In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
Narrator: This great Hollywood director
comes from an Irish working-class family
and became the youngest actor ever to play Henry V
for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He later made his first movie from the play
and was nominated for an Academy Award
and received the BAFTA Award for Best Director.
He then successfully pursued an acting
and directing career with such movies
as "Peter's Friends,"
"Frankenstein" with Robert De Niro,
and "Much Ado About Nothing"
with Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves.
His four-hour film version of "Hamlet,"
led by an impressive cast, was a tremendous success,
nominated for four Academy Awards
and became a reference for how to turn
Shakespearean plays into films.
He's also had massive hits with action and fantasy movies,
such as "Jack Ryan" "Cinderella," and "Thor."
Hi I'm Kenneth Branagh, and you're watching
"Hollywood's Best Film Directors."
We're talking here in the Pressburger mixing theater
in Pinewood Studios just outside London England.
And I've made my last two pictures here,
which "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"
And I also shot, as an actor, a movie called
"My Week with Marilyn" here,
which was also based in the studio.
So it was exciting to walk around here
and remember which famous film was made,
there are so legions of them.
So being at Pinewood is -- just being on the lot
is being part of the British film industry.
I was born in Belfast
in Northern Ireland, working-class family.
My father was a joiner, he apprenticed as a joiner.
I had an older brother, younger sister,
and both my parents came from large families,
so my mum, there were like 11 siblings there, so...
And with my dad, it was five.
So a lot of our childhood was spent visiting
and being in large rooms for family gatherings,
and because there wasn't much money about,
quite a lot of the entertainment went on there
and then, so people sang or did poetry or told jokes
or anecdotes, family anecdotes, or all sorts of funny stories
going on about Belfast at that time.
Action. I had this strong sense
when I was growing up there -- I lived there till I was nine --
of a real sense of who I was.
Absolute identity, and in a culture
that loved words, loved performing,
but not officially -- nobody was in show business.
All were hardworking working-class folk
who made their their own entertainment.
When I was in Belfast, I didn't do any acting,
but when I came to Reading, when my family
moved in May of 1970, I went to a primary school
called Whiteknights Primary and Reading,
and from a pretty formal education system
back in Belfast.
It felt like coming to a sort of spa resort.
I went to this place that was very much more laissez-faire.
And that was where I think I did my first performing.
So there was a television program
called "The Magic Roundabout,"
which was narrated famously by a man called
Eric Thompson, who was the father of a woman --
little did I know -- I would meet later on and marry.
And a very central character in it was Dougal the dog.
Us 10-year-olds took this adapted version
of "The Magic Roundabout" by our form teacher, Miss Levitt.
We all played each of the six or seven central characters,
and I wore a a sort of brown blanket
cut up into strips to suggest -- not very convincingly -- Dougal.
And it was my first experience of being on the stage
in other people's schools and on tour.
That's what I need to see.
I had several teachers when I was at school
who were very encouraging during this class
where this guy was just standing in.
He started on this speech that I didn't quite understand
where it was going, but he said, "All right, all of you,
I know you're a bit bored with this class.
I tell you one thing you should do, you should all come
and see this play, 'Oh! What a Lovely War,'
and I'll tell you why -- because there's a lad in that show
who is gonna go on to become a very, very famous actor."
And I found myself leaning forward going,
"Really? Christ, who's that then?"
And it wasn't until afterwards
that I realized he was talking about me.
[ Indistinct conversation ]
I had a fantastic time at RADA.
RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
was everything that I wanted to be.
It was a bashed-up old building with a ton of history.
It had a brilliant principal.
It was for a kid from the country.
I felt very much up from the country.
I felt like Pip
in Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations,"
going up to the city and being changed.
When I left, I hadn't got a job, but in the last term at RADA,
I'd seen a poster on the wall in the bar at RADA for a play
called "Another Country."
And I saw a few names in it.
I reckoned Rupert Everett was in it.
And two months out of RADA, I discovered
that they were taking this play to the West End.
One of the two of the actors were leaving,
and I got the part, and I was living in a flat
with my girlfriend, tiny room in a tiny flat.
