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The cast of Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express boasts an array of acting luminaries, including Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, and Derek Jacobi, who is one of the Branagh’s personal heroes. “You know, 40 years ago, I stood at the back of the theatre watching Derek play Hamlet at the New Theatre, Oxford, and afterwards I waited at the stage door to get his autograph,” says Branagh, who in addition to directing the new version of Christie’s classic whodunnit is also playing her famous detective, Hercule Poirot.
Despite the respect Branagh felt for his thespian colleagues, the filmmaker admits he was tempted to play on his cast a trick which, according to legend, the late Robert Altman had played on his cast during the shoot for Gosford Park. That 2001 drama was another period piece with a star-studded lineup whose membership included Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillipe, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, and Charles Dance.
“I don’t know if you know this story, but several friends have told me about this,” says Branagh, who starred in Altman’s 1998 film, The Gingerbread Man. “They all did their first scene together for the first time in a room. They called ‘Cut!’ Altman quickly opened the door, stuck his head in, and said, ‘Everybody was brilliant, except one of you. We’re gonna go again!’ I was desperate to use that line, but I was too scared.”