Hyphenate Sir Kenneth Branagh has three Oscar nominations for “Belfast” — Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay — but remained behind the camera for the autobiographical film about his own childhood in war-torn Ireland. However, Branagh says that was almost not the case.
Branagh appeared at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this weekend, where he received the Outstanding Directors of the Year Award, an honor he shared with this year’s four other Oscar-nominated directors: Jane Campion, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, and Ryausuke Hamaguchi. In a conversation with Scott Feinberg to accept the award, Branagh revealed that he cut himself out of a role in “Belfast.”
“There was one version of the film where an older version of Buddy returns to Belfast, and I’ll give you three guesses who that actor was,” Branagh said, clearly referring to himself. “But in the end, the sequence just didn’t feel right.”
The character of Buddy is based on Branagh, with the film telling the story of his working-class upbringing amidst the unrest in Belfast in the 1960s, along with the solace that he took in movies that eventually led to him pursuing a career in film. The role went to Northern Irish child actor Jude Hill, who drew rave reviews from Branagh himself.
Branagh often stars in the films he directs, such as last month’s “Death on the Nile.” His appearance in “Belfast” would have been a full-circle moment in a film already heavy on nostalgia. “Belfast” earned Branaugh some of the strongest reviews of his career, along with a trio of Oscar nominations that may lead to his first win.