MAKING A MURDER
An all-star cast. 65mm cameras. The biggest moustache in the world. Kenneth Branagh is throwing everything at his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express. But can he make the old seem new?
When you think Agatha Christie, what comes to mind? your grandparents’ bookshelf? bad local ‘theatre’? Sunday nights on ABC in the 1980s? If so, director-producer-star Kenneth Branagh wants to throw your preconceptions on the tracks. Murder On The Orient Express, based on Christie’s landmark 1934 whodunnit, sees Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) interrogate 13 suspects following the murder of shady American businessman Samuel Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp) aboard the luxurious train. It’s a story as old as the Alps — Sidney Lumet delivered an okay-ish all-star version in 1974 — but Branagh is shooting for a vision that is big and bold, feeling both classic and contemporary. Like Poirot minus his newly titanic ’tache, Empire grills Branagh and the cast of 2017 to solve a mystery: how do you adapt an 83-year-old page-turner for the IMAX crowd?
Kenneth Branagh (Hercule Poirot/director): Having played Wallander, I was so interested to play a detective who, by contrast, was happy. His association with violent crime takes its toll, but Poirot has an absolute determination to leave that world any time he can, to thrive in his delight in cake or travel. I get the feeling that if he didn’t have to solve another crime in his life, he’d be overjoyed.
Willem Dafoe (furtive academic Gerhard Hardman): As Poirot, Ken drives the investigation. And as director, Ken drives the shoot. So the parallel is very close.
Penélope Cruz (Spanish missionary Pilar Estravados): To see him go from fiction to eality back and forth, a thousand times in one day, it’s mindblowing to watch. He was 100 per cent there for you as Poirot, 100 per cent there for you as your director.
Branagh: I am nothing like Poirot. I am the kind of person who never guesses the murderer unless they tell me. I am sure Empire readers were well ahead of me with The Usual
Suspects: “He read it all on the fucking board!” I remember those reveal moments as really pleasurable, but I am never quicker than the filmmakers.
Branagh: At the centre of the story, you needed someone who you might believe someone would stoop to murder. So Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett becomes a helpful thing in the narrative — a star personality. This character is someone who really creates a lot of space around him. He takes up a lot of oxygen.
Josh Gad (private secretary Hector Macqueen): Macqueen and Ratchett’s butler Masterman [Derek Jacobi] see things that are sometimes questionable and are protectors of his image. There’s a sense that everybody on this train knows more than they’re letting on.
Clockwise from left:
Josh Gad as Hector Macqueen; Kenneth Branagh framing Leslie Odom Jr (Dr Arbuthnot) and Michelle Pfeiffer (Caroline Hubbard); Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman) and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench); Arbuthnot takes aim; Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett.