Actor Kenneth Branagh returns as Inspector Kurt Wallander, the moody Swedish detective created by mystery writer Henning Mankell, for three new 90-minute Wallander stories on Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS, starting September 9th. In Season 3, the depressed but fascinating cop tries to improve his disposition, while contending with torture killings, dashed romance, homicidal do-gooders and a resentful grown-up daughter.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, Kenneth Branagh talked about what he thinks makes Kurt Wallander one of the most popular detectives in the world, what fans can expect from this third series of movies, how having a woman in his life and some colleague changes at work affect the character, and that he’s hoping to do a fourth series of three films next year. He also talked about the new Jack Ryan film – an origin story that allows the audience to understand how Jack Ryan (played by Chris Pine) develops into a CIA analyst – which he is both directing and playing the villain in, said that he expects to shoot from the beginning of September until Christmas, and that he thinks it’s unlikely he will shoot in either IMAX or 3D, but that he would like to do an IMAX 3D Shakespeare film. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KENNETH BRANAGH: (Author) Henning Mankell told me that when he gave Wallander diabetes in the books, the sales went up. People enjoy, somehow, this precarious thrill at seeing someone who is so raw in their dealings with life and, in his particular case, the job that he does and its extremity, in terms of its darkness, and the unrelenting nature of his preoccupation. He’s very dogged in the pursuit of a crime. He’s very compulsive and obsessive about that. He doesn’t let it go.
In our first film of this series, he’s obsessive to the point of recklessness, endangering a colleague in a very severe way. He also is extreme, in the way in which his empathy or sympathy for the characters is expressed in a very raw, emotional openness, which he seems not to be able to do anything about. And yet, that same openness isn’t really available to him, in his own personal life. So, he’s out there, engaging with life in a way that many of us don’t, on the streets, seeing horrible crimes, and being involved with political issues, immigration, smuggling, prostitution and drug taking. He’s in an important job, but seems to have an open wound. He’s unheroic, in the conventional sense, but maybe that makes him heroic, in a small way. He’s trying to understand himself. He’s trying to understand human behavior through crimes.
There’s a relative lack of vanity that maybe people like. He does things that are, at times, stupid, and yet they’re intensely felt. You feel as though there is basically a good intention and a desire to help, but all the things that other people might equip themselves with, like a social persona or humor or some swagging macho thing, they’re less visible. He just is. He’s a faulty, stumbling, flawed, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes lunatic behavior seems not quite like anything else, even though he’s in a genre and not unfamiliar. But, he’s a Swedish existentialist version of it.
BRANAGH: He comes into this third series of films with this definite attempt to change. There’s an acknowledgment that he brings the work home and is unsociable, and he tries to engage with this woman. With his father gone and his daughter gone and his marriage gone, he’s now left to go, “I can hurdle towards the grave alone, or I can make a definitive attempt, if I want to, to be in a close relationship with a woman.” In the books, he is very romantic, and Henning Mankell is very romantic, but it’s a very old world romanticism that he understands doesn’t really work. He idolizes women and puts them on a pedestal, and then is disappointed when they aren’t everything that he falsely wished or imagined them to be. But, he is looking for romance and love and company. All of that comes into this next series.
Plus, the police team around him changing emphasizes that. He doesn’t have this simple comfort of the long-term professional partner, in this series. Anne-Britt (Sarah Smart), who’s been there for a long time, is going. She’s promoted above him and goes away. That doesn’t matter to him, but the fact that she’s not there has him question whether or not he needed or wanted that. The beginnings of very significant questions about his own mortality make him go, “I’m this age, so the end is a bit closer than the beginning now. How do I want to spend the rest of my time? Getting grumpier and more isolated, or trying to change and finding company?” All of those things would be difficult enough to solve, if you weren’t, at the same time, at the front end of dealing with violence and social misbehavior. That tension, at home and work, and with life and his job, is a key part of it again.
