Toronto International Film Festival : Q&A with Director Kenneth Branagh on His Latest Film, “Belfast”, Shakespeare Works, and Agatha Christie Films

Toronto International Film Festival : Q&A with Director Kenneth Branagh on His Latest Film, “Belfast”, Shakespeare Works, and Agatha Christie Films
Director Kenneth Branagh (left) and actor Jude Hill (right) on the set of BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Q: We’re going to be talking about the making of “Belfast”. Because it’s such a personal story, we want to connect it to your whole journey as a storyteller. One thing that resonates really strongly about the film is the tight-knit sense of community within and among families in Belfast. Was that your experience growing up?

KB: Most certainly. The film was partly, as I started to write at the beginning of the lockdown, a search in a way, an exploration for a return to that place of certainty. We are living in this period of massive uncertainty. It’s very unsettling. Many futures are unclear, many days unclear, about what’s going to happen with regulations for this or that, and all of it coming from this very new place of threats from this virus. 

Way back then in Belfast I wanted to go back to a place, the head of such a moment that was so secure, so settled, so clearly a time in your life when your relationship to the world was quite understood and where your experience of being who you are was effortless.  You knew who you were, where you belonged, and you simply couldn’t get lost. 

That’s what I found about Belfast. It’s a village-city, you physically couldn’t get lost. Frankly, if you did, you’d know somebody because it seemed like you were related to half of Belfast, you knew somebody who knew the other half. Somebody says in the movie, “We know everybody in all of these houses on every street, whether we like it or not. I like it.” 

And I liked it, and the journey of writing “Belfast” was returning to a sense of clear and helpful understanding of who you truly are, which is not just an individual, but it’s relationship to that idea of “it takes a village to raise a child”. And in this case, it takes a street in Belfast, and the film is a sort of act of gratitude for that guardianship which they gave me. 

Q: It certainly comes through in this storytelling. In August 1969 the violence in Northern Ireland became pretty severe, and in the film it feels like, for Buddy, the conflict maybe wasn’t all that present for him until he’s very much in the center of it – until it comes to his doorstep. How present for yourself was that conflict? 

KB: It, as you say, came to me and in the film it happened just in a moment. It was one of those [moments] the film dramatizes where life is profoundly different after one single surprise moment where, before it and after it, literally the world is turned upside down. 

And quite literally — this is something that always struck me — the ground is pulled from underneath you. I mean “literally” in the sense of the paving stones upon which we walked ripped up to form a barricade at either end of the street. I had never understood what was underneath paving stones. I’d thought somehow it was all settled and you pick them up and it’s full of sand. And then you see things that had been household objects before, or neighbors’ cars, and they are also stuck in the same barricade. 

And then you find that you have to sign in and sign out at the end of your street. People who were friends and neighbors who now become, as it were, [suspect]. All of that happened in about six hours. When those doors opened, everybody on that street poured out and lives had changed. It was a profound shift. So the rest of the story in the film of that period in my life with my family – and for many many many many many families – it was trying to navigate how you worked a new world.

Q: There is a beautiful image where Buddy’s talking about that knight set with joy and discovery, but also fear and trepidation. In that one moment where Buddy’s shield, the garbage bin he’s been using, in imagining games to his mother, played beautifully by Caitriona Balfe, to shield them from all of that rubble. It’s so beautiful, the way in which that one object used to be for a moment of play and is now used to protect them. 

KB: Yeah, suddenly the play at being knights and castles and all the rest of it, the Crusades or something, has certainly turned into a real object of danger. It’s just a moment of such graphic understanding, experiential understanding, that life is precious and that truly in a heartbeat, literally everything you see will turn into something else, so that shield which was not quite practically being stone. The shock of that, the electrical sort of shock of that, was a bit [traumatizing]. 

This being Belfast, things have somehow to find a line from Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost”. At the end of the play, Biron who’s alleged his penitential gesture to visit people who are sick in hospital and make them [smile], says “To move wild laughter in the throat of death? It cannot be, it is impossible.” I think in Belfast, a lot of people had to move wild laughter in the throat. It was hard, but it wasn’t impossible. 

Q: Yeah, it’s such a beautiful connection and it feels uniquely related to Belfast and the spirit of the people there. 

