Sydney welcomed Alan Rickman and his wonderful voice back to Australia last week for the first time in decades, and during his trip, to promote new film A Little Chaos, he sat down for a couple of sold-out post-screening Q&As – one which I managed to get tickets to.
Before I get to what he revealed, a bit about the film itself. Rickman directs for the first time since 1997 (some little thing called Harry Potter had apparently been taking up all his time) and also stars as King Louis XIV in the romantic drama. It follows the tale of a female landscape gardener (played by Kate Winslet) tasked with constructing an outdoor ballroom in the gardens at Versailles by an accomplished landscaper (played by Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone) after he sees how she thinks outside the box.
Rickman freely admits it’s entirely implausible, because a woman of that day and age could never have held a job.
“Women were merely decorative objects at the time.. her character is a complete impossibility,” he said.
Rickman talked at length about his career highlights, giving wonderful insights into little tidbits from movies sets and life in the biz.
Here’s five things I took away from the night:
1) his career began as a graphic designer
In fact he says: “When I was 18, the idea of going to drama school, that would be the quickest way to slit my throat, although I knew it was the thing I liked doing most.”
So he went to art school and worked as a graphic designer. I was only at 25 did he decide to go study acting at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
“Life is so much it seems to me, at this point in time, a big ol’ piece of hindsight,” he said.
“You figure out that these bits and pieces are what make you then decide that maybe you should direct a film.”
2) HE NEVER KNEW THE WHOLE STORY BEHIND SNAPE
“The internet thinks I was told the whole thing. This was not true at all,” he said.
In fact, the only hint Rickman had was when he was deciding whether or not to join the franchise. At the time, he had been offered the part of the hook-nosed Potions Master, but said he had no idea how to play the part unless he spoke to author JK Rowling.
“She waited until she was absolutely alone – that’s how much she holds it to herself – and she gave me one tiny piece of information,” he said.
“I was told one tiny little thing which made me think that he wasn’t quite what he seemed and that’s all I knew.”
When prompted to reveal what was said, Rickman proved a man of his word.
“No. I promised her I never would and I know she’s written it now, but you make a promise.”
In case you haven’t seen the (heartbreaking) video of Snape’s story pieced together chronologically by a fan, check it out:
3) HE JUMPED 40 FEET FOR DIE HARD
Back before everything was done using CGI (yes, remember those days?!), Rickman was asked to jump 40 feet for that epic final scene in Die Hard.
“The guy training me said, ‘look, as you fall, you must remember to put your arms out and your legs out in a kind of star shape, because if you don’t you’ll start to turn in mid-air, land on your head and kill yourself’,” he said.
“So I did as I was told, I think we did three takes at three ‘o’ clock in the morning and miraculously it was the last scene I shot in the film… just in case.”
Somewhat unbelievably, the wonderfully villainous Hans Gruber was his first movie role.
4) IT MAKES SENSE (AND SENSIBILITY) WORKING WITH KATE WINSLET AND EMMA THOMPSON
“They give a shit, and it matters to them… and it’s not about their ego,” he said of the pair.
A Little Chaos actually marked the first time Rickman had worked with Winslet in two decades.
Their last film together? Sense and Sensibility, when Winslet was just 19.
Also in that film was the wonderful British actress Emma Thompson, who starred and wrote the screenplay (and has just been cast as Mrs Potts in the remake of Beauty and the Beast with Potter alumni Emma Watson).
Rickman has worked with her about five times over the years, from Love, Actually to Harry Potter. He’s even directed her in his other film The Winter Guest, alongside her mother Phyllida Law.
“Or at least I think I was directing her,” he said in his droll way, to much laughter.
“She’s a powerhouse. And she has a lot of opinions, but that’s because she’s a really good writer, and I don’t know why she hasn’t directed yet.”
Good point. Emma Thompson should direct something!
5) IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT SUPERHEROES
Rickman says it’s tough getting an indie film simply made these days, let alone getting it into theatres so people can see it.
“There’s a huge balancing act going on now between cinemas filled with superhero movies and the fact that more and more people are sitting at home with big TV screens and surround-sound and they don’t want to go out to watch a complicated film,” he said.
“They go, ‘oh I’ll wait til that comes out on DVD’.”
But he thinks there’s a magic to seeing movies on the big screen with a crowd of people. And I couldn’t agree more.
“I really believe in the kind of energy that gets created,” he said.
“It’s how I grew up watching films. It’s a very visceral thing and you can feel all sorts of muscles growing in your heart and mind…
“I’m not sure that happens so much at home, when you’re in the middle of some movie and your mum screams ‘turn that down!'”