Birthdate: December 10, 1960
Birthplace: Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Kenneth Branagh (birthname: Kenneth Charles Branagh) is one of the few major actors of his generation in the United Kingdom to have gained prominence and success as a film actor/director/writer/producer and a major force in British and Shakespearean theater, while being star/director/writer of two of the better filmed Shakespeares (Henry V (1989) and Hamlet (1996)) and being the first person to be Oscar-nominated in seven categories, surpassing the six-nominated Walt Disney, George Clooney, and Alfonso Cuarón.
For all of that, it’s also notable that there is a large percentage of Branagh’s movies that have been major commercial failures—a trend reversed around 2011 when he began directing studio blockbusters like Marvel’s Thor (2011). Technically, Branagh’s first screen appearance is in an uncredited role in Best Picture Oscar-winner, Chariots of Fire (1981), his true screen debut was in a lead role in the Pat O’Connor-directed drama, A Month in the Country (1987), co-starring Colin Firth, Natasha Richardson, and Patrick Malahide.
Branagh was then part of the ensemble of co-writer/director Clare Peploe’s comedy, High Season (1987), starring Jacqueline Bisset, James Fox, Irene Papas, and Lesley Manville. Kenneth Branagh’s first film as director/writer/star, the acclaimed Henry V (1989), was also his first filmed Shakespeare after having established a strong stage reputation as one of his generation’s best Shakespearean actors, and marked Branagh’s first Oscar nominations (Best Director and Actor); his impressive ensemble included Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Brian Blessed, Emma Thompson, Alec McCowen, Judi Dench, and Christian Bale. Branagh returned as star/director of the thriller, Dead Again (1991), his first Hollywood studio production (Paramount Pictures) starring Thompson, Andy Garcia, Jacobi, Hanna Schygulla, and Robin Williams.
Branagh’s next film saw him expanding his portfolio to star/director/producer with the Channel Four-produced comedy, Peter’s Friends (1992), with Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, Thompson, and co-writer Rita Rudner. Branagh was the star/director/writer/producer of a lighter turn at Shakespeare, the U.K./U.S. co-production, Much Ado About Nothing (1993), with a mostly American cast including Michael Keaton, Robert Sean Leonard, Keanu Reeves, Thompson, Denzel Washington, and Kate Beckinsale, and grossing a hefty $43 million globally.
Kenneth Branagh then collaborated with producer Francis Ford Coppola as director-star of an indifferently received (though quite faithful) U.S.-Japan version of Frankenstein (1994), with Branagh in the title role opposite Robert De Niro (as Frankenstein’s Creation), Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Ian Holm, John Cleese, and Aidan Quinn, grossing $112 million.
Branagh’s first film as director-writer but not as an actor was his little-seen backstage comedy, In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), co-starring Richard Briers, Joan Collins, and Nicholas Farrell, and which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where Branagh won Best Director. In his first Shakespeare film as actor only, Branagh played Iago in Laurence Fishburne’s Othello in writer-director Oliver Parker’s version of Othello, with Irène Jacob, produced through Columbia Pictures.
Branagh returned as star-director-writer of his highly acclaimed version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Hamlet (1996), which Branagh filmed in 70mm, and assembled a highly eclectic cast including Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Billy Crystal, Gérard Depardieu, Charlton Heston, Derek Jacobi, Jack Lemmon, Rufus Sewell, and Robin Williams, with the film gaining four Oscar nominations, including best screenplay for Branagh. Kenneth Branagh was directed by Robert Altman in writer Al Hayes’ revised version of a manuscript discarded by John Grisham, The Gingerbread Man (1998), with Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, and Robert Duvall.
Branagh then worked with British director Paul Greengrass and co-star Helena Bonham Carter in the comedy-drama, The Theory of Flight (1998), with Gemma Jones and Ray Stevenson, followed by another commercial dud—Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998), in which Branagh joined the ensemble of Hank Azaria, Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Famke Janssen, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth, Winona Ryder, and Charlize Theron. After yet another box-office dud—the Lesli Linka Glatter-directed The Proposition (1998)—Branagh had one of his few supporting roles in the big-screen version of Wild Wild West (1999), starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline, with Salma Hayek and Ted Levine, losing money for Warner Bros.
Kenneth Branagh was the star/director/writer/producer of his second Shakespeare comedy on film, Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000), and proved to be by far his least successful, with poor reviews and box office for the Miramax-backed production. Branagh delivered his first voice performance for animation with DreamWorks Animation’s The Road to El Dorado (2000), with the voice cast of Kevin Kline, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, and Edward James Olmos, and losing money for DreamWorks. Branagh earned some of his best reviews in a movie to date for his lead turn in writer-director Michael Kalesniko’s black comedy, How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog (2000), with Robin Wright Penn, Jared Harris, Lynn Redgrave, and David Krumholtz, but was yet another commercial dud on Branagh’s resume.
Branagh took on a supporting role under Phillip Noyce’s direction in the successful Australian drama, Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), with Everlyn Sampi and David Gulpilil. Kenneth Branagh was cast in his first blockbuster franchise movie with the sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), directed by Chris Columbus and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, John Cleese, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, and Fiona Shaw, and grossing $880 million globally.
