Finally got my long-awaited interview with Kenneth Branagh on Friday. He's been in town slogging it out on the stage of the Lyric Theatre with Rob Brydon in The Painkiller for the past few weeks, but with the last few performances in sight, he took time out to come in and talk to me! I even came in on my day off and deposited the youngest child with her wee friend (and very understanding mother) while I went in. This wasn't the first time I had met Ken. Well, I doorstepped him last week when he was in with Mark Lawson of BBC Radio 4's Front Row. The corridor outside Studio 3 of BBC Belfast was an inauspicious meeting place, especially as I started to babble with nerves. "We met before" I blurted out, "Yes, when I was working in the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith". Oh he said., with interest. No I said. I was working in the Lyric Theatre's cafe, summer job, 1987, I gave you spaghetti bolognaise one night. His PR lady was moving him on as I struggled to put a sock in it, but I heard myself saying, in order to prove that I did have some cultural credibility, "I went in to see you in the play Public Enemy. You were great". Aghh! Note to self. Stop talking when you know you are babbling. Actually, he was great. The play (wot he wrote) is a thriller , in which Branagh also takes the lead, a Jimmy Cagney-style Belfast hitman. He spoke in a Northern Ireland accent and I felt proud hearing the accent in the middle of London.
So when he came into studio on Friday, I didn't mention the spaghetti bolognaise! He was such fun, doing the Belfast accent, telling anecdotes about being on the set of the Billy plays and revealing that he is actively interested in the new Billy play Graham Reid is writing, about where Billy is now. He talked about the grief he felt when his parents told him he had to move house from Belfast to Reading, bawling his eyes out, but that the promise of a back garden took on Wembly-esque dimensions!
He looked tired, the sheer physical impact of nightly French farce taking it's toll. But he's heading off to Sweden to film Wallander and there's talk about another Thor. But we'll be waiting for the next Billy play. Wouldn't it be great if it premiered here?
You can hear the interview on Arts Extra today on BBC Radio Ulster at 1830 (and for the next 7 days on the BBC iPlayer)