KB: The robustness, because there was the life on the street and everybody knew — as they say, literally, they knew everybody whether they like it or not – they had access to. 

Q: You quoted Shakespeare there, and most audiences would have first heard your name in relation to Shakespeare, particularly your adaptations of “Henry V” and “Hamlet”. And then you became our foremost interpreter of the Bard. Was Shakespeare the thing you most wanted to do or was it just where you happened to find your niche after theatre? 

KB: It’s the Irish thing, I think, too – the love of words, whether it’s in the oral tradition, on the street telling jokes, or the stories and myths. But I delight in language, there is certainly something that you see in the film of “Belfast”, large family gatherings, people had “turns”, you know, they could tell individual stories. I love the way they used words, I loved phrases. There was a phrase, it took me a long time to understand what it would mean. My mother used to say “I didn’t come up the loch in a bubble.” I’d no idea what she meant, but I loved the sound of that phrase. Eventually I thought, I think it means that you can’t get anything by her. The use of language in that way was something that was so striking. 

With Shakespeare, one of the things that being in Belfast imbued me with was being unafraid of the language. So I knew that I still don’t understand all of it. But I’m attuned to the lot of it and I love the music of the language. From the sound of it, I just knew that he had the meaning. You could ponder just the simplicity in the storytelling that basically most 16, 17, 18s started acting in. Shakespeare was both a mystery, a mental puzzle, sometimes, to work out what was going on. 

But I knew that definitely and always how great it was beyond words, so I was moved by it in ways that I didn’t understand but that I was fascinated by. I liked the mystery, I liked the nature of it. I liked the fact that it looked like I was heading towards the job where maybe my value would be for those who shared similar consternation sometimes in the meaning of it, that maybe as an actor you could be the interpreter, you could be the conduit through which this relatively ancient language emits profound understanding in the human condition opened up as it needs to be to a new generation and refreshed. So not only did I find that I love the material, but I thought that perhaps with the burgeoning interest you could actually be useful. 

Q: You certainly found that space for yourself, and for all of us as audience members. 

[Shows clip from Branagh’s “Henry V”]

When you sit down to adapt Shakespeare for the stage or for the screen, where do you start?

KB: In Henry V – I can’t believe it now, I was 27 years old when I made that film. I couldn’t help but it’s the idea of — I played the role for the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was 24. I had about a two-year experience playing it in the theatre, played it [over] 100 times in my bones with an understanding about how the show played. The story of learning what it is to be a leader, understanding the burden of responsibility, understanding the isolation of leadership – those are things that made it up. 

But also this loneliness, I would say, the costs, the price to be paid for having that kind of position as a young person – making your mistakes, possibly, sometimes murderous mistakes, as you go along. That was what I took from the experience of playing it in the theatre, as well as trying to provide those spectacular moments where the rousing lines go with the actual physical action: the assault on a city. So it’s the culmination of the internal journey of the character, something lonely and youthful set against the spectacle of epic nature, what happens when you’re running a military campaign. 

Q: There’s a nice mirroring of what you said about a young king trying to lead an army and this was your directorial debut so for the very first time on screen you’re leading an ensemble. What are some of the things you learned as an actor about being directed that you wanted to bring to the director’s chair?

KB: I was working with what I would call –I think Clint Eastwood has called – a lot of fast startup actors. So we had Judi Dench, and then Paul Scofield, an incredible Academy Award winning actor as the King of France. I think what I’d learned was to let people –

To give you a specific example of how quickly I was learning, whether I liked it or not: Charles Kay, a marvelous actor who played one of the cardinals in the film.  As I was directing him on I think day 1 or day 2, and I started to say some of the lines and he said “Stop right there, Ken. Never show me how to talk.” So I was stopped from any kind of line reading. I didn’t mean to do it, it’s just I couldn’t think of another way to do it. He said “No, you’ve got to find some words, or you’ve got to give me some space. So you can do one or the other. I said “Well, I’ll give you one word: could it be more Churchillian? And now I’m giving you the space to live and think about that.” And so I was a little more effective after that. 

