“It all happened at the same time because the playing of the part was so linked to how I felt it could be directed,” Kenneth Branagh told Fandango about both directing and starring in a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
Branagh took on the incredible difficult task of playing Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, who appeared in over 30 of her novels and is one of the most famous literary detectives. At the same time, he tasked himself with directing himself and twelve big movie stars; among them Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Josh Gad and Penelope Cruz.
According to Branagh, it was Judi Dench who first said yes. “I was working with her at the time in the theater doing a production of Shakespeare's play, "A Winter's Tale," and she really did say yes before I finished the sentence.” Depp came next because of Dench (“Depp worships her,” Branagh said), and the others came soon after. “They clearly were enjoying the idea of being in a sort of "super ensemble,” he said. “You can almost see it sometimes when somebody else had more to do in a group scene. You could see the others having a good old look and being very supportive.”
Perhaps the biggest star of this “super ensemble,” however, is not an actor, but a mustache. Branagh was very particular in how he wanted to portray the iconic Poirot mustache, and just how much thought and attention was put into one of the film’s most prominent stars.
How he found the right mustache
Branagh: It was literally a sort of library research. Carol Hemming, who designed it, for weeks and weeks was bringing in every kind of mustache reference that you could see, from very, very thin ones to bushier ones.
The mustache in the film is based on a real mustache
Branagh: [Hemming] found a great picture of ... he was a late 19th century cavalry officer, much younger than me, but it had this double thing...this double feature. It was like a quadraphonic mustache, and we felt like that justified Christie's continued restatement that this was the most magnificent mustache in England ... that it was immense, and that it made an enormous difference to people upon seeing him.
The mustache came with a ton of accessories
Branagh: We carried a prop, which was an attaché case that was entirely to do with all things mustache management-wise. It was completely from the period, and there were curling tongs, there was the little primer stove kit that lets you melt mustache wax, every kind of scissor and brush, sort of shammies, and kind of wire things and protectors. I mean, the maintenance of it is massive.
The mustache is not a fun thing to wear
Branagh: It droops in the damp, and it's not good with heat. You know, everything about it...it makes you itch, and it's only at its finest a few times a day. It does something to a personality, but it definitely produces an impact.
How the cast reacted to the mustache on set
Branagh: Every actor who came on for the first time, when they were doing a scene with me did, rather like the characters, give you a certain kind of look. The basic implied remark was, "Bold choice, Ken. Hope that works. Hope it works. Glad I'm not wearing that mustache.”
The mustache does work, as do all the performances from Branagh’s “super ensemble,” which, like the mustache, is a success because of Branagh. He is the real star of this movie, both behind the camera and in front of it, delivering a new adaptation of Christie’s beloved murder mystery that’s stylish and snarky, but also taut and tense when it needs to be.
Citing some of his favorite thrillers, like Rear Window, Silence of the Lambs and The Maltese Falcon, Branagh said what made them special movies was their ability to keep you feeling like something awful is about to happen for two hours.
“I just remember experiencing that taut, tense, kind of clutch that the story gets you in [while watching those movies]. That's what we wanted to try and do.“
Murder on the Orient Express is in theaters now. You can snag your tickets right here at Fandango.