide to cast actors for your films? Does the studio interfere a lot in your decisions? How do you get the idea of working with, for example, Alicia Silverstone? And a second question, how did you get the idea for newsreels ? By the way, many people didn't notice, but that's your voice doing them.

One at a time! (smiles) I do watch a lot of films, I do admire acting, so I am always making mental note when I see something or I see someone being marvellous, I think, well, that would be someone I would love to be with. The studio always wants to have to some kind of input, but in fact they usualy give me so little money to make the films that in the end I'm allowed to cast who I want and not everyone wants to be in a Shakespeare film or will be right for a Shakespeare film, so in the end the budget is low enough to let me have the casting influence. The newsreels were a way to avoiding using captions or doing a conventional voice over, but finding a way to let people have information about the plot since lot of scenes have been cut. Also tonally, it tells them to have fun, and that from the start the film is not taking itself too seriously.

Question: What musical version of Shakespeare is your favourite? Have any of them influenced LLL?

[At first Ken doesn't understand the question and thinks he is begin asked about his favourite Shax play] Um, I think that my favourite play is probably "Twelfth Night". [The journalist clarifies that he is asking about musicals] Oh!, musical adaptation... of Shakespeare? Um, well, music has always played a huge part in the films that we've made, I mean, the singing and dancing indeed in Much Ado About Nothing, there's plenty of music in Henry V and indeed in Hamlet, there's a choral singing in both of those films. So it's a... I haven't seen many adaptations, musical adaptations of Shakespeare, I've read about many, and there's a big tradition. I like the operas. I like Othello.

Question for Alicia: How was working with Kenneth? Is it very different working in UK than in USA?

My experience with Kenneth was unbelievable. We had two and a half weeks of intense rehearsals, the most stimulating experience in my acting carreer, and it's unbelievable. But working on a film in England isn't very different. Kenneth made it different, but the actual film making process wasn't very different. I had worked in France before and the timetables were different, but that's all.

Question for Ken: Have you seen "Shakespeare in Love"? Did you enjoy it and share the vision of Shakespeare portrayed on the film?

I did see "Shakespeare in Love", and enjoyed it very very much. And I would... obviously it's a fiction, we know so little about Shakespeare... but it seemed to me to be Shakespearean in spirit, because its spirit, which I feel about Shakespeare, is comic. Shakespeare's essential spirit is comic, I believe. And it was a real sense of love for the theatre, in that film, which is... I found it very very infectious

Did you think about using new songs for LLL instead of standards?

[Ken can't see who is asking and asks the translator about it] Where is he? Okay, here you are, all right! We did try--we began by thinking in original songs, and the real mistake we made was to actually write them. (laughter) They were terrible (more laughter) It's, um, very hard when you write anything, any words that have to stand next to Shakespeare. We also tried to find songs by Cole Porter, and, and people like that, that were less well known, which also didn't work. It did feel, it seemed that the songs which had to be alongside Shakespeare needed to be in their own right classics.

Question for Ken: Shakespeare is a cheap writer now, because you don't have to pay rights to him (laughter). What do you think he would have written if he had been writting for Hollywood today?

I think that Shakespeare seems to primarily seems that in his own time, he primarily succeed as an immensely popular entertainer. In each play, there's always, you know, a secret play if you like. So, for instance, Henry V, patriotic, medieval pageant,... but scratch the surface and you find a very ambiguous debate about the nature of war. It's true in all the plays. I think perhaps today he might be doing that same thing: he might be working in very popular things and being in those films, completely subversive.

Question: I have liked Stefania Rocca a lot, was it your idea to cast her or was that a decision of the studio?

My choice or the studio's? In the end it has to be a personal choice, because in this case, for instance, the film was so difficult physically: keeping to a very short schedule, always singing and dancing. So I needed people in the film who I absolutely trusted in, believed would commit themselves to that. The studio suggested all sorts of names, but in the end you have to follow your instinct, so Stefania was one of those on my part. If you listen to the studio--and I don't disrespect the names I am about to mention--but if you listen to the studio then this film would star, you know, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Silvester Stallone, you know, any name of that kind of people.

Question: After "Hamlet" you have preferred to make Love's Labour's Lost which is lighter. Have you thought about doing one of the "big ones" afterwards? Which are your next projects, which plays of Shakespeare are you going to adapt? And a second question, what is your relationship with Patrick Doyle, that seems to be essential in all your films?

