Kenneth Branagh was born on December 10, 1960, in Belfast, Ireland. In 1984 he joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. In 1987 he left the RSC to co-found the Renaissance Theatre Company and two years later brought Henry V to the screen, receiving both acting and directing Oscar nods. He has been widely credited with making Shakespeare accessible to the masses. In later years he has continued to direct Shakespearean classics in the form of HBO's As You Like It as well as major film blockbusters like Thor and Cinderella.
Background and Early Career
Kenneth Charles Branagh was born on December 10, 1960 in Belfast, Northern Ireland to a Protestant working class clan. With the prolonged, violent religious strife known as the Troubles reaching their doorstep, his family moved to Reading, England upon having the opportunity to rent a house when Branagh was 9 years old. He eventually adopted an English accent and was inspired by actor Derek Jacobi during his teens, taking to the craft in a major way. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, earning the Bancroft Award and a stellar reputation, Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Then in 1987 he co-founded his own drama organization, the Renaissance Theatre Company, with David Parfitt.
Branagh is known as a stalwart interpreter of Shakespeare for the screen, going on to both direct and star in a number of adaptations. He was the title character and director of 1989’s Henry V, which also featured idol Jacobi. Branagh garnered international acclaim for the project and received Oscar nominations in the categories of lead actor and director. His next Shakespearean adaptation was 1993’s Much Ado About Nothing, which co-starred then wife Emma Thompson along with Kate Beckinsale, Imelda Staunton, Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves.
After having portrayed the malicious Iago in Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995) opposite Laurence Fishburne, in 1996 Branagh helmed and starred in a four-hour long Hamlet. The project co-starred Julie Christie, Judi Dench, Jacobi and Richard Attenborough and received four Oscar nods. In the new millennium, Branagh directed a musical version of Love Labour’s Lost (2000) as well as the romantic romp As You Like It for HBO, with the latter starring Bryce Dallas Howard and David Oyelowo. During this era Branagh also directed two non-Shakespearean films—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) and A Midwinter’s Tale (1995).
Directs 'Thor' and 'Cinderella'
While Branagh has continued to be a noted stage presence through the years, he has also ventured into blockbuster commercial fare as both actor (2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for instance) and director. He became part of the Marvel Comics canon as the vision behind 2011’s Thor, with Branagh’s classic drama sensibilities proving to be a match for a cosmic tale of Norse gods and Earthly adventure. The film earned $449 million internationally.
The world of fantasy worked again for Branagh with his live action interpretation of Cinderella, starring Lily James as the title character and Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother in an outing that earned more than $542 million globally.
Since 2008, Branagh has also portrayed the Swedish titular character in the TV detective series Wallander. For 2011’s big-screen drama My Week With Marilyn, the actor received his fifth Oscar nod, specifically for his portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier, the icon to whom he is often compared. Branagh was knighted in 2012 and went on to form the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, which is slated to put on a yearlong, London-based season starting in autumn 2015.
Branagh and fellow thespian Emma Thompson wed in 1989, staying together until 1995. While at one point being seen as an acting “It” couple, the two were at the center of the news upon revelations that Branagh had an affair with actress Helena Bonham Carter, whom had appeared in Frankenstein as well. He and Carter lived together for a time, and Thomspon later went on record that she was able to let bygones be bygones. Branagh married art director Lindsay Brunnock in 2003.
A man obviously known for wearing many professional hats, Branagh has stated he relies on regular meditation to keep himself centered.
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