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All-Star ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Cast Assembles in London

Director Kenneth Branagh and the starry cast of his new version of “Murder On the Orient Express” gathered in London on Friday to show off new footage from the upcoming adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit. Almost the entire ensemble cast, which includes Oscar winners Judi Dench and Penelope Cruz, “Star Wars” actress Daisy Ridley, BAFTA winner Olivia Colman and Tony winner Josh Gad, was on hand, with only Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer notable absentees.

They were later followed onstage by director Francis Lawrence, who introduced 18 minutes of footage from his upcoming spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” starring Jennifer Lawrence, which is currently shooting in London.

Branagh, who plays Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, introduced about 10 to 15 minutes of work-in-progress footage from the Fox film, saying: “This is the very first time any of this footage has been seen in this way. We’re very excited to share the promise and potential of this work.”

The footage featured four brief scenes that introduced the central characters, established the murder of one of them, and showed off the film’s epic vistas of snow-capped mountains. The footage was followed by the film’s trailer, which was first unveiled at CinemaCon in March.

Branagh and the cast spoke of the camaraderie on set, with Derek Jacobi, who plays the butler to Depp’s Edward Ratchett, describing the ensemble as having “a wonderful company feel about it.”

“What was very extraordinary was that we were all together,” added Dench, who plays Princess Dragomiroff. “It wasn’t like a film where you all do different bits. In this case we were all there all the time.”

Gad, who plays Depp’s assistant, said the backgrounds that were shot rolled by the windows of the on-set railway carriage during filming in England, “so it really felt like we were there.”

“I found myself going to the end of the train to watch the scenery go by as if I was on a real train, and I wasn’t the only one,” Branagh said, adding that the impression was so real to the cast and crew that it caused some ill effects. “Quite a few of us got motion sickness,” he said.

Gad said the production design was equally important to getting in character and into the story. “It was surreal. I just had the opportunity to go on the real Orient Express, and the detail that the production team brought is unreal, exquisite. It is so spot-on,” said Gad. “For us that intimacy really lends itself to Ken’s vision. When you’re in a confined environment, it creates a sense of unease, even if you have nothing to hide.”

The film, currently in post production and set for a Nov. 10 release, is the first big-screen treatment of Christie’s famous 1934 novel since Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version, which won a best supporting actress Oscar for Ingrid Bergman.

At the London event, Christie’s great-grandson James Prichard, who chairs the company that controls her estate, said the story was probably born of the prolific crime writer’s first trip on the legendary train in 1928 and that securing Branagh to direct and star was “awe-inspiring.” “He gets the grandeur of the work, and his vision as he first told it us made my hair stand up,” said Prichard.

Branagh said he made a conscious decision not to watch Lumet’s version, and that he had advised the cast also to avoid watching it. “Our goal is to try and find a new approach. That’s why classic stories are worth retelling,” he said, adding that “there are some surprises.”

Speaking later in the day about “Red Sparrow,” Francis Lawrence said he had about a week left to shoot on the film, which is due for release March 2, 2018.

The director said the film, which re-teams him for a fourth time with Jennifer Lawrence following the three “Hunger Games” sequels, was “definitely a hard R [rating].” He said the biggest thrill for him was working with Lawrence on a role that he described as “very brave and very different for her.”

“She was willing to take some risks in this movie I think she might not have been willing to do for someone she didn’t know,” said the director.

He also said the film’s Russian spy narrative became “more politically relevant the more we worked on it.” “One of the questions we had originally was that thematically it didn’t seem as relevant as it could, but that had completely changed in the past year. It rings very true now,” said Lawrence, who first read the book while in post production on the “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” films.

Although the film is based on the first book of a trilogy, he said there were currently no plans to do sequels. But he added: “If this were to work, it would be fantastic to do another one.”

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