I suppose there is an issue of variety, when you spend a lot of time with a piece like Hamlet, you do long for something lighter of spirit. Patrick Doyle is a dear friend. We've worked now for, mmm, 12 years together, in theatre and cinema and he is always with me very early on in the process. About two years ago I spent a day with him in my house, with both of us dancing around the house, in order to explain to the other what we wanted for the music. We were using pots and pans from the kitchen to be tap rhythm, you know. There's a song, "Let's Face the Music and Dance", the classic song that's in the film, and it has this very dirty drum beat, you know, at the beginning. And what I mean with Patrick--first of all, it's always had to be sort of very wild, mad about trying to do that. So, that song, that arrangement of that song, began with two saucepans in my house. Also, just to finish, I'm usually available for composers... he is always on the set. He likes to drink in the atmosphere of the film for a long time. And I find it very valuable.

Question: Why are you obsessed with Shakespeare? When did you began reading it? Why don't you make more original screenplays?

I think part of my interest began with having a bad experience with Shakespeare. I was made to read "The Merchant of Venice" aloud in class. And it made no sense to me, it was like reading the telephone directory. About four years later, I worked with a different teacher, who said that the English theatre class we were about to take was going to concern itself solely with sex, adolescent sex, and gang violence. We were very interested in that (laughter). About half way though the lecture, he mentioned "Romeo and Juliet", and we went "Oh, nooo! We've been tricked!" (Ken laughs) But it was the first illustration that Shakespeare writes about you, a 17 year-old person. That began the fascination with trying to find ways to engage not only myself but other people in a real meaningful way with these great plays, which can seem very distant. Usually it takes it, you know, a year or two between Shakespeare films, so probably it will be a little while before the next one comes up. I've just acted in an independent film, a black comedy, called "How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog" (laughter) [Ken whispers something to the translator like, "They'll change the title, they'll definitely change the title."]

Question for Alicia: Do you think this film opens a new phase in your carreer? Which are your next projects?

I think what is so exciting about this project, is that it is so beautifuly made, it is a beautiful story, so magical, there's so much energy and excitement. I hadn't any other option, I read a lot of scripts, but they are all so boring, and this was... I don't necessarily think this changes my carreer, it is not true. This is want I wanted to do, like a dream, a dream to me. I would love to make any other project with Kenneth because it is so stimulating, so rich rather than doing what's normally out there, not so rich.

Question for Ken: Why doing a musical, a Shakespeare musical?

You know, in all of Shakespeare's plays there are songs, there are dances. He uses both devices absolutely consistently through all his plays. He uses it all the time in terms of, particularly, the love ritual. So I think the very idea of doing something that heavily involves music is Shakespearean in spirit. You know, "As You Like It" has songs, there's a dance in the end. "Much Ado About Nothing" has songs and a dance in the end. So, my instinct was that it was organic. In the case of this play, and in the case of the songs that we use, the characteristics were to be at the same time both, um, superficially light comedies, always trivial, and yet, at the same time, to surprise one with the degree of poignancy that they contain. I love that combination, and that sort of spirit of both--the songs and the music and the actual text--seemed to me to be... to use a musical phrase in harmony. And I love musical films from... well, I love musical films full stop actually, not only from this period.

Question: Are you going to go on adapting Shakespeare to contemporary times or are you thinking in a much more conventional period adaptation? And, do you need much time to adapt actor's voices to the Shakespeare's rhythm?

Yeah, um, in each film I've done, the period setting seems to move closer to our time. I'm not quite sure what that is, but I think it's... I seem to be heading...I suspect the next one would have a contemporary setting, because that creative challenge interests me. And sometimes I...sometimes period clothes, I find distancing. The setting is always somehow lose--this is the most specific we did, with this film--but however you do it, the idea for me is to release the play, not to reduce it with a single idea. And that's the danger, but for me it's a fascinating challenge. And when it comes to the acting, on this film every day was packed; they sang and danced, they did Shakespeare. But at the heart of it was absolute dedication to the language itself. It became even more important, because we cut so much of the play, that we made sure that what remained was clearly spoken, observed the structure of the verse or prose, and was effortless and real. With this film, all our effort in a way was put into making it seem effortless and that's what I feel about Shakespeare. He worked very very very hard and then, hopefully, you produce the art which heightens that art.

Question: How do you see yourself as a dancer?

Um, well, I don't have to review the film, so it doesn't matter. I enjoyed it enormously. I'm neither a natural dancer or singer. I'm sure people will tell me what they think (laughs)

Question to both Ken and Alicia: Was it more difficult to do the dancing or the acting part of the role?

