Kenneth Branagh on Playing “Generic” Characters: “You want to feel that everything a character says is really telling and truthful”

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Having seen Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, I can say that I think Kenneth Branagh‘s performance as an evil Russian business owner is the best part of the film (Branagh also directed the movie). It’s a totally cliche role, but Branagh’s a supremely talented actor so it’s worth watching him trying to grasp onto to some depth in the character

When he spoke with Interview magazine about the film and his approach to it as both an actor and director, Branagh insists that an actor can find that depth by figuring out the character’s back story and letting that fuel a performance.

When asked if he actually comes up with back stories for his characters, he answers, “The attitude towards films like this is sometimes a lazy one, in as much as—and I can see this myself—in that with action thrillers, the disposition is to assume immediately that they are generic, that they’re derivative, that there are too many of them. You go to the airport and look at the bookstand and you feel the titles are similar, the covers are similar, and you wonder how they can be different. So from my point of view, the necessity here is you want to feel that everything a character says is really telling and truthful. There was nothing being generalized, it was all investigated and everything had a past, an intention. Even if the back story is five pages and the line you say is six words, somehow it feels as though the audience will get whether there’s something underneath.”

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