Rainy Sunday, I'd just come back from the launderette.
And this parcel arrived, and it was the play,
and I opened it, and first of all, I said --
I looked through and saw how many times my --
as all actors do -- how many times my character was in it.
I thought, Christ, he's in it all the way through.
So I was astonished to find myself in a fantastic role
in a very, very brilliant play.
And that March, three months after we left,
suddenly we opened, and we ran for six months.
And then, as we were leaving,
I remember saying to Rupert, "Shall we go and see the cast
that are taking over? They're doing a dress rehearsal
this afternoon before our last performance --
do you want to come and see them?"
He said, "No, I don't want to see them."
He said, "Anyway, who's in it?"
I said, "The guys taking over, one's called Daniel Day-Lewis,
and the other guy's called Colin Firth.
So I've never heard of them, but should we go and see them?"
He said no. I did go and see them.
And I thought, "Well, I think we'll probably hear
about these guys."
[ Speaks indistinctly ]
There was this show in Australia that I loved doing
and I put it into a one-man show --
Tennyson's monodrama, "Maud" or "The Madness."
And I did it for two weeks at a little theater in Waterloo,
and for the first week, no one came.
I mean, no one came.
That was an interesting experience --
do 1,400 lines of Tennyson on your own every night.
And then there was a revue
at the beginning of the second week.
It was a great revue and it was packed the second week.
Into that production came the Royal Shakespeare Company
and its casting directors, and so they asked me to audition
for Stratford season the following season.
And they wanted to do "Henry V." Adrian Noble was directing
and they wanted to go with a young Henry V,
so I came away a sort of convert to Shakespeare
in big spaces, and little did I know,
they were going to ring me shortly to tell me
I'd got the part and was indeed the youngest.
I was the youngest guy to play it there at 23.
And it was great because ignorance is bliss.
Then I'll give the boys a nod, and off Keanu goes, okay?
When I appeared as an actor
in the production of "Henry V" at Stratford
and then in London -- so I guess I played it
100 times or something, maybe more --
and I noticed
the way the performances deepened across that time,
which seems to happen with these great writers.
You can't get to the end of it, if you can be better,
it will be better, it's richer and richer.
And it was exciting to see that happen and...
However, I felt as though I wanted to see this story
A man called Stephen Evans, who was a freelance stockbroker
who began very generously supporting
our renaissance theater company, was interested
in getting into film, and he said,
"Do you have anything? And I said, "Yeah.
I have this feeling that that there could be a wonderful
new movie to be made of "Henry V."
"Well, how do you know you can do it?"
It was just...
a passionate instinct and intuition
based on not quite a lot. By that stage, I had --
Although I was only 27 when I directed it,
I could never have done if I hadn't been given this chance
by this equally mad and maverick man, Stephen,
who persuaded other people it would all work out.
But everybody involved with that took a huge gamble on me.
I remember, at one stage, David Putnam,
and he pulled out of it, eventually, graciously
and with a very, you know, with lots of notice
and beautifully written note,
in which he said, "I have to tell you
that this film, 'Henry V,'
it will collapse either two weeks
before or two weeks after principal photography begins,
and your international film career will be over."
He also wrote very nice card after he saw the movie
at Cannes the following spring and said --
which went something like, "Well, what do I know?"
At the time that "Henry V" was released, we were,
in our theater company, getting ready to do a tour
of "King Lear," "A Midsummer Night's Dream,"
and we were gonna be on the road for a year,
so I had not planned to be a film director
who was suddenly going to be going to my next project.
I didn't know if there ever would be one.
We had no idea of the fate of the movie.
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
A very unusual experience for me in Hollywood,
I think it's only happened once, was I've had --
I'd made "Frankenstein,"
and I was proud of the film, but it had a critical mauling,
and one of the things I'm more proud of in my career
is that I just -- I just took it on the chin
and I went out and promoted it
and went round the world while everybody was saying,
"Isn't it terrible, this film?" or "How's it feel to have
all these terrible reviews?" and everything.
And at the end of that period, I was very pleased
when people still wanted to meet and say hello.