But that was a good lesson in not teaching anybody’s grandmother to suck eggs. I knew, as I did in “Belfast”, that you get great people – not just actors, but all of the collaborators, wonderful first assistants and people who are really good at their jobs. And then your job, I was discovering, was to direct: point and indicate where you think it might or could go, definitely not to do other people’s jobs. You don’t need to. In fact, you want them to bring the best of their best game to it. So I guess what I hoped and began to learn to bring to the director’s chair — and I am still learning – was to say less and let these very talented see their imagination at work. 

Q: That’s a lovely way to put it and we can certainly see that in “Belfast” as well. You continue to direct Shakespeare through Branagh Theatre Live. Do you have a bucket list of Shakespeare characters you still want to play, are you crossing them off as you go through the canon?

KB: No, I’ve always had an Irish superstition that way, never believing anything is necessarily on my dance card. So I‘d spoken to Colm Feore last night about this, this great Canadian actor you all know, he’s done all the great parts. And I asked him what you just asked me, actually, and I think he was similarly stumped. I suppose if pushed, I’ve often thought — not necessarily that I would be cast in — but Falstaff is a character that I think I’m drawn to. 

Down the road a bit maybe, or not so much, King Lear is something. I played in King Lear, in a production I directed here in Toronto over thirty years ago. So I began the process of trying to learn a little bit about that play. Sorry for experimenting on Canadian audiences in the process. The other people in it were very good. I wasn’t very good as Edgar in it. But it was a fantastic experience. So there were some things like that. Yeah, Falstaff and Lear – I should be so lucky, of all things to do. 

But I’ve had such an amazing time that if I never got another chance to do another thing, I would already have been over-blessed with opportunities. So we’ll see. What I know is I love watching it. Every time I come here – I didn’t get a chance this time – I love to go to the Stratford Ontario Theatre Festival. It’s been magical over the years. I love to see Shakespeare. You do it very, very well here. 

Q: We’re very lucky to have the Stratford Festival very close by. We could talk about Shakespeare for hours. But alongside Shakespeare, you have, of course, directed films of many different genres, films like “Dead Again”, “Peter’s Friends”. Then in the last decade, “Thor”, “All is True” and “Cinderella”. 

But I want to focus next on directing Agatha Christie. This exquisite tracking shot introduces us to all of the key players through the eyes of Hercule Poirot, whom you play with all his endearing eccentricities.

[shows clip from “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017)] 

Q: I’ve heard that after the Bible, William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie are the most read authors on the planet, and you’ve directed multiple works from them both. What appeals to you most about bringing Agatha Christie to life?

KB: Well, in some ways you see a shot like that with the multiplicity of characters, which I know that actors love to play. It was a joy to do that and to have moments with these very skilled people. It’s great. It’s a great throwaway technique. 

Michelle Pfeiffer there manages to land the character the first time we meet her, but she does so in a technically challenging way. If you’re on the other side of the glass there are moments to land the lines when you can, and she does that in an effortless way. Derek Jacobi’s, and Penelope Cruz’s as you go along, and Leslie Odom Jr.’s, etc. And they all take their moment effortlessly 

Agatha Christie knew how to handle an ensemble and to make the way in which she throws away their presence and their little characteristic traits. As a director and as an actor, trying to find the equivalent of that in a film is really joyous. I think the audience so loved it. They found an Agatha Christie business thrown away as things might be, everything is significant. You have the fun of working out whether there’s this tiny look in that “She’s the one” or whether the faro at the end is quite as sort of silly as he seems to be in his reaction to Josh Gad’s character. 

So the chocolate box mixture of all of these characters in this very splendid place, the station in Istanbul, you know they’re going to head into the wild civilization. It’s always a rich mixture with her, and I think she’s a much better writer than I think took credit for in terms of the quality of the writing. I know she’s a great storyteller, but I actually think of her dialogue. 

Q: When I re-watched the film, I was struck by your ability to marry that epic spectacle, the scale of all the different cities and the settings, with very intimate character studies. How do you ensure that that balance of the scale of the spectacle doesn’t overtake those characters?

KB: Good question. I think it’s always a challenge to try and do, but I know that that is the dynamic she sets out. She wants you to have the vicarious thrill of going to an extraordinary [place]. You have to deliver on that spectacle. She does. She traveled so widely, and she’s very descriptive in her accounts of what it’s like to be in Egypt or Venice or wherever. 

