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Kenneth Branagh, Sir Laurence Olivier And Why They're Alike

By JOHN CARUCCI   12/23/11 07:34 AM ET   AP

Lawrence Olivier

New York -- Long before Kenneth Branagh stepped into the role of Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn," there already were strong parallels between them.

Both are synonymous with film adaptations of William Shakespeare, delivering lines with implausible realism, and earning accolades for their troubles. Each starred and directed their own successful adaptations of "Hamlet," and "Henry V," that earned Oscar nods for their work on both sides of the camera. (Olivier received an honorary award that included directing the film).

With such similarities, it seems fitting that Branagh earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as the legendary actor.

"He was a master of his craft, and at the same time very vulnerable," Branagh says of Olivier.

"My Week with Marilyn," is in theaters and stars two-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. It's based on the writings of Colin Clark, who spent a week with the iconic actress in 1957 while she was filming "The Prince and the Showgirl" in the United Kingdom.

"When they were making this film, Olivier, saw it as means to reinvigorate his career, especially in the states," Branagh said. "But he found it a challenge to work with Marilyn (Monroe), whom he considered less than professional."

Olivier eventually lightened up to Monroe, admitting she was wonderful in the film.

But Branagh says his co-star, Michelle Williams, who plays the iconic Monroe, has been wonderful from the start.

"Before we ever started filming, she learned everything she could about Marilyn, and played her flawlessly."

"After some time you live the character, and stop playing it," he added.

Olivier was 50 when he starred and directed "The Prince and the Showgirl," and Branagh was 50 when he portrayed Olivier in the film.

"He had this attitude of, `It's not over, yet,' and I feel the same way," Branagh said.

The actor always has held Olivier in high regard and is humbled whenever critics draw comparisons. That comes as no surprise when you consider Olivier's body of work. Classic performances include Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights," the title characters in "Othello" and "Richard II," and Andrew Wyke from "Sleuth."

"How could you not be an Olivier fan? Just think of that scene in Marathon Man, where he's torturing Dustin Hoffman with a dentist's drill. That scene alone could be responsible for a generation of British not going to the dentist," Branagh said before breaking into laughter.

So while he's a serious actor, Branagh also has a good sense of humor. And he's going to need it at the Golden Globes, where Ricky Gervais returns as host.

Branagh and Gervais grew up in the same English town of Reading; Branagh moved there as a child from Belfast. Branagh is a year older than Gervais and says their schools often played football games against one another. Branagh was an avid footballer through school.

"I'm not sure if he ever played," the actor said of Gervais. "But if he did, we certainly played against one another."

Because of the hometown connection, Branagh expects Gervais to focus some the jokes about growing up in Reading. And the actor says he has no problem with that.

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Filed by Mallika Rao  |