Ken: The most difficult thing was trying to remember the dance steps. You're used work so hard during months and months that when you are about to say "turnover, stand by, action" and then you suddenly remember "Fuck, I'm in this as well! (laughter) So that was, "two minutes please" (makes a strange sound as if he was very nervous and moves his hands in a crazy way) Natasha MacElhone particulary was very, very patient with me, but she has very bruised toes (laughter).

Alicia: The experience was exactly the same for me!

Question: About Don Armado, one of the funniest characters in the film. Do you see Spanish people like that? (laughter from the audience)

Um, well it's funny, you know. Don Armado is both one of the most satirized figures by Shakespeare and also one of the most loved. There's no question that he mocks him, but ultimately, I think, Shakespeare in the play points out that... the real people who are humiliated are the boys. But personally, one of my favourite moments in the film is when Don Armado tells Jacquenetta he loves her. Because that character is capable of a sincerity and a constancy that the other men do not achieve. And I've seen the... I've seen this film now in various countries in the world and the biggest, most generous and loving reaction is for Don Armado's number of "I've got a kick out of you".

Question: Which is your relation with the Shakespeare Film Company?

[Ken looks for the one who asked the question and asks the translator about him. "Can you see him?" she asks, and he answers "No, no I can't"] I find that I can't see you and I can't answer you, it's funny. Oh, there, I see! What was the question? [the person and translator repeat it.] Oh, well, it's a company that was, you know, set up by Intermedia, the overall producers of this film. It allows us to release the film in partnership as we did here and with other set of colleagues around Europe too, and continue to make some Shakespeare films--and I hope other films--and films with other directors and other producers. So it's a sort of umbrella for what we hope over the next years might be some exciting work.

Question: I have noticed that Berowne's hair is always a mess... is it intentional?

Oh, you've seen I've spent my life doing this (runs his fingers through his hair, laughter from audience) Um, I've always had untaimed hair. So, um (Ken laughs) yeah, it features like that (laughs again).

Translator: That's all, thank you!

Ken: Thank you very very much!

(This excerpted transcript was edited for content and clarity.
Thanks to Isabel for the transcription and Madrid photo.)

Return to top of this page


The following is a transcription of a Spanish interview with Kenneth Branagh and Alicia Silverstone from Catalunya Radio's program "La Finestra Indescreta" by Alex Gorina on 4 March 2000.

AG: Thanks for being here and welcome to Spain.

AS: Thank you, thank you.

KB: Thank you, gracias [in Spanish].

AG: And the second thing, thanks for doing a musical. Firstly because we needed it, there are not many musicals nowadays. Secondly, because it is one of the most fascinating film genders in all history And thirdly, because doing a musical today is very courageous.

KB: Um, I think you do have to be corageous, but you also have to decide to have fun, which we did. But the idea was to convey the fun of the play, the fun of the musical gender, the songs, the openheartiness, the good spirit behind it all was a joy to be part of them and um, a delight, is getting out there.

AG: I like the idea a lot because Shakespearean language is musical, rhythmic. And the musical is rhythmic too. And to put all this together is a great idea. I think all of Shakespeare is musical.

KB: Well, Shakespeare uses songs and dances in all his plays and you are absolutely right, I think the language is musical. The idea of the musical Shakespeare, music being imported, is absolutely Shakespearean in spirit. In fact, it's a surprise that people hadn't done it on film before. They've done it many times in the theatre. And you see how opera works so well with Shakespeare. But is lovely to be the first people to do it on film.

AG: The film is very elegant. The sense of the rhythm is very confusing nowadays, people confuse rhythm with velocity and it is not the same. In your film there's a beautiful rhythm, an adagio's rhythm, exactly the one the film needs. It is a very constant and balanced movie.

KB: Thank you, I mean, it's... we tried to be delicate, we tried to be effortless. We worked very very hard to make it seem efortless, to seem very light hearted, very easy to accept and understand. It is complex underneath but the superficial impression is of something very light, very delicate, very, very beautiful... like my friend here [talking about Alicia. She laughs].

AG: The friend, Alicia Silverstone, is just like Ginger Rogers. I always thought it was your model, not only on the scenes clearly inspired by "Top Hat". Your look and your movements reminded me of her.

KB: Um, no I didn't [Alicia laughs] but Fred and Ginger's movies much influenced this. [To Alicia] What did you have in mind when you've been the princess?