And at the same time, she catches you up by almost all the crimes that she describes [that cause] hurt or damage. You have to find that way in which the [essence] of that feeling creeps up on you. I think you need to be very adroit. You need to find that balance. It doesn’t take much, I think, of the physical to feel as though you’re there, but it needs enough of it, and that balance, that recipe. It’s a delicate one, but it’s an exciting one to try and do. 

I think basically, as a director you trust two things. Agatha Christie knows what she’s doing about the settings, so go to those places and see that spectacle as she does, because that’s a good guide. She knows. As you just said, she’s the most popular author after Shakespeare. I’m going to listen to her. 

And then you cast actors who know how to delicately and subtly land where they will be part of her ensemble so they need to be very precise, very laser keen, and I think actors enjoy doing that. You can’t do too much because you’ll stick out in the wrong way. so it presents really a very delicate, very pleasing [set] of challenges for the creative work on these kinds of stories on film.  

Q: When you cast a film, do you have people in mind that you’re thinking of? What does the process of casting look like when you’re setting out on a project?

KB: I think mostly that I don’t have specific people in mind. Although in the case of “Belfast”, once the piece is written you start to conceive who you think will act this way or look this way. I’m often looking for people who have what I would call comedy bones. I think that an ability to see the lighter side of life or to have a twinkle in the eye — which often also conveys a certain sexiness as well — is critical. 

The most layered and compassionate and detailed performances, whatever the requirement of the part, come if you can understand where any kind of wit is to be found in the character. So I do like to find that in actors because I also think that they are more natural and more simple and more direct, and so the story more so.  

And I do like the process of making a film. I once worked with Robert Altman, and he would make you watch the dailies of the film every day. A lot of directors don’t want you getting anywhere near them, but he would gather everybody and we’d watch them on a big screen every day. And he would say “This is the whole film. This is the experience of it.” So it’s not about the scene you did yesterday and then some premiere a year later. It’s the whole experience of the film, so you need to experience the whole film. 

It’s also the nature of generosity in the actors, that “something” I look for in the casting. It’s important that there is harmony. Now I don’t mean that it removes temper, because passionate people sometimes – “temper” means that they care. So sometimes there are some sparks flying and that’s okay. But essentially you want to be the team of people who all want to be the best. That’s the driving force, and not desire or ego or whatever. So those qualities – humor and a capacity to be a team player – I think those things usually indicate actors who “dig” those qualities become in my imagination of who could be in the film.  

Q: You shot the film on 65mm and you have often shot on film 35, or Hamlet on 70mm. Why is it important for you to shoot on film?

KB: I like, particularly with those big format pieces, and essentially “Belfast” is a version of that. We shot it with a OneEye 5 camera. But we also used the 65mm lenses, which were also used famously in that format previously. So in a sense, it’s a sort of VistaVision film, in a way, where the detail that’s available in the image is very, very highly defined, and I enjoy that. So the level of detail and texture, particularly in black and white, that you can achieve by paying attention to how it’s finely delivered has always been important to me. 

And when you see, you get quite a thrill. We just shot “Death on the Nile” on 65mm, which becomes 70mm when you add the other five millimeters of the soundtrack. But one way or another, you’ve got an enormous piece of negative. It’s so huge that you’re very aware of how much more information celluloid can have. 

Also, there’s a hand-made quality to it. When you produce the prints for it, it is a photochemical process. You have to dunk it all in chemicals. There’s a certain alchemical magic that comes out. I just saw the 70mm version of “Death on the Nile” about two months ago in London, and it was really a wonderful experience. 

Haris Zambarloukos, the cinematographer, who also did “Belfast”, [captured] that very highly colored, very spectacular story. But the definition, the color richness, detail, grain, all of these things are partly what even distinguish an element of the cinema-going experience. 

Caitriona Balfe (left) stars as “Ma” and Jamie Dornan (right) stars as “Pa” in director Sir Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Q: For “Belfast”, can you tell us how you sat down to write such a project – how you mapped out your memories, built them into a narrative?

KB: Well, first, it’s been years, actually, gathering images. I write on cards, so I did have massive pile of cards, I must say. There was anything that was striking in the mind of a nine-year-old boy, things that really made a big impression. I just wrote the word “bees” down on one card, meaning gold bees. 

