Kenneth Branagh Recalls a Most Unusual LA Script Read

Five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh has made his way to the San Francisco International Film Festival to accept the Founder’s Directing Award (last night) and participate in a Q&A screening of his 1991 film Dead Again (tonight).

Branagh told San Francisco Chronicle regular contributor Pam Grady that after the success of Henry V, he had hoped to convince Hollywood to let him adapt Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. Instead, Paramount pointed him in the direction of Scott Frank’s long-in-development tale of a modern-day Los Angeles private detective juxtaposed with a 1940s-era German composer. Which led to this spring 1990 moment:

At the time, Branagh was playing Edgar in King Lear at the Mark Taper Forum in LA. While waiting for the curtain to go up that night, he read the first page of Dead Again aloud to then-wife Emma Thompson, vowing to put the script aside if it didn’t grab their attention immediately. He kept reading through the night, stopping only to step onstage.

“In between my scenes, I read the rest of the screenplay,” he says. “It was quirky and unusual. I think a few people had been put off in terms of how to do it, but to me that quirkiness, the thriller element, the reincarnation angle, the double lives part of it and the European-slash-American kind of intersection was un-put-downable. I remember I rang Paramount the next day and said, ‘I want to do this.'”

It’s quite remarkable that in the middle of a live performance, Branagh could repeatedly switch his mental focus from the Bard to Dead Again. Bravo!