IF anyone was born to be the Bard, it’s Kenneth Branagh.
The Belfast-born actor, producer, director and screenwriter has been synonymous with William Shakespeare for most of his career, and now plays him in new movie All Is True.
Written by comic Ben Elton and centring on Shakespeare’s final few years, after he left London and tried to get to know wife Anne Hathaway again – she’s played by Judi Dench – it seems tailor-made for Branagh.
It was in 1980 that the principal of RADA asked him to perform a soliloquy from Hamlet for a very special audience, the Queen.
Four years later, he appeared in a production of Henry V by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 2002, he starred as Richard III at the Crucible, Sheffield, and five years ago co-directed Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival.
He is also well known for his cinema adaptations of Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.
This new one, however, is a different thing altogether, and an intriguing prospect.
Ian McKellen plays his friend, the Earl of Southampton, trying to encourage Shakespeare to keep working and come up with new projects, while Will himself tends to his garden and his marriage, and talks to his dead son.
Even the approach to making the film was unusual, as Branagh went right ahead and made it before getting publicity and all the usual stuff that comes with doing so.
It was only when it was done that Sony stepped in, Sony Classics taking charge of distribution.
The first man to be nominated for Academy Awards in five different categories, Branagh is doubtless the sort of chap who would have fascinated Shakespeare himself, and regardless of what else he gets up to, Branagh is clearly still intrigued by Shakespeare, too.
“In the hands of a great poet, words have a way of affecting us in ways we don’t understand,” he has said, and few people have done more through their way with words than the man he plays in this film.
But Branagh never thinks he has got his art perfected.
“I’ve learned a lot from people much younger than me, as well as people much older,” he admits.
He still learns from Shakespeare, whether in the Bard’s works or when playing him himself.
“There is some mysterious thing that goes on whereby, in the process of playing Shakespeare continuously, actors are surprised by the way the language actually acts on them,” he points out. “The elasticity of Shakespeare is extraordinary.”
He also has been around long enough to know that casting the right people for certain parts is where a project stands or falls.
“I only really cast people who are desperate to be in it,” he insists, “who were dying to be in it, whose talent I believed in and were dead ready to do the work that was necessary.
“I like to see how different people approach trying to be truthful, on camera or in the theatre, and whether you can match them up.”
All Is True is out in cinemas from Friday February 8.