This is what – when the riot that happens in the beginning of the film happened, I went with the introduction of the violence that so dominated our lives occurred, it was the hot, dog-days of August – over here, it was the Summer of Love in America, it was very hot here – and before that riot happened, I just heard “bees”. I knew about bees because I used to walk through a park to get to school, and the noise of these bees was so intense, the volume was so high. It was perplexing until I realized it wasn’t bees, it was a crowd. It wasn’t the sound of humming, it was the sound of shouting. 

So I would just make those kind of shorthand things, knowing that that would set up a whole pile of images for me of that riot. And over years they gathered, and the lockdown seemed to provide the sort of introspective space in which to do it. I played a lot of music – a lot of ‘60s classics that I remember from the time. As you can tell from the film, we had music, we had films, and we had the life on the street. It was a pre-digital age so we weren’t on our devices. We soaked up music, either made up ourselves or from popular sources.

And of course the key heroic figure to those in Belfast was Van Morrison, who was from Belfast, and he was, by that stage, a world star. “Astral Weeks” the album was the pride of that place and acknowledging his music. Images, music, sounds, that all just went into a great big pile, and then I just went at it.  

Q: Then there were the collaborators you worked with: production designer Jim Clay, director of photography Haris Zambarloukos, your editor, Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, and of course Van Morrison, another native son of Belfast. How do you bring them into that world? What insights did they provide?

KB: Haris Zambarloukos and Jim Clay, we got on City bikes – in Belfast you get those City Bikes you rent for a few hours and then land it wherever the next station is. And the three of us got on the Belfast City Bikes and I took them around the city. 

And I took them up to what was my house. The street is still there, but where our house was isn’t. That part of the street got knocked down, but the park is there. I took them to the park, I took them on my route to school. We went in the houses that were the same size so Jim could get a sense of the dimensions and Haris could get a sense of how much light came into those places.

And then people like Úna, amazing editor, has her own experience. She comes from the southern part of Ireland but knows [Belfast] well and has relatives from there. She had a sort of virtual connection with the story.

So it was a very visceral engagement, and it was quite sort of an emotional one for me to go back and show them this. But it was very much putting our hands around the city in a sense, a grand city small in dimensions, so you can get around it. With all of them I shared music and I shared images and I shared, wherever I could, visceral engagements with the material. 

So it was fun to get up at three o’clock in the morning in Belfast with Haris and Jim saying “No, we have to go down to the docks now, we’ve got to get this shot of those two cranes, Samson and Goliath, as the dawn comes up. This feels like this dominated my childhood, seeing these two big cranes. They weren’t initially both built then, but you could see the beginnings of them, and now they dominate the skyline at all times. So that week I literally dragged them kicking and screaming into the physical world of the place.  

(L to R) Caitriona Balfe as “Ma”, Jamie Dornan as “Pa”, Judi Dench as “Granny”, Jude Hill as “Buddy”, and Lewis McAskie as “Will” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

[shows trailer for “Belfast”]

Q: This film is so beautiful. The film is shot in black and white, save for a few moments of vibrant color. Why did shooting in black and white appeal to you?

KB: Haris and I talked about Cartier-Bresson, the great photographer, and how that worked. He worked in black and white and that’s not how we see the world. Nevertheless, in the reportage, images in people and places felt so authentic and real, as if they added a poetic dimension. You capture people in black and white and somehow there’s a gravity that goes beyond what you’re actually seeing. A certain kind of magic is conferred on the image, particularly, I think, when dealing with something like this, what you might call a memory piece. I think that it carries a sort of weight. 

I’ve discussed this with Jamie Dornan, he says when he was growing up in Belfast the sunlight was so strong. When I was growing up in Belfast it often rained, and so the way you saw your street was in shades of gray: charcoal and slate in the skies. But in the north, we’re in the north — Belfast is on the same latitude as Reykjavík, in Iceland, so it’s cold. So black and white is very evocative of that time. 

Also, I wanted to use color to emphasize the idea [that] his imaginative life is exploding. Kids of nine and ten are often very sponge-like. That’s the time when you might want to put a language their way for them to learn, or music or whatever. They’re just so quick. And the language of movies was something that really lit – certainly it lit me up. 