AS: No, not at all, um, [laughs] Kenneth's shots of that film are beautiful because of the effortlessness, the effortlessness of the movement, that it is beautiful. And when he said, "you have to do that" I thought "is he lost or what?" But no, I mean, I am really....sort of naive about all this. I don't know a lot of musicals, I don't know a lot of movies, I don't know anything. I really loved the material and I thought it was really, really beautiful and it spoke to me because... because what it talks about, just the message, there's a lot of... hidden, well not hidden, messages in this story. That's what spoke to me. So I just sort of accept it, very... I just accept it that it was music and it seems it is supposed to be that way. So I never had a guideline. It was just what it was, whatever would be and I really respond to the energy of it all. With Kenneth I talked about this heightened energy and at one point, we are doing the songs a lot and rehearsing with Ian Adams and then, at one point, Kenneth came in and in ten minutes he changed the whole thing in completely a different way, just by making us move around and have a lot of energy and go really fast. And that's different to me, that's when I understood what I was doing. When that happened I understood that all it's gonna be sort of this, [she gets so enthusiastic she can't express herself. Ken laughs], you know like that [laughs] that's when I really understood.

AG: The songs are very well integrated on the film. They sum up in a very smart way lots of text.

KB: Well, that's a very nice image. We worked hard to make them... [sound of a door slamming] Um, that's Shakespeare turning on his grave [Alicia laughs] We worked hard to make them organic, to make them feel part of this story, to reflect back on the scene just happening, and on the scene to come. know, a moment for the inner spirit, the heart and soul of the characters to speak, an incomparable moment, without the deceptions and the masks and the shadows of words, they're pure and innocent in their feelings. And Shakespeare often leaves you those moments and it seems to work, this particular marriage seemed to work.

AG: I think Shakespeare would be very happy with this film. I confess that when I am alone at home, or with people I trust in, I sing and dance, and look at myself in the mirror and I have lots of fun expressing myself with songs and dances. We are not seeing great dancers or singers, but the film has this same spontaneous image. And Shakespeare was a funny man, that had fun with his plays and performing his plays. I am sure he would understand it perfectly.

KB: People do, people do, I mean, sing and dance when words are no longer enough to... They have to somehow almost with their entire bodies, with as Ian Adams used to call it, your real voice, your singing voice, to express things, you know, very passionately. And we wanted that, rather than a very very slick, you know, movie with dances and singers that you suddenly become too technically aware. We wanted the heart and soul of the active performance in the singing and the dancing with all their imperfections.

AG: Patrick Doyle has made a great score, that reminds me of some of his previous Shakespearean works, much lighter and smoother, like the film. Those transition moments when the actors are not singing, but they are not speaking, they are "almost singing" the verses, just like Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady". Is it part of Patrick Doyle's work? It seems essential to me--that mixture of score, songs and verses....

KB: He worked very hard for a long time in advance of shooting to steep himself in that period of music. And he was around a lot during the shoot, to start to feel it. He works in great detail and he was up to it again. Shakespeare and Cole Porter--it was a big big challenge for him, and it works very, very well indeed.

AG: This is a film with a delicate balance between passion, humour and melancholy, especially the last part of the film.

KB: I like that, I like that...

AS: Yes, you say such nice things [Ken and Alicia laugh].

KB: Yeah, you can come again [laughs again] We are very grateful for your appreciation, it is very nice. You understood what we were trying to do-- what Shakespeare...what we felt we saw in Shakespeare. He introduces after all this celebration of love, you know, "the chill wind of reality", separation. It is funny, you know, in the sort of fantasy of this film which is in vibrant colour and all the real, bitter, in black and white. Sometimes that's what I feel about life [laughs but sadly].

AG: Can I ask a question more? I think it was very hard to make this film with non-professional dancers, because, althought you wanted all that spontaneity, they had to be good. Alicia, was there a moment when you thought you couldn't do it?

AS: There wasn't any choice. You wanted to do... I wanted to do the best job I could, because that's what Kenneth was trying to do. That was so amazing to me--that it was sort of easy steps, the ones you have to follow in order to achieve what he ultimately wanted to put out in the world. My part was pretty easy compared what he had to do, all the preparation and all the thoughts behind it all. So for me, stumble a little bit for two and a half weeks in a film in which I had to dance, it was superfun. Yeah, it was hard. The hardest thing was possibly remembering how to do it all at the same time. It wasn't so hard to sing, I mean, it was scary, but once we had recorded the songs and you think "we have done that, forget about it." Then you are on set, dancing and doing the shoot... I not only had to watch my feet, I had to remember to sing. That was a really hard thing to remember to do. But, I mean, how much fun I had! It's so much bigger that the troubles I complain about, when I was doing it, it was so much fun!

AG: In the film--I don't know if it was on purpose or not--you have made a summary of all the history of musicals. Numbers of Fred and Ginger, that number of the three boys is just like something from Stanley Donen's "Singing in the Rain", George Sydney's musicals in the Esther Williams number, the masked number, very Vincent Minnelli's, Bubsy Berkeley, the verses in the library like Rex Harrison's in "My Fair Lady". I mean, all the musical history all through the film... it's like a jewel!