And Martin Shafer at Castle Rock met me,
and I was in Los Angeles briefly with Oliver Parker,
who'd brought this project with Luc Roeg
of Shakespeare's "Othello."
And we met on the Monday, flew in on the Sunday night,
and on the Monday afternoon, we met
with Laurence Fishburne, the three of us,
and I said to Laurence, "Would you like to play Othello?"
And he said yes. He shook on it that afternoon.
The next morning at 10 o'clock,
my phone rang. It was my agent in America
saying "Othello" is green lit. I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "The movie's green lit, you're making the film."
I said, "I didn't even pitch it."
[ Shouting ]
That partnership with Castle Rock
allowed me then to work with him on "In the Bleak Midwinter,"
or "A Midwinter's Tale," as it was called in America,
which was my little black-and-white comedy.
And across that period a couple of years
working with him, to say, "Hey, what about 'Hamlet'?"
So "Hamlets" can be about Oedipus,
it can be about the ghost
it can be about Hamlet being mad.
"What is your Hamlet about?" I'd say, "It's about 4 hours."
Boom boom, thank you very much.
And but we open on Christmas Day of '96
and it was a thrill.
Friends of mine called me
to say the queue is stretching around the block
of the Paris Theater in New York.
And for people on Christmas Day to go
and see four hours a "Hamlet," it was very exciting.
I think we got the right height. Yes? Lovely.
I've always been pretty eclectic in my tastes,
and I enjoy going to the cinema. I've always, always enjoyed it.
Never feels like a busman's holiday.
It's fun. It might even have been --
This is how long ago it was or how primitive I am.
It feels like it was a fax, but I guess it must have been
an e-mail overnight from my agent,
my new agent, my directing agent, Robert Newman.
And he said, "Would you ever be interested
in directing 'Thor'?"
I said, "Well, so what do you mean? What does it mean?"
He said, "Well, it's Marvel Pictures
and it's part of this thing. Did you see Iron Man?"
"Yes, I did." And "You know what they're doing?
They're try to do this sort of interwoven universe,
and this is one of the sort of four pillars
of their initial strategy."
I wrote the first five pages of a screenplay just --
And I remember, at the meeting, I read it to them.
I said, "Here's how I think it could --
If it doesn't open like this,
it should open something like this."
And then I went away and I didn't hear anything
for another six weeks or so. I was in the theater in London
and I was I was committed to doing some other things.
And I thought it had gone away,
and then, suddenly, they decided
that they were going to give me the job.
Uh, he said it was Thor.
There are a number of things to do with actors
in films that I enjoyed.
One is that sitting with Frank Mancuso Jr.
and David Kirkpatrick in the front office
at Paramount in 1990,
saying, "Listen, you know, you're going to think
this is just a load of old baloney
'cause I'm going to try and persuade you to cast my wife
as the as the actress opposite me in this film, 'Dead Again.'
So forget she's my wife and instead think of her
as an actress called Emma Thompson."
I said, "All I can tell you is that she is going to be
an enormously important actor."
Thank you very much.
We had quite a few adventures
in casting for "Hamlet" that didn't work out.
People got frightened in the end.
They didn't want to look foolish in Shakespeare.
I remember saying to Emma a couple of years later...
We met this girl for "Frankenstein"
to play a supporting role in it,
and I said, "She's not right for the role,"
and I did it three times, which I rarely do.
And there was just something niggling away.
I couldn't work out what it was.
I'd never seen someone so self-possessed
I'd never seen someone who, when reading it,
would be so charismatic.
I'd never seen anybody so -- I absolutely knew,
from the first meeting, the person
that walked out of the room was a star,
was a copperbottom star.
Never met them before in my life,
but I knew it from the tip of my toes to the top of my head.
And by the end of the third meeting,
I said, "Listen, you're terrific.
What is your age?" And she said, "I'm 17."
I said, "That's it. That's it.
You seem you seem very youthful, but you seem much older.
You seem, you know..." I said, "Look, you know,
we're not gonna cast you in this,
but believe me, we'll work with you again,
and you're going to have a marvelous career.
Thank you very much for coming in."
