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Kenneth Branagh Talks Sleuth

Published October 11, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of Sony Pictures Classics.
Kenneth Branagh is the go to guy for Shakespeare. If he can remake the most oft performed works in history, surely he can be trusted with a remake of an old movie. Branagh helms the new Sleuth.

Branagh Directs Sleuth


"It’s always down to the screenplay to begin with and what is starts to tell you about, what’s important here, performance was clearly the center of it," said Branagh. "So it was about preparing and rehearsals with Michael [Caine] and Jude [Law] separately and then together to try and absolutely work from their instincts. What did Michael feel the books were like that his character writes? The covers, the titles, all of that, the outside of the house? I’m trying to get that from both guys, and then try to find a way to maximize what they were doing in rehearsals. How do you do that? Well, find an environment that sets it all off."

The house in which all of Sleuth's action takes place is now a state of the art security mansion full of moving electronic parts. That's a modernization for starters. "It was hard to shoot, but also very interesting. The minimalism I found was a great challenge. The elevator was Harold’s idea. So that was there and was a central feature of what we are going to bring to it. And then everything else was drawn from contemporary British architecture, contemporary British artists. Then this idea of a permanent lighting installation that changes, so that as we are in a jealous scene when he explodes, the walls are green behind. When the idea of a homosexual overture is made we are in the red light of a bordello. All of that stylized quality could all come out of a house where a man is trying to show off, have the opportunity to show off his omnipotence with his remote control, his invisibility, he can see you, you can’t see him necessarily, and his conspicuous wealth, his taste, his success, all of that. That seemed like a really wonderful playground, visually, and we took every opportunity we could to exploit that."


Sleuth Poster Sleuth


Branagh utilized the layout of the house and its accessories to shoot his Sleuth in a modern style. Opening in all long shots, featuring many points of view of security cameras, he was taking a risk. "I remember having a conversation with the producers four days in where they got terrified that they hadn’t seen a close-up yet, saying, 'No, no, no, you’ll get to a close-up. It’s about Michael Caine 12 minutes in says, I understand you are fucking my wife. That will be the first close-up because that is sort of the dirty center of what this film is, but up to that point we’ll stay way back and we will make the house become a third character and make the audience feel what’s going on.' There is a whisky glass poured. He hasn’t asked him what he wants to drink yet. He hasn’t answered yet. Where are all these cameras? Who is shooting it? Is there someone watching this outside? Is the wife in the house? We wanted to set all of that kind of thing up."

One of the film's biggest moments is when both Caine and Law ask each other "What's it all about?" This was not intended as an Alfie reference. "It played at the Toronto Film Festival and somebody asked, but he had also come out of a screening where it had gotten an enormous laugh. And the same thing happened when it played at the Venice Film Festival. It was there we realized, I hadn’t taken it in at the time, within about 10 minutes Michael's character says, 'Oh yeah, the Italians, culture is not really their thing.' We got a big laugh in Italy, from a rather cultured nation, but what you say is interesting because it’s indicative, I hope not of our stupidity, I’d like not to think so, but of our attempt to play the material as straight as possible, and let what Harold Pinter is doing with the language emerge and not try and be anything. And maybe if it’s funny, and I’m pleased if it is, of course I now think it’s bloody delicious to have that line and feel very thick not to have spotted it, but I’m also very glad that we didn’t get self-conscious about it."

Sleuth opens to theaters this Friday, October 12th.

For the trailer and more movie info, go to the Sleuth Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of Sony Pictures Classics.
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