KB: Well, it was definitely intended to try to celebrate this form... you know I tried to invest it with, you know, [laughs] all my favourite bits from musicals of the past, across 30's, 40's and 50īs and even 60's with Bob Fosse in there as well. And those for the films we were talking with Stuart Hopps, the choreographer. It's like this bit from the film, with Adrian Lester. "You've got a whole number, do whatever you like" but he had to do the thing with the chairs, because we had to have that moment in the film. But at the same time I don't want it to be exclusive, you don't need to know these movies to see the film, but I think if you do like musicals it is a nice reminder. If I owned the video rights to all of those musicals I would re-release them now, you know, if our film is a success.

AG: Thank you very much!

AS: Thank you!

KB: Thank you very much for your appreciation, thank you!

AS: Thank you!

(Thanks to Isabel for the transcription, which was lightly edited for clarity.)

Return to top of this page


From the Empire Awards:

Mariella Frostrup: We now move onto the Empire Inspiration Award which recognises true mavericks of the movies, the people who change the rules, the people who innovate and indeed invigorate the cinema-going experience. This year's Empire Inspiration Award goes to a terrifyingly talented man. He's a luminary of the theatre who's equally at home with film. He speaks Shakespearean like it's his mother tongue and makes it thrilling for the multiplex generation. As an actor, he's worked with Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Denzel Washington and Will Smith. As a director, he was daring enough to successfully take on Hitchcock at his own game, and has turned his hand to comedy, horror, and now even a musical - a Shakespearean musical of course - in the wonderful Love's Labour's Lost. He's made a better version of Henry V than Laurence Olivier and knew that it was essential for history to have a definitive version of Hamlet on film, which he duly delivered, in 70ml, for four hours. He had the balls to write his autobiography at 27, knows just about everything there is to know about dinosaurs and apparently his mum is Julie Christie. In every respect he is a true renaissance man. Shall we see why?

(Cut to clip from LLL - Berowne and Rosalind)

KB: (Amidst huge applause) Thank you, thank you very much. (Points to screen). March 24th, at cinemas all over the country. (More applause - KB points to LLL table). Ah, inspirational table over there. Ah, erm (looks at award), it's impossible to know what to say. Um, ah, (brushes award with sleeve) I'm astonished and, um, I'm very very touched and I'm very very grateful. Thank you Empire. (Leaves stage to more applause)

Cut to studio.

MF: Now, to me, it seemed that the Inspiration Award should have gone to you for managing to get a studio to let you make another Shakespeare film but this time set as a thirties musical with Love's Labour's Lost. Now surely they must have all been scratching their heads when you turned up with that idea.

KB: Yeah, tough sell. Because (a) no-one had even heard of the play and then I made the mistake of saying "you know, it was the only play in the entire canon of Shakespeare that wasn't performed for 200 years after he died, because people didn't think it was very good." Faces dropped and then, um...

MF: That doesn't help your cause.

KB: No, it doesn't help, no. I realise that I was digging my own grave, but I said, "but, you know, the thing is, we're going to do it as a musical". Oh, the genre in film that hasn't worked for the last 30 years. Right. So. Obscure Shakespeare comedy, romantic film musical,...

MF: Have a cheque.

KB: Yeah! You must do this.

MF: What about the juggling act, the perennial juggling act between directing, raising the money for films, appearing in them, etc.? Does it ever get a mite confusing?

KB: It was on this one. It was more Tonto barking mad on this one than ever before. The biggest being remembering these fucking dance steps! But I started about a month before the rest of the company and I cunningly gave myself less to do.

MF: And extra rehearsal time! That's very unfair! (Shakes her finger at him.)

KB: Yeah, well, they were getting time when we started because they were all practising every time I was doing acting scenes with them, so they got my time that way.

(Thanks to Catherine for the transcription.)

Return to top of this page


Excerpts from an interview with the Cranky Critic

Since the previous evening Branagh had presented one of the American Theater Wing's Tony Awards, and since Love's Labour's Lost is an all singing all dancing musical take on the Bard we thought the logical place to start off was to ask if he'd take to the musical stage next...

Kenneth Branagh: There's nothing specific planned. I enjoy watching them. I really enjoyed James Joyce's The Dead, did you see it? It was really, really charming. Very lovely music. The Irish influence and my background, the whole set up of it of people at a wake, essentially, singing parlor songs and bringing them to life was very; there's such a lovely lightness of touch about it and I enjoy seeing the big razzle dazzle stuff as well. I'd like to see Kiss Me, Kate and Contact.

