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All aboard! And we mean all aboard!
It is no exaggeration to say that a goodly portion of planet Earth’s most famous residents have gathered today at Longcross Studios outside London to shoot a scene set at Stamboul (now Istanbul) train station for director Sir Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (out Nov. 10). Branagh, who also plays Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, is present and properly dressed in 1930s-era attire. So too are Star Wars heroine Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., and British acting royalty Dame Judi Dench and Sir Derek Jacobi. But wait, there’s more. In one corner of the soundstage, Josh Gad and Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) are discussing the Police Academy franchise; Penélope Cruz is gliding past the re-creation of a vintage train talking on her phone in Spanish; and Johnny Depp is ruminating to your reporter about the likelihood of his character’s long brown coat being made out of leather. “I’m feeling like it’s fake,” he says — incorrectly, as the film’s Oscar-winning costume designer, Alexandra Byrne (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), will later attest. However the most eye-catching sight is not a person but a thing: the fake mustache sported by Branagh. The item is so extravagantly outsize it almost seems more alien face-hugger than facial fuzz. “When I saw it I was like, Holy moly!” says Ridley. “But this is a larger-than-life story, so why not make the mustache larger, too?”
Poirot is always well-groomed, whether on the page or the screen. The Belgian’s care over his appearance reflects an obsessively meticulous nature, which enables him to investigate the most complex and horrific of crimes, including the brutal attack at the center of Murder on the Orient Express. First published in 1934, and inspired by Christie’s journeys on the real-life luxury locomotive which then ran between Istanbul and Paris, the book finds Poirot investigating a fatal stabbing. With the Orient Express marooned in a snowdrift and the murderer trapped on the train, Poirot interrogates a dozen or so suspects before gathering them together to hear him solve the case. The book’s large number of supporting characters allowed Branagh to cast stars keen to take roles that were chunkier than cameos but did not demand too much of their time. Even so, putting together a schedule capable of catering to the collective calendars of Depp, Pfeiffer, Cruz, et al. was no easy feat. “It was a ton of planning, I’ll tell you,” the director concedes. “A delicate web of availability.”
Murder on the Orient Express may squeeze about as many famous folks as is physically possible into a single movie. But the cover story on Branagh’s film is just the start of starry shenanigans you’ll find in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly. Elsewhere, Ridley Scott looks back on his career; Zoe Saldana looks forward to making four Avatar sequels; and Tituss Burgess looks at life through the bottom of a wine glass as EW writer Bill Keith spends a very happy hour with the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star. Plus!!! To commemorate Mother’s Day, John Waters, and Kathleen Turner recall the making of comedy classic Serial Mom.
Whodunit? We did. Now: Enjoy!