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Monday, 14 June, 1999, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
Branagh's celebrity turn
kenneth Branagh
Role reversal: Branagh joins in a press scrum
By BBC News Online's Sarah Aldous

Kenneth Branagh might be more at home with Shakespeare, but he has cast the Bard aside to star in Woody Allen's latest film, Celebrity.

He plays a fame-hungry journalist in the production, but unlike his screen counterpart, Branagh has his feet firmly on the ground.

"As far as celebrity goes, I try not to get too caught up in it," says Kenneth Branagh, still charming as the umpteenth press interview of the day kicks off.

"It's possible to find a normal way through it somehow," he adds while admitting that it does have its advantages.

"Woody Allen proclaims the best thing about it is being able to jump the queue at restaurants. I don't know whether I approve of that quite frankly, but it does have its benefits."

Branagh directed, produced, wrote and starred in Hamlet
For 38-year-old Kenneth Branagh, the rise to fame has been meteoric.

At 23 the Belfast-born boy became the Royal Shakespeare Company's youngest-ever Henry V, which he followed with the foundation of his own Renaissance Theatre Company and a string of theatre and film successes.

But for Branagh, the ultimate upside of celebrity is being able to pursue his creative dreams.

"In my case it's helped enormously with the degree of opportunity I've had to do things I care about that are difficult to do, like Shakespeare films," he says.

"I've never been one who has an interest in acquiring huge sums of money. The only time I had loads of money I used it to bankroll a picture."

But as an actor, writer, director and producer of everything from Hollywood movies to low-budget British comedies, Branagh has faced a barrage of criticism along the way.

Branagh with former wife Emma Thompson
Branagh with former wife Emma Thompson
"You accept that it will always be coming your way because it's impossible to assume you're ever going to do anything that pleases everybody."

He is well-accustomed to "Branagh bashing" in the great British press, which reached fever pitch after his split with former wife Emma Thompson.

The press continue to hound him for details of his current relationship with Helena Bonham Carter, but Branagh takes it in his stride.

"Sometimes you get irritated if it's very personal and vindictive, and you want to give somebody a punch - that feeling lasts for about three seconds and then you get on with your life.

"It's just part and parcel of what we do and you come to a strange acceptance of it. If you don't like that stuff you shouldn't be in the business."

Branagh tries his charms on a young starlet in Celebrity
Such realism is sadly lacking in Branagh's latest on-screen character, Lee Simon, who is about to hit our screens in Woody Allen's Celebrity.

Simon is desperately seeking stardom, but never quite pulls it off. Instead he repeatedly humiliates himself in the company of a bevy of beautiful young things including Winona Ryder, Charlize Theron, Melanie Griffith and young heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio.

And if this sounds like familiar Woody Allen territory, Branagh says: "When Woody asked me to take the role, he did talk about it being the part he probably would have played if he was about 20 years younger."

But Branagh maintains that Woody Allen's screen persona is quite unlike the man himself.

Woody Allen: "Unneurotic", according to Branagh
"In life by contrast he's very unassuming and seemingly unneurotic, undeniably very shy, but without any of the sort of obvious anxiety or kind of frenetic energy that his on-screen persona has."

Branagh also shares a common musical interest with Woody Allen, but claims that we are unlikely to ever catch his own band, The Fishmongers, gracing the stage.

"It's entirely a private thing based on utter realism about the quality of the group's work," says Branagh, singer and guitarist for the band.

"It's simply not something that should be allowed to invade the earspace of anyone other than my closet friends."

Instead Kenneth Branagh plans to return to his Shakespearean roots this summer, for an all-singing and dancing production of Love's Labours Lost and a film version of Macbeth, after which the sky is the limit.

"By no means do I feel like I've accomplished everything I wanted to do," says Kenneth Branagh, "I'm an onwards and upwards kind of a guy."

Celebrity is released in the UK on Friday 18 June.

Kenneth Branagh: "Sometimes you learn from criticism"
Kenneth Branagh on his band, The Fishmongers
Kenneth Branagh: "It is possible to find some sort of reality"
Kenneth Branagh on Woody Allen
Kenneth Branagh: "It's hard to raise money for any
Kenneth Branagh on money
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