And really, those Sixties movies, those big wide-screen movies, often were in color, very saturated. Some of the ones we include in the film like, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, were experienced as about as far away from Belfast as you could get. It seemed to me that the dynamic between black and white indicating the depth of where you were, but color saying “That’s the world out there. That’s where you could go to.” — that dynamic seemed an intuitive and historic contrast. 

Q: Beautiful contrast. You mentioned “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in cinema, “A Christmas Carol” on stage. Were these the moments that felt to you from your childhood as the most present pieces of art in your life? Or did you have famous actors at that time that you sought out in the cinema?

KB: Well, in Belfast I watched a lot of Westerns, they featured in Belfast “High Noon” – stories where bad guys and good guys and what happens to them was somehow reflecting what seemed to be happening, as it were, on the street where I lived. 

Yes, certainly, “A Christmas Carol” onstage. I couldn’t conceive then — it’s still a bit of a miracle to consider now — I couldn’t conceive of the idea that this is something one could do, or that I could do, or it could be a job. Simply what I registered was that the Dickens story of Scrooge and the visitation of Marley’s ghosts, and the consideration of whether you were leading your life in the right way, could be something one could ever appear in. 

But its impact — the color, and the way they played with their voices and it being live – I couldn’t believe that I got on a bus down to a darkened room and real people that seemed to have come from the past were on stage saying things which were really rather scary. Those things never left me. 

But of course other forms of theatricality never left me, either – like the minister of our local church, who was a terrific actor and who, quite literally, put the fear of God in me with a fire-and-brimstone performance. Unforgettable. So I would say what was an open slate, imaginative stories to brand themselves in a way that really fired up your imagination, whether it was the color of the cinema, the reality of the stage it seemed or, indeed, the sort of terrorism of the Church. All of it enlightened. 

Q: You mentioned finding Buddy or yourself struggling with those forces in his life, or the duality of them, the good path, the bad path, mother and father. It feels like a moment when everything is changing. Jude hill is so talented in conveying all of that. In some wonderful closeups, we see him grappling with these complex thoughts. How did you come to cast Jude? 

KB: We started with about three hundred [kids]; it got whittled down to half of those, then a hundred and then twelve and then six. They were all very talented, but Jude has experience in Irish dancing, so he has “discipline” learning moves. You see him in the scene where he’s sitting between his grandparents and his feet are on the table and his feet go like that [gestures]. He has incredible turnout, I believe you call it, from the dancing.

 And he was very present. He was able to understand, despite having a slight sense of an older soul, slightly older head on his shoulders, which I liked a lot. But very, very present and very natural. And once past nervousness about auditioning or in a meeting with all these scary grownups, he had to break past into play. It seemed to me if we could capture that and find a way to shoot it, that meant that we could capture that naturalness of his presence.

I think maybe the key thing that you’re talking about is his capacity to listen, and for us to be compelled by him listening. I’m back to the way in which someone of that age is so ready to absorb everything. The quality of listening is intense, it’s as if you see, as you say, that negotiating this moment, a loss or price paid for innocence that’s drawn and now you have to start worrying about things like, you might leave this home, etc. So you saw this being written on his features during the film. 

One of the things we had to keep til we did was to over-rehearse, get too technical, and try to find that perfect way in which to use the word “Yeah”. Manage his natural qualities with him bringing to it enough technique to work out how to succeed in your first leading film role, but essentially bring as much of the real boy, the real person, as possible. And he did a magnificent job at collaborator, and nice, a nice guy. Jude was really good at it.


Jude Hill stars as “Buddy” in director Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST, a Focus Features release. Credit : Rob Youngson / Focus Features

Q: We have some audience questions. “What was the scene in “Belfast” that was the hardest to film?”

KB: I suppose it was the violent scenes. You just talked about Jude. We decided to shoot the onset of this violence — this hearing of this strange buzzing sound which turns out to be a marauding crowd – in one long shot, which was a circular track around our ten-year-old. The reaction to it was all played on his face, quite a big, big challenge for him. 

But at the same time, over his shoulder, in front of him, et cetera, were a couple of hundred people that had to riot in the same shot. So there’s so many moving parts we had to cover of course. One of the curious byproducts to what happened was that many of that crowd had kerchiefs over their faces because they didn’t want to be recognized. So effectively we could mask people and make it safe Covid-wise. 

