|Kenneth Branagh (AFP photo)
Kenneth Branagh doesn't want to be anyone's puppet. Or anyone's Muppet, for that matter.
The subject came up during a discussion of Branagh's brooding, soul-searching and overall outstanding series Wallander, which returns for its third installment of three new episodes, beginning Sunday on most PBS affiliates.
Based on a detective created by novelist Henning Mankell, Wallander is set in Sweden. So, Branagh was asked, why doesn't his lead character speak with a Swedish accent?
"I wasn't entirely confident about my ability to sidestep the Swedish chef," Branagh said.
He was referring to the beloved character on The Muppet Show, whose indecipherable mutterings have come to signify "Swedish" for many.
"If ill done, (a Swedish accent) can probably seem comical if one's ear is not sort of adjusted," continued Branagh, an acclaimed veteran actor and director from Northern Ireland.
"When you're in Sweden listening to Swedes, it sounds like they're talking Swedish. But we (outside of Sweden) have maybe a sort of shared cultural experience of the Swedish chef from the Muppets.
"That's not how Swedish people speak. But that comic exaggeration has some currency out in the world, and I certainly didn't want Wallander to sound that way."
It's funny to be having a laugh about Wallander, since in many ways this is drama at its best. Gritty is the wrong word here. But Wallander is dark. Not in a teen-vampire way, but in a serious, real-life way.
This third trio of episodes begins with a pregnant woman leaping to her death from a ferry. The seemingly routine case barely disturbs Wallander's new blissful life with Vanja (played by Saskia Reeves), but the couple subsequently discovers a female corpse on their property that has been there for a decade.
As work creeps close to home, Wallander eventually is forced to consider that the two cases may be related.
"Somebody described these (Wallander) films as sort of mood pieces," said Branagh, 51. "If you think of some of the atonal music that comes out of the Scandinavian countries, part of that was wrapped up in trying to evoke, albeit secondhand, an outsider's view or response to Sweden.
"One of the things I like about the reaction back home is that people enjoy that sort of ownership"'authorship distinction. It may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it very strongly has a sense of what it is itself."
And you're saying a Swedish-chef accent might ruin all that?
"It drives some people mad that we speak English but we see Swedish road signs, et cetera," Branagh said.
"It sounds a bit silly, but we did try to have a sense of our version of Swedishness, to see the language, to sort of chew it a little bit, to have some visual framing for an experience of it.
"So I like it. And better that you didn't hear my English"'Swedish accent."