Rickman Relishes Not-So-‘Nobel’ Character
by Paul Fischer
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Alan Rickman is an actor who moves with effortless ease from mainstream Hollywood through to independent cinema. While movie audiences may know him best as Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, the actor has appeared in a plethora of films dating back to the original Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Truly Madly Deeply and Sense and Sensibility. More recently, apart from Potter, Rickman starred in Galaxy Quest, Blow Dry, Snow Cake, Sweeney Todd and Bottle Shock. Rickman also is part of Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland. His latest movie, Nobel Son, casts him as a narcisstic Nobel Prize winner who refuses to pay the ransom to free his kidnapped son. Shall we say, this is not the most flattering character in Rickman’s arsenal, as he explained to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Paul Fischer: I know you wanted to work with Jody Savin and Randall Miller again after Bottle Shock, but it seems to me this is a character we haven’t seen you play before.
Alan Rickman: Yeah. I think this was somebody with absolutely no boundaries. [laughs] I think—you know, he’s capable of anything and everything, and appears to learn nothing. And so that becomes kind of a playground to go into.
PF: Do you need to have sympathy or empathy for a character like this, to play him effectively?
AR: Well, you don’t think sympathy or the opposite. You just get on with it. And, you know, every person, and therefore every character has objectives in their life. They want this, they want that, they try to get this, and they try to get that. Basically, his appetites are fairly venal and also, I suppose, to make a judgment—he may be a grown-up. But he’s also, perhaps, about 11 years old somewhere.
PF: Could you identify with him in any way?
AR: I think every man probably can, if they’re honest. You know, one’s always struggling to grow up.
PF: What is it about these guys that gets your creative juices flowing, these filmmakers? I mean, why do you think they get these kinds of characters?
AR: Randy and Jody, you mean?
PF: Yeah, Randy and Jody.
AR: I think it’s because somehow or other, they’re fearless and their fearlessness is born out of true independent spirits. You know, they’re not controlled by anybody, at any point of the whole game. But also, they’re very good writers.
PF: Do you think you’ve become more fearless yourself as an actor, the older you’ve gotten, and the more work you’ve done on film?
AR: I hope so. I hope so. It’s the aim.
PF: Is it more difficult for you to continue to find stuff that really gets your juices going?
AR: Well, I direct as well and so I suppose—you know, you’re asking me at a moment in my life where I’ve just come from directing a very extraordinary play by Strindberg in London. And that takes fearlessness to a whole new level, because of the fearlessness of that writing and also the word “redefine.” You can’t ever know what the rules of the game are. It depends on the script. It’ll ask you to go into different areas. But it just depends what you’re trying to protect—your imagination, or your career.
PF: What do you learn as a director in your writing, and vice versa?
AR: It’s like being two different animals, you know? The one has really got very little to do with the other. I think it would be very annoying for another director, if you didn’t come to the set just as an actor.
PF: Now, you’ve worked with Tim Burton now a couple of—well, you’ve now worked with him again and I’m just wondering, even though these are big movies, he seems to me to be both an independent and fearless filmmaker, but within a very mainstream industry, in which he works.Is that what you notice, working with somebody like Tim?
AR: He is a born storyteller and that’s what guides him and also, a very personal vision. If you take—you know, great instincts, storytelling, and personal vision into the studio system—yeah, that is what you’re gonna notice. There’s very—you know, the usual kind of—the entourage. But it’s driven by an independent source. It’s also to do with—same as Randy and Jody, people who’ve got a balance between their life and their work. You know, they’re real people, as well. They’re not this kind of career construct.
PF: Do you let your imagination run away with you, when you play a character as the father in Nobel Son?
AR: Yeah, I did, really, because it’s a kind of rare privilege, in a way, to play somebody who seems to have no limits, or seems to not set any limits on himself in terms of his unutterable selfishness.
PF: How about the caterpillar character in Alice?
AR: Well, with the caterpillar, I’ve only just started work on it, because you know, the film is part live-action, part animation, part stop-motion. And mine is just, I’ve done an early, very rough draft for a camera. And then they’ll go away and draw it, and then they’ll come back, and I’ll redo it. So I think there’s a lot to be discovered yet in that.
PF: Are you looking forward to working with Tim again?
AR: I love working with him. And, you know, I’m standing here, weirdly—we’re doing this junket on an adjacent sound stage to where Tim is filming, here in Culver City. So he feels strangely close at hand. Added to which, Danny DeVito’s just down the corridor. So it’s like a family.
PF: I know you don’t like talking about the Harry Potter movies, so I’m going to be very discreet in the question I ask you about them.
PF: But, are you going to be glad when this franchise is finally put to bed?
AR: I think it’s like any movie. It has its life. And it’s not a question of being glad or anything at all. You know, there is a very big resolution to the story. And that’s still got to be lived through. And, you know, I’m looking forward to that, at the moment.
PF: Having done the part in the film, did they enable to do these small movies that you obviously love to get away and do?
AR: Yeah, I’m sure every actor would probably say that—you know, part of it is doing a bigger movie—I never really know the difference between big movies and small movies, because I’m the same person showing up. But, you know, the one allows the other, I guess.
PF: Now, having directed the Strindberg play, do you relish going back and doing more directing? And do you want to direct—I think the last time we spoke, you were talking about directing a movie as well. Is that still happening?
AR: Yeah. That is very much on the cards, and conversations are going on about it at the moment. It’s a movie of a book called The House in Paris, which we might even shoot it next year.
PF: Are you looking forward to getting behind the camera again?
AR: Very much. It’s a great script, of a great book and beautifully-told story. So, I guess if the stars collide, and the forces convene, and the world allows it, we’ll make a movie.
PF: What else are you planning, acting-wise? Do you have anything else on the cards?
AR: Not really, until I know about directing this movie. You know, I have my—whatever the commitment will be to Alice in Wonderland, and also, the play I directed in London is due to come to New York at some point next year.
PF: So it’s going to be on Broadway?
AR: I think not, because the Donmar Warehouse is very much a force that shapes productions. And then to expose them to larger houses is not what happens. I’m sure that the play itself could be seen on Broadway, but this production is intimate. So, we’ll see.
PF: I don’t know how you’re able to fit in your life, with all this work commitment that you have. How do you do it? How do you keep sane outside of the acting and the directing?
AR: Well, I didn’t have to go on stage every night for seven weeks. [laughs] You know, I nipped in and out and watched them. So once it was on, I had a freedom that they didn’t have. And it works out somehow.
PF: I also know that you’re interested in politics because we talked last year about the Australian election. Did you have the same interest in the American election?
AR: Absolutely. Hallelujah.
PF: Were you gratified that this past eight years is going to be behind us soon?
AR: That would be a mild word. I think that I mean, quite apart from anything else, what’s a huge relief—I was watching yesterday Obama announcing his security team– Hillary Clinton and the rest of his team. And I just thought, the confidence with which the questions were answered. The fact that huge questions are taken on board—it’s something that we haven’t heard for the last eight years. And it’s done with such lack of ego, and such openness. And, you know, all one can do is wish them well. Because the rest of the world depends on it.
PF: Now, I know that British politics is undergoing a shake-up, and it’ll be the reverse. I assume that the Labour Party will not win the next election.
AR: Oh, don’t be too sure.
AR: Don’t be too sure. I think if you put David Cameron next to Obama, you can put underneath, “What’s wrong with this picture?” You know, a week is a long time in politics, I believe.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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