CrankyCritic: When you started working on LLL, did it ever go through your head (as it did ours, and in the message boards on the site); did you start to think, "What the hell am I doing?"

>Kenneth Branagh: Well, it took a long to convince myself it might work. At all points you thought could this work because the play doesn't get done much and musicals don't seem to work on film, etc. So you spend a lot of time trying to ask and answer that question in whatever way. I've been in the play and felt it played much more winningly than it reads. It's very tough to read. It's very dense. But in the theater it's an audience pleaser. They like it and found it silly and charming and then they went with the change at the end which makes it quite poignant. I like it that the evening can contain both those things. Slapstick and silliness and then something quite heartbreaking and thought provoking.

CrankyCritic: But a musical?

Kenneth Branagh: While I knew that I liked musicals, I must say I tend to like the ones that are superficially about frivolous subjects, that tend to make their more serious points lightly -- rather than the more overtly serious and earnest ones which, for me, tend to veer towards opera or melodrama or whatever. I love entertainment that is superficially one thing and surprises you with what else it does. So given that I liked both those things you start turning the worries into a positive. You think, well, if it hasn't been done for a while maybe this is the time to do it again.

CrankyCritic: How far is too far in taking liberties with Shakespeare?

Kenneth Branagh: I don't know that there is too far, actually. I think there's only too bad. If it's bad you've gone too far. The elasticity of Shakespeare is extraordinary. It seems that people have got all worked up this century about "oh! they've cut so much of the text!" Go back to the 17th century, David Garrick, who was responsible for the revival of Shakespeare's fortunes and was responsible for the Silver Jubilee of Shakespeare in 1764, he was part of a whole generation of theater practitioners who changed the endings. I mean, Romeo and Juliet lived in the David Garrick version of it. King Lear is reunited with his daughter who's no longer dead at the end of King Lear and those were the very productions that reestablished Shakespeare after the whole hundred years (when) his plays weren't done. The radicalism that they applied, which kept it very lively and in the popular imagination and in fact gave us Shakespeare were way more brutal with a playwright who continues to be bouncing back from all of that. Stimulated and revived; revivified is the phrase I think. If it's good art, it's good. If you've done a brilliant version it becomes something else. Shakespeare then becomes the source of fantastic inspiration. I resist the idea that there's one way to do it. Otherwise, why see a Shakespeare play twice? why hear a Beethoven symphony twice. Why look at a van Gogh painting twice. They're classics. Their very quality is their ability to resonate from time to time through, in the case of Shakespeare, the personification of the characters through living actors that's why you want to go see Kevin Kline's Hamlet or Daniel Day Lewis' hamlet. You don't go "Oh I've seen that. I know what happens. Doesn't he go mad or something?" [laughter]

CrankyCritic: Where did the musical connection come from, to go with American classics instead of having new songs done (as in West Side Story) ?

Kenneth Branagh: We did try to write songs. The real problem is the lyrics. It's very hard to, while retaining the original Shakespeare, to come up with original lyrics that didn't look pretty silly next to them. It took a braver man than me to try and do that. We did look at the less well known songs of these composers and that didn't work. It seems to me that these songs are classics in their own right. It took quite a long time, eighteen months to two years before sort of slowly wading through all the possible material, having previously cut the play, to try and find moments where you thought the characters might legitimately burst into song. Where you could believe in someway that words were no longer enough, that there was enough passion, frustration whatever to happen to encourage something more to happen. It took a while.

CrankyCritic: How much were you inspired by Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You which has a similar construct of non-singing actors singing?

Kenneth Branagh: Well, I enjoyed it very much. I was encouraged by the way in which, for the very last sequence of that movie, the audience seemed to feel especially comfortable in the sort of very romantic and heightened atmosphere. The very last scene, as I recall, with Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen is on the banks of the Seine. It's a glamorous city at night, moonlight, lush orchestration. He's in a tuxedo, she's in a beautiful gown and she flies. All of these things, as it were at the most extreme terms of musical film, and the audience seemed to feel at ease with that. Maybe [this] offered something that was different and fun. It wasn't just nostalgic. It was romantic and that was an encouraging thing to witness.

CrankyCritic: Did you talk to Woody at all about this when you made Celebritywith him?

