Sir Kenneth Branagh discusses casting “Cinderella” and the challenges he faced
Sir Kenneth Branagh (Professor Lockhart) recently spoke at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film & Television, as part of the Hollywood Masters sessions. Branagh was in discussion with Stephen Galloway, a reporter for the Hollywood Reporter, and also answered questions from the audience. In the interview, he spoke about casting Cinderella, directing Thor, and Shakespeare, as well as much more.
You can watch a video clip from the interview and read some highlights below.
While we know Branagh as Professor Lockhart, over the years he has been busy directing films, including Thor and the upcoming Cinderella. On casting Downton Abbey star Lily James as Cinderella, Branagh said,
You don’t know that you’re going to make the movie until you make that piece of casting. You have to find the actor. It was a long process. I joined Cinderella, and they’d been working for a little while. There had been some screen tests. They’d seen hundreds and hundreds of girls. And Lily came in to read for one of the stepsisters. I remember [the casting director had] sent me a tape, and I was going to grab something, and I heard her. It was literally the voice to start with because it’s that warmth, those colors, that we needed.
He also spoke about the way that he handled the script for Cinderella and the key elements of the story, such as the bullying:
I think I felt that we could strongly make an uncynical film in which we invested largely in the idea that courage and kindness were qualities that could be positive, exciting, active, sexy, [and] electric and not sappy, sentimental, saccharin and silly. And so that was going to be achieved, I felt, by the way we approached the acting, which would be with as much fun, for sure, but even in a scene like the one you just watched, you still get this edge. […] That’s one of the things Cinderella is about, is bullying. And you see an example of it right here with edge underneath it, beautifully played by those girls. Because what’s nice [is that] Sophie McShera comes up with the name, but then you see the guilty look as well of just, ‘ooh, I’ve gone too far, but I’m going to be in this mob and if somebody else confirms it, I’m going to join in because we’re mod[-]handed.’
On the Shakespeare plays that he hasn’t directed yet, Branagh said,
A Shakespeare that I will do that I haven’t done is The Winter’s Tale. They’re all unbelievably difficult and all unbelievably simple. You could also argue that’s a very simple play, and it’s interesting to me that I’m attracted to it because I’ve just made a film [that] is a fairy tale, and you could argue that The Winter’s Tale is a fairy tale. But those stories [the late Shakespeare plays] are very dense. They appear on the surface to be simple fables or morality tales, but they just reach much further down into psychological depths than one imagines.
Branagh also touched on the subject of casting the two leads in Thor and working with Marvel chief Kevin Feige:
When we came to cast the two boys, Chris Hemsworth [Thor] and Tom Hiddleston [Loki], that was a long process. And even on the morning in which we made the calls, we came in, and I remember Kevin wandering around this tiny little conference table. It’s just me and him and one of the executives on that Saturday morning. I’d already booked a call to Hemsworth and to Hiddleston — and he still wasn’t sure whether we were going to go with this. I kept saying, ‘It’s these guys. It is these two guys. Chris Hemsworth is Thor. Tom Hiddleston is Loki. You’re going to be OK.’ And he knew it. We made the call, and it was lovely, but it takes a long time to do it. Working with Kevin is very, very enjoyable. I regard him as a very, very dear friend, [but] that process is very unusual.
Kenneth spoke in detail about his career as an actor, his actor training, and his childhood. On what he hoped his career would bring him, he said,
I hoped that I could have a career as an actor in theater. That’s what I hoped. […] But actually it was smaller than that. I hoped I could get a job. […] To some extent I still enjoy the kind of gladiatorial aspect of actually getting a job. […] Somehow you’ve got to dance the dance, bang the door down, and often it doesn’t work. Or you just have to be ready to be in the queue and find your moment.
The full transcript of the interview is available here.
Cinderella is released on March 13 in the US and March 27 in the UK.
Are you looking forward to seeing Cinderella? Let us know in the comments!