‘Tenet’ Star Kenneth Branagh on Christopher Nolan Movie: ‘I’m In the Process of Understanding It’

Kenneth Branagh played Commander Bolton in Dunkirk, so Christopher Nolan invited him back for his next film Tenet. The film is still shrouded in mystery, and the trailers only raise more questions. That’s how Nolan likes it, and many of the films secrets remained secret from the actors. 

Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh | Leon Bennett/Getty Images

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Branagh appeared on the Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review podcast onJune 12 to discuss Artemis Fowl, which he directed. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo asked him a bit about Tenet and he gave an intriguing, equally mysterious answer.

Kenneth Branagh still doesn’t quite understand ‘Tenet’

The latest trailer revealed the concepts of reversing time, communicating with the future and catching bullets. Branagh plays a Russian national at the center of it all. Even he is struggling with Nolan’s Tenet story and he’s finished filming it.

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“I would say that I’m in the process of understanding it,” Branagh told Kermode and Mayo. “I read the script more times than any script I have ever read, I swear to goodness.”

Kenneth Branagh had to ask Christopher Nolan how to deliver lines in ‘Tenet’

Branagh didn’t necessarily need to understand the whole story to perform his role in Tenet. He trusted that Nolan understood. So, when Branagh would have scenes, he would just check with Nolan to make sure he wasn’t screwing up anything in the complicated flow of the film.

Kenneth Branagh - Palm Springs
Kenneth Branagh | Rich Fury/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival

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“I remember just a few times, I can’t tell you what the specifics were, but I began a few sentences almost every day to Chris Nolan saying, ‘I just want to get this right. You need me to do the following,’” Branagh said. “Then I would explain what I thought, ‘So this is going to sound stupid’ and then I’d finish and he’d say, ‘Nope, that’s what I need you to do.’ I’d say, ‘Well, okay, I’m going to need a little bit of time for that’”

The unique circumstances of ‘Tenet’ dialogue

Branagh’s lines in the trailer are simple questions like, “How would you like to die?” John David Washington replies, “Old.” Robert Pattinson has some deeper questions. Branagh implied that he would too.

Tenet: John David Washington
John David Washington | Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

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“It will reveal itself in the movie but I would say it was a kind of linguistic and kind of mental equivalent of times three tapping your head and rubbing your tummy and involved accents and backwards forwards,” Branagh said.

Christopher Nolan has more than action in store

The trailer also shows some of Nolan’s physics-defying action scenes, involving bulletholes unshooting and cars crashing. There’s also a plane crashing into a hangar.

Christopher Nolan's Tenet
L-R: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson | Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros. Pictures

“It’s all the things you want from cinema,” Branagh said. “It’s broadly popular and entertaining but it takes the audience’s intelligence, assumes they want to be stretched and informed and entertained as well. He does it in such a wholehearted way that as I always have done, I take my hat off to him in his complete devotion to cinema.”