West World

The British actor Kenneth Branagh makes bad as the evil genius Dr Arliss Loveless
By Jean Cummings

selected from Starburst #253

When Jon Peters and Barry Sonnenfeld set out to produce the film version of Wild Wild West, they agreed that they needed someone special to portray Dr Arliss Loveless, a diabolic genius who intends to assassinate the President of the United States.

Loveless gets a bit excited when he thinks victory is in sight...Explains Sonnenfeld, "We needed a 1990s villain who would be truly threatening to our larger than life heroes. Kenneth's style of performance is very enjoyable to watch, full of energy and glee and totally believable and scary."

For Branagh's it was both a pleasure and painful to portray Loveless. "It's always interesting to play people whose experience in these fictions is one that you can imaginatively run with because they, on the whole, do things you could never possibly do," he says. "They are the people who act out those terrible thoughts that probably we all have at various times but our conscience or our sense of being civilized stops us.

"But people like Loveless are people whose morality is a very mutable thing. So they do and say those things that are forbidden, that are taboo, and whose ability to do that I think sometimes lets them have immense imaginative power.

"Those kinds of characters, God knows, did exist in the form of people like Napoleon or Hitler. People who are dangerous visionaries whose lack of morality was allied to a fantastic imagination. So it's exciting to play because they have such different minds. But it's a rather chilling experience because every now and again you're struck by the fact that a little bit of that perhaps resides in all of us, but which, thank God, we check."

"For my part, my choice is for work governed by who directs more than the part, which I thought was delicious, more than the script. The major reason for me doing this picture was because I wanted to work with Barry Sonnenfeld, whose work I admire."

Of course, with the pleasure came the pain, actual physical discomfort in playing a character whose own scientific experiment left him without the lower half of his body. Now half-man, half-machine, portraying Loveless required that the actor be secured with legs bent beneath him in a wheelchair.

He grins when asked if playing such a villain affected his own personality. "It didn't affect my personality so much that I wanted to take over America. However, it affected my physical life a bit because the process of being in that wheelchair involved my legs bent under me, and screwed into this metal box. So that was a little uncomfortable..."

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