When My Week with Marilyn opens this week, all eyes will be on Michelle Williams and her transformation into one of the most iconic movie stars of all time (which, by the way, she does superbly). But there’s another transformation going on in the film that, while subtler, is just as remarkable. Kenneth Branagh co-stars as Sir Laurence Olivier, the very actor whose shadow he has lived in for most of his 20-year career. The two even directed and starred in film versions of both Henry V and Hamlet. Branagh talked to TIME about what it was like to play his mentor and why he had to listen to the entire Bible in order to do so.
You’ve spent much of your career being compared to Sir Laurence Olivier. Did that affect your decision to take the role?
I will be honest, it gave me pause for thought. People have suggested that I have a kind of obsession with Olivier, but really that just tells you what a dominant figure he was in the 20th century when it came to classical acting roles. He had set such a high watermark for what could be achieved.
I liked the fact that My Week With Marilyn wasn’t a biopic. It was a film about a very particular moment in the lives of Olivier and Marilyn Monroe as they tried to make a movie together. Like any artist, he wasn’t as effortlessly successful as he often appeared, particularly in dealing with Marilyn. In the end it felt like a good challenge.