It should have been ancient, if unsavory, news: A cavalier reference to gassing Jews, an aside in a conversation nearly 40 years old.
Kenneth Branagh, dapper in his SS costume, his blond hair neatly slicked back, coldly spat out the words during production of the HBO film "Conspiracy": "Dead men don't hump. Dead women don't get pregnant. Death is the most reliable form of sterilization."
He was sitting on a soundstage that was an exact reproduction of the luxurious Wannsee villa where 15 high-ranking Nazis, over lavish food and drink, matter-of-factly planned the Final Solution on Jan. 20, 1942. Branagh, the Oscar-nominated actor-director, was playing SS Gen. Reinhard Heydrich, who led the brief, top-secret meeting like a ruthless CEO. His fellow actors sipped liquor and puffed cigars as Branagh, feeling revolted, completed the scene. "It was very claustrophobic, very smoky, because once those set doors were closed, all the actors were in there all the time," said Branagh, who is best-known for directing and starring in film adaptations of Shakespearean plays. "That meant that at the end of every take, you rushed out of the room, peeled off your SS uniform, and took a breather from that creepily atmospheric place."