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Kenneth Branagh Revives the World's Greatest Detective

Kenneth Branagh Revives the World's Greatest Detective
From TIME - November 9, 2017

It makes sense for Kenneth Branagh to not only star as gumshoe Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (out now), but to sit in the directors chair too. The detectiveprobably the greatest in the world, the character modestly admitsis a master at manipulating the people around him. The 56-year-old director is similarly skilled at positioning his ensemble, which includes Judi Dench, Penlope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi and Willem Dafoe. While fans of Agatha Christies 1934 mystery and Sidney Lumets 1974 adaptation may already know whodunit, Branagh has sleekly repackaged the tale, leaving its glamour intact. He sat down with TIME in London to talk about making the movie.

Others have taken this story for a spin before. Did that concern you?

Im so used to working with classic material that the notion that others have been there before doesnt feel intimidating, maybe because I wouldnt be doing it if I didnt feel some authentic and now reason. In Murder, it was the emotional charge, the death of innocence and the question of revenge and whether it can ever provide closure that got me going. The story is more than what Christie herself referred to as mere entertainment.

Whats the Branagh take on Poirot?

His character in our version is melancholy and romantic, and he has a savant, childlike capacity to live in the moment. Theres a deliciousness in presenting a man who both finds it ticklish to read a Charles Dickens novel but has also got this bloodhound, compulsive obsession for finding the truth. He is a sort of moral absolutist: there is right, there is wrong, there is nothing in-between. But by the end of the film he has to consider that perhaps there is significant material in-between that he now has to accommodate.

This cast is impressive. How difficult was it to convene?

With hindsight, it feels like it was easy! There was an almost talismanic quality to casting Judi Denchas soon as she was in, other actors followed. One practical issue was having them all together as often as possible. I told them Id need a month in the middle for them all to be there, but I promised it would be fun. The sense I had from them was that they trusted that if I am, as some people have told me, an actors director, then their performances would be cherished and looked after.

How much was filmed on location in New Zealand, France, Malta and Switzerland?

At first, we thought wed do everything in the real places, but we found it calamitously impossible. Its not easy to stop a train halfway up a French mountain and say, Come back, Penlopes hair is slightly different. Then the French rail officials scream at you and say, Were running a railway, not a movie company! Having some 15 movie stars in period outfits with makeup and wigs as well as dogs, food, flowers and everything else meant bringing it back to our workshop. We were probably on set 80% of the time.

Tell me about the striking shot that follows Poirot through train cars.

I wanted to invite people to feel the sense of excitement and urgency surrounding the journey. It felt like it should be a moving shot and that the actors should all be there at the same time. As Poirot passes through the train, things are being flambed, Leslie Odom Jr. is taking photos, Penlope Cruz is re-entering the train, and Derek Jacobis valet is ironing one of Johnny Depps shirts. Somehow the life of the whole thing is in the swirl of the departure. We were rehearsing all day because there are so many variables. Each take took three or four minutes, and we did it around 17 times.

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