But there were so many moving parts, the biggest element of which was 10-year-old Jude to be alive, real and connected in that moment. And can everything we need to have happen with cars and windows smashing and everything, occur at the same time with the very human thing in the center of it stay real and true, and can the mechanics of this great piece of choreographed violence work at the same time. 

Q: “Are there directors or films that inspire or influence your theatrical way of telling stories?”

KB: When it comes to the black and white of this film – you might have seen a film a few years ago called “Ida”. It was a Polish film, I think it won the best Foreign Language Academy Award. A [special] film that is so beautifully composed, compositions that were very, very inspirational to this. 

And then I suppose “classical”, if you like, directors inspire. It may be an obvious thing to say, but someone like Steven Spielberg is perhaps the greatest shot-maker. If you look at the film “Munich” and you see a massive [look] interchanged between two characters, all seen in the reflection of a car panel and a car door. I would say that kind of boldness was inspirational. 

We would do shots in Belfast where we would hold an entire scene with the camera very low at the level of Buddy’s view of the events, and the most important thing happening in the back of frame, believing that the story could be told that way. Films like “Ida” or directors like Spielberg, or back in the day, John Ford – those people with those kinds of imaginations are quite inspirational. 

Q: “As an affirmed actor and director, what advice would you give to young aspiring actors out there nowadays?”

KB: Well, it’s so hard to say. Always practice, practice any way you can, wherever you can. Don’t worry about necessarily getting a job. But find the way. You could be an actor the whole time. Sometimes people have said “Well, I’ve never had for a need to act. I need to do something more.” You can provide that, you must provide that. You’ve got to keep practicing. Keep your imagination alive. You’ve got to find the book to read, the film to see, the piece to write, the speech to record, whatever it might be. Find your way to be engaged with the good old times. And then remember when you walk into a room where you get an opportunity to do something. 

Something I always tell people and I believe in it profoundly, is: you are special. Every single one of you, you are special. You offer something different. And if I’m on the other side of that, somebody’s coming into the room as an actor, I really want them to be good and I want to see what they bring to it. They don’t need to copy anybody else. They work hard at technique, but essentially I want to see them, I want to see what they offer because it’s different technique. Always remember that. I want to see who you are, I want to see what you can give. So you’re always, always, always your best, best resource, you’re your best strength. 

So the two things you can do are: be who you are, and practice all the things you can.

Q: “As a Northern Irish girl in Toronto, I’m curious to know what you hope people watching “Belfast” will take away about our beautiful country of Northern Ireland.”

KB: I would say that this thing of Northern Irish humor and oddly enough for a place that’s been so divided, compassion and resilience and determination to find ultimately, sometime soon, stumblingly, to find the good in things. When you’re there these days, there are so many things as precious and delicate and hard-won and fragile. There is this tremendous sense of pride in the bumpy, imperfect but amazing journey made from the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, where so many people on the ground have made such amazing advances. And across a generation, my generation, my lifetime, the darkness of the Troubles, this period which I’d say still contains the potential of hope, there is no smugness or assumption about as volatile a situation as could be in that part of the world where so much history is played [out]. But nevertheless, since ’98, there’s been a sort of magnificent [rise] for some of those qualities I’m talking about. The resilience, the compassion, the determination to overcome some of what set us back in the past. That’s been pretty amazing. 

And for my own tiny, tiny, tiny little viewpoint, as you see “Game of Thrones” being made there, the film industry in the North of Ireland is pretty sensational. The talent base there is pretty sensational. And across more important fields to do with political and social development, there have been amazing, amazing [things] that have held on to this possibility of sustained – that it continues. But I’m with Kirstie, it is a beautiful place. I’m proud to be from there, and very, very happy to share a tiny piece of a very, very particular one family, one street, one part of the world version of it. I wish it well. 

Q: I’m sure the audiences in Northern Ireland can’t wait to see it. Thank you for bringing both the very best of literature to the screen and sharing your own story with us. We are so honored to have “Belfast” at the Festival this year and to be able to share it with our audience. 

So thank you for the film, and thank you for the conversation. 

KB: Thanks very much Keith. And thanks to everybody watching. 

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