Branagh was director/writer/producer of his fifth, poorly received Shakespeare film adaptation, the Japan-set As You Like It (2006), with Romola Garai, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kevin Kline, Adrian Lester, Janet McTeer, Alfred Molina, David Oyelowo, and Brian Blessed, but it didn’t receive a true U.S. theatrical release. For the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, director-writer Branagh delivered an indifferently reviewed and seen version of The Magic Flute (2006), which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but was theatrically released only in Western Europe.
Kenneth Branagh collaborated as director and producer (only) with author Harold Pinter and co-stars Michael Caine and Jude Law for an anticipated but disappointing new screen version of Anthony Shaffer’s play, Sleuth (2007), released by Sony Pictures Classics. Branagh took on a prominent (though not starring) role in the Bryan Singer-directed WW2 thriller, Valkyrie (2008), starring Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten, Thomas Kretschmann, Terence Stamp, and earning a strong $201.5 million worldwide. For director/writer Richard Curtis, Branagh joined the ensemble of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, and Nick Frost in the British-German-French comedy-drama, The Boat That Rocked (2009).
Kenneth Branagh went against the brand as director (only) of his first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Thor (2011), starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, and Anthony Hopkins, and earning Marvel/Paramount a solid $449 million globally. Branagh portrayed Sir Laurence Olivier in the Simon Curtis-directed Marilyn Monroe biopic, My Week with Marilyn (2011), with Branagh and lead Michelle Williams (as Marilyn) earning Best Supporting Actor and Best Actress Oscar nominations respectively.
Branagh took on his first Hollywood blockbuster franchise movie as director and co-star in Paramount’s reboot of the Tom Clancy series, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), with Chris Pine (as Ryan), Kevin Costner, and Keira Knightley, grossing $135.5 million worldwide. Cinderella (2015) was Branagh’s next studio blockbuster (as director only), this time for Disney, and helming a cast led by Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Derek Jacobi, and Helena Bonham Carter, with the movie tallying a strong $542.4 million gross after a Berlin film festival premiere.
Kenneth Branagh, in his first of a series of movies with filmmaker Christopher Nolan, played a Royal Navy commander in Nolan’s astonishing WW2 movie, Dunkirk (2017), with Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Barry Keoghan, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, and Michael Caine, and going on to win three of eight Oscar nominations, and earning a strong $527 million worldwide.
Branagh launched, as co-star/director/producer, his most successful franchise as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (2017), with Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley, and earning $353 million globally for 20th Century Fox. In a fresh spin on his ongoing film exploration of Shakespeare, Branagh portrayed The Bard during a life crisis in the speculative biopic, All is True (2018), written by Ben Elton and co-starring Dench and Ian McKellan, and released by Sony Pictures Classics.
After directing and producing Artemis Fowl (2020), Disney’s very expensive dud ($125 million) and pulled from theatrical release, Branagh reunited with filmmaker Nolan to play the bad guy in the sci-fi thriller, Tenet (2020), starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Michael Caine, and became the first big-budget Hollywood movie to be released during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Kenneth Branagh enjoyed one of his most artistically successful movies with his only personal film as director/writer/producer, Belfast (2021), starring Caitriona Balfe, Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, and Jude Hill, premiering at the Telluride film festival, scoring seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture and winning Best Original Screenplay for Branagh), and earning $49 million globally.
After doing a voice performance in the French-Canadian animation feature, Fireheart (2022), Branagh returned to the world of Hercule Poirot with Death on the Nile (2022), in which Branagh directed and produced (with Ridley Scott) with a cast including Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Sophie Okonedo, and Letitia Wright.
Kenneth Branagh portrayed nuclear physicist Niels Bohr in a small but striking supporting role in Christopher Nolan’s epic biopic, Oppenheimer (2023), starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, and Rami Malek, and grossing well over $725 million globally for Universal Pictures. With screenwriter Michael Green, director/producer Branagh returned again as Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice (2023), with a fresh cast including Michelle Yeoh, Kelly Reilly, Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, and Jude Hill, and released by 20th Century Studios.
Kenneth Branagh was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by parents Frances and William (plumber, carpenter). Branagh has one older brother, William Jr., and a younger sister (and actor/assistant director) Joyce. Branagh attended Grove Primary School in Belfast when he was young. After his family moved to Reading, England, to flee The Troubles civil war in Northern Ireland, Branagh attended Whiteknights Primary School and Meadway School and was also active with the amateur Reading Cine & Video Society (now Reading Film & Video Makers).
Branagh then studied theater and acting at the London-based Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Branagh was married to actor Emma Thompson from 1989 to 1995 when they divorced; Branagh has been married to art director Lindsay Brunnock since 2003. Branagh has no children. Branagh’s height is 5’ 9 ½”. Branagh’s estimated net worth is $60 million.
Her Majesty’s Actor: Kenneth Branagh was selected out of his class at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to perform one of Hamlet’s soliloquies for a visit to RADA by Queen Elizabeth.
Identity: Branagh may be generally pegged as a British actor, but—as a native of Northern Ireland–he has said that he considers himself Irish.
Spiritual: While researching for his role as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn, Branagh listened to Olivier’s audio reading of The Bible and found that the listening made him feel more religious.