And I remember being able to say to Emma,
when she was casting "Sense and Sensibility,"
I said, "You are going to meet a young girl
and you will cast her, and her name is Kate Winslet."
♪ To be or not to be
♪ That is the question
You know, we we had every sort of ethnic type in in the piece.
And essentially, we just cast everybody we thought
was going to be great,
but we wanted, with the character Reynaldo,
for instance, a man who travels far and wide across Europe
spying on Polonius' son, Laertes,
it seemed legitimate to cast a European actor,
and Gérard Depardieu had bought and dubbed my voice
in the French version of "Henry V."
And we thought he could be fantastically evocative
as Reynaldo, this seedy-seeming voyeur and spy.
We wanted a genuinely funny gravedigger or gravediggers,
and the Castle Rock kind of family included Billy Crystal.
And we were able to persuade Billy, who's --
I remember ringing him and saying, "Would you play it?"
And he said, "Just tell me one thing."
He said, "Can I score?" I said, "What you mean?"
"You know, can I make an --"
I said, "Of course you can make an impact."
He's funny and we'll allow you to be funny.
For Miss Rosemary Harris and Mr. Charlton Heston.
Charlton Heston was somebody whose presence
as the Player King was, you know, was immense.
He knew very well Rosemary Harris
had played the Player Queen,
they'd been in a play on Broadway in 1960.
There were all sorts of connections.
And then, of course, Derek Jacobi who I'd seen
play Hamlet as a young man.
Julie Christie, who I'd lusted and fantasized over
for my entire adult life.
We wanted it to be sort of global
and of a high, high standard. And it was it was a thrill
to see all these people together.
So, on the day, Chris, allow him to have his head
facing there so we get the line, you know,
whatever the line is --
"You're no match for the mighty injection.
Then face against the thing.
So much of what you plan for the film
is based around the personality of the actor,
what you think that actor is going to bring,
where they -- what the inflection of that thing is.
And you know that would apply to "Cinderella,
it would apply to "Jack Ryan,"
and it certainly applied to "Thor."
It was clear that we needed somebody to tick so many boxes.
They needed to be physically impressive,
and I guess we needed a movie star.
We needed somebody who also felt as though they would give you
a terrific whack with that hammer,
who's who's sort of physically also dexterous.
And somebody very charming.
I felt as though, for our script, we needed --
We knew we'd probably be going around the world
to meet people, and we did.
And early on in the process, Chris Hemsworth came in,
and I think he had a cold, and I don't think we'd given him
the scenes very long before he came in.
We didn't see the best of him, perhaps, but by the time
we'd then gone around for about three months
looking for other people, our casting director,
Randi Hiller, was very keen that we bring Chris back in.
And I was very open, very cheerful, very game,
and he really, you know, he really went for it.
An across an auditioning process
where we got him to do some "Henry V," he read Shakespeare.
Terrific -- Little did we know, but we found out quickly,
a terrific movie star, as well as a terrific actor.
Increasingly I try and get out of the way of actors
and say less if I can.
I don't know that I'm very successful at that,
but I try and say less.
With "Much Ado About Nothing," with Keanu,
I remember, rehearsing ahead of time,
and I remember he had a house then up near the Hollywood sign.
I was very impressed by that.
I could see the back of the Hollywood sign from his house.
With Denzel, we had a chance to speak in Los Angeles
before he came to Italy, but in both cases,
they came for a week before we started shooting,
and we rehearsed the whole thing for a week,
and at the end of that week, we ran the play
in one of the rooms in the villa in Tuscany
where we shot the movie.
And just even being there for a week
and soaking up that atmosphere and eating that food
and being part of that company of people, not just the actors
but the larger company in the film,
had a big impact on how everybody felt.
[ Reporters clamoring ]
Well, I --
It was interesting to work with Cate Blanchett
having just seen "Blue Jasmine."
But having seen, at the beginning of my career,
when we were doing "Hamlet," I remember being introduced
to her where our casting director
said, "There's this girl from Australia.
She's emerged, she's in this film, 'Oscar and Lucinda,'
with Ralph Fiennes, and you should see it."