BRANAGH: It is always bad news. Well, in the second series of films, he did try to get away. It’s a constant theme in the books, and maybe it’s something that people identify with, but we sometimes have this desire to put a line under things and get out of the rat race. That’s a perennial theme for him, and he did try it, in the second series. Rather like with Al Pacino in The Godfather, “Just when I try to get out, they drag me right back in.” He was dragged back in by a crime involving a friend of his, in the second series. On basic levels, he’s loyal, and he does have a fascination and a passionate interest in detection. And there is a grisly fascination with why people do appallingly cruel things. He can’t help himself, even though he’d like to.
As he sometimes does in the books, he’ll go on a holiday, but it’s usually by himself. In one of the books, he comes back with a Hawaiian shirt on, and the others just laugh at him. The idea that he is carefree is a challenge. But, back to your earlier question of what may be appealing to people about him, maybe it’s just, “Here’s an option for how life might be, if you took it unremittingly seriously and you were a tremendously harsh self critic.” Maybe it’s interesting to watch other people do it, but maybe that’s when you’re glad that you play golf, do yoga, listen to music, have a sense of humor, tell jokes, watch reality TV, or whatever might be the zonal check-out place for you, that he doesn’t seem to have found, aside from maybe walking the dog. When he’s out and about, in that landscape and that temperature, it seems to intensify that which preoccupies him. The escape activity, person or place just isn’t there.
BRANAGH: Variety is very, very good. Going from medium to medium, if you get the chance to do it, from theater to television to film, which are all distinctly different, keeps me sharp. What works in one doesn’t work in the other, and you have to be looking for the truth of the performance, whatever way that medium might demand. Jack Ryan is a very fast-paced, very contemporary, very action-driven thriller. I don’t tend to think of him as a villain, but if you’re playing a villain, you don’t think of him as a villain. You just think, “My guy.” The character is a great anti-thesis, but it isn’t as simple as that. It’s great to see a character in this film with Jack Ryan. It’s just a very strong, very interesting, complicated, complex character. When the project first came my way, it was really to do that. I had a long time to think about that prospect, before actually eventually having them ask me to direct it. And then, we put aside the issue of me being in it for awhile ‘cause there were so many other things to deal with. Literally, months later, Paramount said, “Well, do you think you might?,” and I said, “Yeah, I think I’d like to.”
So, you’re going to both direct the film and be in it then?
BRANAGH: So, now I’m going to direct and be in it, yeah.
Do you know what the production schedule will be?
Do you have any thoughts yet about filming in IMAX or 3D?
BRANAGH: I’m still having conversations with our director of photography, but this particular film is unlikely to be in either of those formats. Although, as a filmmaker, I would like to do an IMAX 3D Shakespeare film. Instead of going to some strange part of the world and it’s a rainy afternoon and you’re looking for something to do, so you go to the IMAX theater, but you’re always watching the story of wolves or things that I understand to absolutely get jumping up and down about, I fancy a 40-minute A Midsummer Night’s Dream in IMAX 3D. I think we could cut that. Otherwise, it’s Secrets of the Door Handle: An IMAX 40-Minute Special, with great sweeping shots through the locks.
Because there was talk of some internal dissension over the direction of the film – with Chris Pine wanting it to be a character-drive espionage movie, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura wanting an action film, and Paramount executives in favor of turning it into a thriller – how did the latest rewrite from David Koepp turn out? Does it have a fair balance of all three, or does it lean more towards any one of those things?
BRANAGH: It’s evolving still, but it’s been a really great process with David Koepp. All the key players are involved. Chris Pine has made tremendous contributions, as has Lorenzo di Bonaventura. He was with the franchise before. My job is guiding all that. I feel very, very happy with the way it’s going. I feel my job is basically to bring all those influences together in a piece that is about something very, very particular, thematically, and people seem happy with that. I think that a lot of exciting elements are finding a place where the film is happily, truly about something. When you get that under something that is also a page-turner and has a high adrenalin factor, I think that’s a nice combination. I have high hopes for the picture.
Are you also hoping to do a fourth series of Wallander films?
BRANAGH: I hope we’ll do three more, next year. That’s what I hope. They would probably include “The White Lioness,” a book that has not been adapted before, in any of the Wallander series. And we would probably use the last novel in the series, “The Troubled Man,” and we would make two films of that very dense book.
Wallander III airs on Masterpiece: Mystery! on PBS on September 9th, 16th and 23rd.