Meanwhile on Monday evening, in Branagh’s hometown of Belfast – he and his family moved to England when he was nine years old -- the brand new £18 million 389-seat Lyric Theatre opened with a gala performance. It’s a subject close to Branagh’s heart as both he and Liam Neeson canvassed and fundraised for years to make it happen.
“Liam’s been a fantastic ambassador for the Lyric and with his help it’s reopened this week. The building is absolutely breathtaking and I can’t wait to get there. I’ll be starring in a play there in September with a great old mate of mine called Sean Foley,” he said.
Branagh adds, “I’ll tell you what’s amazing about that theater. It feels as if the whole of the island was involved in raising funds for it. It’s a thrilling new chapter for that part of the world, and I’m dying to get back.”
Putting on his acting hat next week, Branagh will star alongside Star Trek’s William Shatner and Christina Applegate in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, in a charity fundraiser to be directed by Tom Hanks.
“I can’t wait. When I filmed Wallander (the detective series) for the BBC one of the things I used to do in Sweden during my lunch breaks -- as an antidote to playing this very dark character -- was I would all these showbiz autobiographies, including William Shatner’s, which I enjoyed hugely,” he says.
“He has a Shakespeare background going all the way back and I get to play in a lovely scene with him next week. It’ll be a crazy evening I think. Tom Hanks is a terrific director and he brings so much energy to the event. It feels like it’ll be a pretty terrific evening.”
In New York in the 1990s, Branagh’s turn as a playwright brought him to the Irish Arts Center, where he cast Paul Ronan (father of Oscar nominated teen star Saoirse Ronan) in the lead of his drama Public Enemy. Nowadays the Arts Center itself is undergoing a transformation comparable to the Lyric’s in Belfast.
There are a lot of people who would dearly love to see him return to it in any capacity -- but especially in a show. Would he ever be willing to do so?
“Absolutely,” he says unhesitatingly. “Frankly it would be a very exciting thing to do. One of the things I’m really looking forward to returning home to Belfast to do is to sit down and have a think about the various things I would really like to do that would be unusual, and the kind of things you’d think about when you’re 50 and going back there.
“Working at the Irish Arts Center would be a great thing to do. As I sit down to a large beer and then walk the dog I shall sit down to mull that very possibility. It would be a great honor.”