Kenneth Branagh: A little bit. I mean, we don't have huge experience in song and dance. [All of them] had done some; it wasn't as big a step as it might have seemed. He told me that he encouraged no preparation at all in terms of vocal stuff, whereas, despite the mixed abilities in our group we did try very, very hard, having dancing and singing coaching in advance of rehearsal. We did it very intentionally. I told everyone "Look, character and form in singing and dancing is the most important thing but I also want you to try to do your very best. I'm going to buy what roughness or raw edges come out as long as your character and your whole being is absolutely behind it. I think that that will end up being charming, but we can't parody it. We can't be sort of tipping the wink and suggesting that we could be better; we're not just sending it up or satirizing it. I don't want that. We must do the very best we can and if we take a few hits, fine by me." I think our primary responsibility is to the Shakespeare play. I hasten to insist that there's a sort of strange balance. I'm not apologizing for it but I'm suggesting that the kind of Mickey and Judy "hey we can put the show on right here" quality is kind of what we wanted.

CrankyCritic: Was there a thought, though, that casting more people like Nathan Lane, who already had the experience, could throw the "amateurs" off?

Kenneth Branagh: Here was what I was worried about. My absolute instinct was I needed to feel that people had the right approach to the Shakespeare for me. I also wanted people who were totally committed to doing it. I wanted so much of a character performer that I didn't want too much technique when they suddenly started singing. I didn't want the experience to suddenly go into the admiration of a beautiful tone. I'll give you an example: when I sang the first part of "They Can't Take That Away From Me" at the end of the movie, with all this coaching and stuff I sang it musically more correctly when we first did it. I was, from personal vanity point of view, rather pleased with it. Then we sat down and listened to it and it just seemed to me that it wasn't Berowne singing. It was me having got very pleased with my voice -- still not Pavarotti, I hasten to add -- but I'd become something else. It's an infinitesimal thing. Sort of under the skin feeling that somehow took me away from the character. So we recorded it again, not with a deliberate attempt to roughen it up but just playing more directly. I am Berowne singing good-bye to Rosaline, a woman I love who I may never see again. What's in the picture is less musically correct but it's unadjusted, so I'll waver a bit flat there but it's got life and heart there and that's what I was asking everyone else to do. Up to that point, of course, I wanted to do both things. To be as technically correct as possible but also have some life. It was Shakespeare first and then the rest.

CrankyCritic: Were you surprised at some of the actors' abilities as singers?

Kenneth Branagh: Oh no. [laughs] Talent means acting. Acting talent. I know you're being a bit of a sausage to put it that way [we laugh] It did encourage me that they went for it with such aplomb. We checked out that people weren't tone deaf or had never moved in rhythm before and we put them through their paces with choreographers and singing coaches as soon as they were on board. There was something about the whole atmosphere of the picture that needed to go this way, from my point of view. It needed to have the sort of human dimension; I did not want to turn it into some sort of superpowered slick operation. It had to be about the Shakespeare and the ensemble. There's certain things that it brings up. The kind of shared fear which was quite useful from time to time. We were very bonded by the exposing, vulnerable-making process of starting to learn songs and dances, where you mess up and that kind of stuff.

CrankyCritic: People are always surprised at the American actors that you pick for your Shakespearean projects. How do you pick them? Do you watch a lot of movies?

Kenneth Branagh: I do. I watch quite sort of a wide range of pictures. For me, when we come to casting, it's quite important that the people really want to be in the movie. Something like this gets announced and agents will get in touch or actors will get in touch. I didn't want to have anybody in the movie who was working as a way of doing me a favor. They had to really, really want to be there 'cuz there are too many chances to mess up. Too many chances to look stupid. So the kind of attitude becomes incredibly important. There's not much money. There's not much time and you have to work very hard inside. With somebody like Matt or Alicia, both of them really met us halfway as well and that goes a long way with me. They both had gifts in the films I've seen that people take for granted. I remember when I cast Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing, eyebrows were raised about that, chiefly at that stage, because the Bill and Ted movies were his major claim to fame. I think people just kind of assumed that he walked out of bed and walked into those movies. I think they're very funny, that the comedy in them is very, very skillful. For me, that's what I walk away with. A sense of the talent. I don't just naturally assume, "Oh he's like that. He's that character." There's some art there. There's some artifice there. I don't respond to getting agented. Nor do I respond to the pressure of whatever people might regard as the sort of pressures of commercial casting. It doesn't work with something like this. Never works. You can't fool the public in this way. So, Star X, his agent rings me up and says "we want to be in it because Big Star X thinks it would be good for his career at the moment." It's no good if he doesn't want to be in it, if he just wants his or her name on the poster and isn't going to be prepared to do the work. They'll look silly. It won't be as good. People won't be fooled. So there has to be genuine creative reasons behind it. Otherwise, it's a bloody nightmare for me! There were a couple of people who wanted to be in it. I finished having sessions with them and I remember one saying "this is great. You'd be so good for me. You'd be such a good teacher." You know. [we laugh] Yeah it'd be great for you. Unfortunately I've got bloody film to make. You should come for other reasons, to meet me halfway. I'll do some solo sessions or something.

