In fact, if there's any actor Branagh resembles -- in person and certainly in the "Dead Again" character Mike Church -- it's not the princely, British Olivier but the square-jawed, two-fisted, American James Cagney.
One would never guess from Branagh's portrayal that he was English. He says he began to create Mike Church's Irish-American accent by listening to tapes.
"But that was just the beginning," he says. "Fortunately, I had a lot of time in L.A. because I was there performing 'King Lear' and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' Any time I noticed two guys on the street who reminded me of what Mike Church might be like, I'd walk behind them for blocks, eavesdropping and watching their gestures.
"But Mike Church is such an amiable guy that I also borrowed -- believe it or not -- from Woody Allen, who I think is one of the most likable characters in movies. If you watch Woody Allen movies, you will notice that when he walks with a woman, he uses large gestures in his conversational style. I tried to make the gestures slightly less large and less New York-Jewish, but I couldn't have created Mike Church without them."
When Branagh was growing up did he ever think he would someday be playing the part of an Irish-American detective with overtones of a Jewish-American stand-up comic?
"It would have made perfect sense to me," he says. "Mine was a childhood spent in the movies. I worshiped Burt Lancaster in 'The Birdman of Alcatraz' before I even knew who Laurence Olivier was. Before I started 'Dead Again,' I screened 'Dial M for Murder,' 'Spellbound,' 'Vertigo,' 'Citizen Kane' -- all the movies I had adored when I was a kid. I wanted the qualities those movies have -- operatic qualities of simultaneously involving and detaching the viewer, of excitement and emotion -- and I was amazed at how much I remembered, at how much those movies are part of what I am.
" 'Dead Again' is about reincarnation, but it's also about the reincarnation of the movies I love," Branagh says with a smile. "I'd like to think that somewhere out there Olivier, Welles and Hitchcock are glad."