And I did, and it was electric, and then, the ability
to hold a screen, the sort -- the confidence,
it was so sort of electric.
She's sort of an electric performer.
Sees the part, knows what to do with it,
and is ready to go to work, and I really enjoyed that.
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
I can't walk in there without thinking "Live and Let Die"
and two submarines and Roger Moore.
I think Pinewood is very much associated with with Bond,
but also I remember coming here when Kubrick was making
"Eyes Wide Shut" with Tom Cruise,
and they made a great big New York street.
And I remember the story being that,
because Kubrick didn't like to travel,
so he created his corner of New York on the lot
at Pinewood here just outside, and he stopped shooting one day
and called a friend of his in New York
and said, "Go to the corner of the street in New York" --
real New York -- "that we built our set around
and look at where the sun is, please."
So he rings, "Well, the sun is about halfway up the third glass
on the right hand side on the northwest corner."
He said, "Okay, we're stopping shooting.
The shoot's over. The sun's wrong."
"Well, Stanley, maybe we -- you know, maybe we could
not stick to that kind of level of detail."
"It's over." So I like that.
I like walking around places where Stanley Kubrick's
been explaining cinema like that.
Don't be worried about the crosses and positions
and all that for right now.
It was interesting to see that happen along a process
where, during the whole of that movie,
Kate was in a kind of dialogue with James Cameron
about the role in "Titanic."
As I recall, she was about to be in a straitjacket.
Maybe was in a straitjacket to do this scene
where Ophelia is locked up and mad,
and this messenger came in with a piece of paper.
And it was a note from her agent
or from Mr. Cameron or whatever, and she went, and she shrieked,
"I've got the part! I've got the part in 'Titanic.'"
I was looking at her at the same time,
I was thinking, you know, in 18 months' time,
your life will never be the same again.
And it felt like we were seeing absolutely the girl
who's just about to go off and become the woman,
the great movie star that she was and is.
And I felt as though we were getting her
at a very unusual moment.
It was an exciting moment to be around her career and her life.
Favorite films by other directors
are from from way back.
John Sturges, "The Great Escape."
I saw that in a huge movie theater in Belfast
when I was 7 or 8 and just thought Steve McQueen
was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.
"Black Narcissus" by Powell and Pressburger
is an amazing film for its technical work.
Woody Allen's "Manhattan" is an amazing film, I think.
"Dog Day Afternoon" -- I've mentioned
Sidney Lumet's film and Al Pacino's performance.
Al Pacino's performance in "Scarface,"
as Brian De Palma, whose work I like very, very, very much.
Man: Scene 47, take one. A camera, B on end.
"Hamlet" is the film, I think, that has
the sort of most intense and consistent creative effort
across a whole range of disciplines,
including, obviously, performance at the center of it.
I'm proud of the end sequence
because it matters so much to me personally.
The scene between the Horatio and Hamlet
before Hamlet's visit
to the duel that will eventually kill him.
He's ready for death at this point -- "Let be."
I always think of "let be" as an answer to that famous question
in the middle of the film -- "To be or not to be."
I think it's not always helpful to get to looky backy.
Too nostalgic about films
or even try and impose a kind of order on them.
I think that I've always been somebody who moves on
and tries to stay right in the moment.
And in the moment of the work that you're doing now.
I've made 14, 15 movies.
You start to see a little pattern emerge.
Clearly, a third of them are Shakespeare films,
so there's one.
And then there are thrillers.
And then there are what you might call the sort of epics.
And I suppose themes that I see --
romance all the way through them,
I see a sort of romantic attitude towards the world.
I see an enjoyment of being scared.
There are things and ambitions that you have.
I'd love to make the great creepy movie.
I want to make the great scary, scary horror film.
And I'd love to do some more Shakespeare.
Thanks very much for those of you
who've supported my films over the years,
and I hope you'll come and see some more of them
if I get a chance to make them.
And without you, we wouldn't be making them.
In fact, the reason I make work is for an audience,
and you are that audience, so I thank you for being there.
I hope you and I can continue to make movies together.
Thanks for watching.