Kenneth Branagh zipped through Manhattan recently promoting "My Week With Marilyn," in which he's Laurence Olivier — circa the mid-'50s when he was co-starring with, and exasperatedly directing, Marilyn Monroe in "The Prince and the Showgirl" — and for which he's now contending for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award.
There was no time for anything else, so Branagh passed Broadway like a kid with his nose against the plate glass window of a candy store, longing to linger, so he vowed to return for the holidays with his wife, Leslie Brunnock, and play catch-up.
He professes a special affinity for Broadway, although he has never acted on it. He debuted here as a director, helming a quirky little comic import called The Play What I Wrote. "It was a big hit in London and was a modest success here, but we hung on and had a very respectable run [89 performances at the Lyceum] in '03. The guys in it were marvelous — Sean Foley and Hamish McColl.
"Sean Foley just directed me in a play called The Pain Killer in Belfast. It's a French farce written by Francis Vaber, whom you may know as the author of 'Three Men and a Baby' and 'Dinner for Schmucks' — a great playwright in French theatre. This was written in the early '70s. It became L'emmerdeur in French — literally, I think, A Pain in the Ass — and that became 'Buddy Buddy,' which was Billy Wilder's last movie with Lemmon and Matthau — not great, but it gives you the idea of this classic set-up: two adjoining hotel rooms; in one, an assassin who has come to kill a man who's arriving at the courthouse offices, and in the other, a neurotic who has come to kill himself. In the adjoining room, everything goes wrong. "Rob Brydon, whom you may know from Steve Coogan's 'The Trip,' was my co-star. He's a very, very brilliant comic actor back home and was marvelous in this. And there's talk of us maybe bringing it into London and, potentially, here. I feel very strongly I would like to act in a play on Broadway."
|photo by Laurence Cendrowicz – © 2011 The Weinstein Company|
Part of that feeling stems from a sense of community that he picked up during his previous visit here. "I'm sure everybody says this, but we were rehearsing for quite a while before we went up, and I did feel a tremendous sort of camaraderie," Branagh recalled, "people very interested in the show and aware of the risks involved and how easy it is to be off and on and you're lucky if you have a hit. People understood. People were very chatty during rehearsal and very friendly when we were on. I felt that camaraderie people in the theatre can have."
But Branagh plans to be very careful in calling his star shot. "Although it would be lovely to do a play on Broadway — that, in the objective sense, wouldn't be enough for me. One would have to find the part, the people — everything that felt like there was a reason to do it. I don't, for a minute, fancy myself that me showing up here is somehow enough for anything really. The point would be to come here with a burning desire to play the part and be in the role and be in the circumstances with the director, et cetera, at a certain time in your life. So that hasn't quite lined up yet.
"I have been asked before — I've been asked a number of times — but it would have to be a very special thing, I would think. It's just finding that right thing. Nothing for me is just a job. I don't want to do it just for something to put on the C.V. [resume]. You want to be here for a sort of reason. When I come to New York, it is wildly exciting to see the theatre ABCs. I get excited about London as well, but here there's something about the concentration of the theatres, the physical placing of everything, the sense of the community, the relationship to the town. The very clear identity to the town is different in London. I know you have a sort of multi-faceted theatre world here, but with us — with the RSC and the National and the Almeida and the Donmar Warehouse — there's a lot of pockets of different kind of work, and then there's the West End. It doesn't all join up as coherently as it feels to from the outside here."
(Harry Haun is a longtime staff writer for Playbill magazine whose work often appears in the pages of Playbill.com.)