Kenneth Branagh, who plays the so-far unnamed but "terrifying" villain in Tenet, describes director Christopher Nolan's latest as a "massive, action-packed blockbuster" dwarfing their previous collaboration on Dunkirk. In the sci-fi tinged espionage thriller, Branaugh plays a Russian oligarch who clashes with the Protagonist (John David Washington), a secret agent type tasked with preventing what one character (Clémence Poésy) tells us is "World War III." Speaking to The Irish Times, Branagh admits Tenet sometimes left him questioning "what the hell" was going on, saying he read Nolan's script more times than any other project in his nearly 40-year career:
"It was darker than anything I've ever played," Branagh said. "Chris does his homework so he knew what I had done before and what he didn't want from me. He kept saying: 'You know this character has to be unremittingly evil?' Until finally, on the last day he said, regarding your character and the darkness? You really understood the memo."
"The sense of scale here, even on the page, is something else," he added of Nolan's script. "It plays as a bang-up entertainment but there's a tonne more to it. Even with Dunkirk, and the scale of that, I was aware of my character's relatively contained storyline."
Described by studio Warner Bros. as a sci-fi action spectacle with an international cast, Tenet "weaves in so many characters across so many countries and layers of plot and meaning," Branagh said. "The conceit is really bold. It's one of those things that's almost unique to Chris Nolan. It's a massive, action-packed blockbuster that reads as a really personal movie with intellectual dazzle."
At one point in Tenet, the Protagonist clarifies the film's time-reversal tactic — called "inversion" — isn't time travel, telling Robert Pattinson's character to "try and keep up." Recalling his first pass through the script, Pattinson blushed when admitting he may have read it too quickly.
"When I first read it both Chris and Emma [Thomas, producer] were saying: did you read this properly because everyone else took another two hours?" Pattinson said. "And I said: Oh s—t. Right up until the last week of the shoot, I was talking to John David and asking him some pretty fundamental questions about who my character was. And John David was like: 'Wait, you don't know this?' But it's complicated! You're not just being fed the story."
"You're trying to uncover the mystery at the same time as the characters in the movie are. A lot of the stuff in this movie is expositional world-building stuff and a dense story. And the script makes that accessible to a layman," he continued. "And that's really difficult to get that balance of making it sound like natural dialogue and trying to get across information that you probably need a PhD to understand properly. And then you have to put it in the mouth of someone like me, who can barely add."
After premiering a new, action-fueled trailer for Tenet in May, Washington confessed to questioning Nolan about the film's twisty plot "every day" during filming. The star also revealed one of the film's "epic" action sequences involving a massive plane explosion, glimpsed in the latest trailer, was filmed practically.
Tenet opens internationally in 70 territories on August 26 before reaching select U.S. theaters on September 3.