CrankyCritic: How would you define Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese's relationship to the movie?

Kenneth Branagh: I shall define it thusly: [laughs] I spoke to Martin Scorsese, who I've known over the last six or seven years. We've talked about doing things together. He's a hero to me. A man of exciting knowledge about film including musicals, despite having made only the one [New York New York]. We talked a lot about practicalities and logistics. Things like dance numbers. When you schedule them in a shooting schedule? What time of the day? How many rehearsals before you start shooting it? All of these things linked to gauging fatigue or the possibility of injury or how that affects way to shoot. The advantages and disadvantages of being very cutty or doing it in uninterrupted takes. He was very helpful and right at the end, when we were just about finished with the film, the Harve-meister [Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein--cs], in his infinite wisdom, decided we should show people with a view to getting final thoughts. He invited Martin Scorsese and Stanley Donen, who were both extremely helpful. Very supportive. Gave me a lot of their time afterwards. That was very helpful. Captain Harvey thought, "If they like it so much," which they clearly did, "perhaps they'd care to endorse it." And he asked them and god knows they didn't have to. I think they were very sensitive to the fact that, in its small way, it was ambitious and a tough sell. So we're very proud to have them connected with it.

CrankyCritic: One of our readers asks a question about masks and doorways being prominent images in LLL, as in nearly all your movies. [thanks Jude Tessel]. Is that deliberate or a wrong impression.

Kenneth Branagh: Oh it's true that they are there. I sometimes work it out. I'm pretty interested in masks, I think, from a very mysterious and creepy experience in Venice one time. I went to a mask shoppe. And inside was an old Gepetto kind of character. This was years and years ago. And these things seemed to be moving to me; seemed to be completely alive. There were those sort of innocuous ones from the comedia dell'arte and then there were creepier ones. We went to this restaurant in a backstreet and it was carnival time [though the city] seemed to be dead. And out of the mist, silently came this huge mask, like a character from Don Giovanni on a gondola and it scared the living s--t out of me because you couldn't hear it and couldn't see it. A sort of incredible Pirates of the Caribbean/ Wes Craven moment. That whole Venetian mask thing has stuck with me ever since. I went back to the mask shoppe and couldn't find it, but have used them, for their unsettling effect ... and doorways, I don't know, it may be a dull literal kind of view of things. It's often nice to line up for the symmetry

CrankyCritic: Oh the library doors in Love's Labour's Lost are huge

Kenneth Branagh: They are--

CrankyCritic: And they make beautiful set pieces.

Kenneth Branagh: There were a number of touches that I sometimes think "Is anybody going to really see this? And do they really care?" Each time we go to the boys when they have their top hat and tails on we tilt down. At the top of each of the doors there is a sign saying "School For" whatever it is. School of Natural Philosophy. School of Metaphysics. And you get a sort of beat of that and you go down to Fred Astaire-man. That kind of thing amused me. I like doing the kind of contradiction between all those things. So I hope that answered the question.

CrankyCritic: Any thought of doing a film, somewhere down the road, about your Belfast youth?

Kenneth Branagh: Stephen Rea once said to me that I should do that very thing. Something about that late 1960s time. So I'm thinking about it.


Return to top of this page

For the Love's Labour's Lost page, click here.

For the story of Love's Labour's Lost page, click here.

For the Making of Love's Labour's Lost page, click here. Includes interviews, articles and essays.

For more essays and commentary on Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For the studio production notes for Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For Trust Kenneth Branagh - - Belfast Telegraph amd Guardian interviews, click here. Interviews and photos: Kenneth Branagh talks about work, and about bringing Love's Labour's Lost to the screen.

For a pair of personal interviews conducted by The London Times following the completion of Love's Labour's Lost click here.

For the studio production notes for Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For reviews of Love's Labour's Lost, click here.

For Love's Labour's Lost and more in the Guardian interview with Kenneth Branagh at the National Film Theatre's 1999 Branagh retrospective, click here.

For an interview with composer Patrick Doyle on the music in Love's Labour's Lost and more, click here.
Scroll down. Way down.

The Good Bits




What's Up: STAGE

What's Up: BOOKS

What's Up: MUSIC

What's Up: FILM

Fictional Characters

What's Up:

Today's Special

Sure We
Thank You