Kenneth Branagh talks Tenet: "Nolan delivered the script by hand – you get a master artistic brainiac and a mailman all in one"

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Tenet is incoming! Christopher Nolan's time-inverting spy thriller reaches UK cinemas this week – US theatres next – and we're celebrating by putting Total Film's exclusive cover feature online. As part of that, the team interviewed Kenneth Branagh, who spoke about the new movie. Here's our interview with the actor – and be sure to read the cover feature here.

Was landing a role in Tenet a secrecy-shrouded process?

It doesn’t feel like it’s shrouded in secrecy, but, in fact, it is. It was as simple as Christopher ringing me up, and saying, “Look, we have this film that we imagine you might not be available for, but if you thought that there was a possibility, the character films in a sort of fairly compressed way.” I’d just about finished Artemis Fowl. We were in prep for Death On The Nile. I talked to my bosses, to make sure that it could work logistically. The next evening, Christopher came to see me, and delivered the script by hand, as he had done also with Dunkirk. It’s funny: you get an international master artistic brainiac and a mailman all in one.

Was filming Tenet in any way comparable to making Dunkirk?

It was a different beast. Chris’ focus is legendary. In both cases, you’re warmly invited, and of course expected, to be on the set from the very beginning of the shooting day until the end of the shooting day. And to be ready for both what is his very organised and prepared approach, which, as always – and partly, in his case, intentionally – meets the chaos of the day and the imaginations of all his collaborators. So I would say that the level of focus was the same. But in this case, that wasn’t provided necessarily by half a dozen massive Second World War ships, but by the complexities and excitement of Christopher’s extraordinary idea.

Is it fair to call your character the antagonist of the film?

Given the nature of it, as Chris to some extent sort of reinvents the wheel here, a lot of people start engaging with John David Washington’s character in both expected ways... so you might expect me to be an antagonist... but then [the story] doesn’t quite follow what you might expect as the story plays out.

Have you been able to continue post-production work on Death On The Nile? 

We are. We managed to [complete filming] in December. And so by the time lockdown occurred, we had the cut we presented to the studio, and we had a very successful screening for them. And since we’ve been in lockdown, we’ve been doing further work on it. So far, our work has been... although, affected by the remote nature of things, it’s carried on. So for what it’s worth in these unprecedented times, at least in our tiny little corner of the film world, we’re carrying on. And I’m excited about how it’s going, and we’ll be on schedule. And if the world has returned to some form of normal, I would hope people can see it as planned in cinemas.

Tenet reaches UK cinemas on August 26 and US theatres on September 4. Before then, make sure you read up on our celebration of Inception's ending. This piece was originally in Total Film – never miss another feature by subscribing here.

Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.