In peace,” wrote Shakespeare, “there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.” In peace, yes, but not necessarily in Hollywood, where Britain’s Kenneth Branagh, 31, whirled in and, with the same brazen confidence that he strapped on with his armor in his first movie, 1989’s Henry V, turned out a bona fide American hit, the dizzying thriller Dead Again. Once again the beguiling upstart was both director and star, revealing as the latter a flawless Yank accent.
It seems more like fate than coincidence that Branagh did his filming on the same RKO soundstage in Hollywood where, half a century before, another wunderkind, 25-year-old Orson Welles, made his first movie, Citizen Kane. Dead Again, which has taken in $35 million at the box office, will never be considered a masterpiece like Kane, but citizen Ken—earlier heralded as another Olivier (the late Sir Laurence having directed and starred in his version of Henry V in 1944)—is on a roll and entirely comfortable with being compared to the daring young men of cinema past.
Branagh may have made his name first on the British stage—he formed his own troupe, the Renaissance Theatre Company, at age 26—but he has always been as intoxicated with the moving image as with the boards or the Bard. He first discovered the power and glamor of American movies as a teenager in Reading, England, watching some of the most memorable films of the ’70s: “Coppola-Scorsese types of movies,” he recalls, “with operatic overtones and a sense of grandeur—big, thick, rich experiences.”
Already, Branagh’s own career is no bowl of thin gruel. But what will the Irish-born dynamo have to add when lie gets around to updating Beginnings, the autobiography he boldly wrote at 28? Well, he wants to make an epic movie, “a big, David Lean kind of thing.” There’ll certainly be further teamings with wife Emma Thompson, 32, his leading lady in both Henry and Dead Again. And he plans to bring more Shakespeare to the multiplex—probably Much Ado About Nothing. “It’s very sexy, very young, very passionate,” he says. Nothing you couldn’t say about him.