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'Alan is interesting because of the very long wait he had for recognition,' says the playwright Stephen Poliakoff. 'Not until Obadiah Slope did he become known.'

Ah. yes: Obadiah Slope, the Victorian uber-creep whose devious, cringing sexuality made him a cross between Dickens' Uriah Heep and Mervyn Peake's Steerpike. One felt almost furtive about fancying such a snake-in-the-grass; but millions of female TV viewers most certainly did. And because there is always a connecting thread running through everything Rickman does, his characterisation of Slope was to lead on to one of his most famous roles in the film versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.

'We all envied him that glorious part,' Nigel Hawthorne told me about Slope, 'but he was so absolutely right for it, and did it with such huge relish, that there was no doubt in anybody's mind that he was going to make a tremendous impact.

This of course happened. And then it seemed peculiar, to me at any rate, who was enviously watching the acclamation given to Alan, that he turned down so many projects which were offered to him as not being the right step for him to take.

'It seemed to me almost as though he was squandering his opportunities by not taking them when they were presented and perhaps leaving things too late.'

Even as Rickman escaped from the RSC in 1979 to do the rounds of the rep theatre companies once again, he was on the brink of becoming a well-known face on British television.

His first foray into TV occurred in 1978 as Tybalt, Prince of Cats, in a television production of Romeo And Juliet that the BBC has long since wiped from the archives.

But his TV career really started in 1979 when he was specially written into a very erotic BBC serialisation of Emile Zola s Therese Raquin, starring Kate Nelligan and Brian Cox.

'In our production of Therese Raquin, we needed to give her lover, Laurent, a friend to talk to in his scenes away from her ... so Vidal had to be created,' says its producer Jonathan Powell, who went on to become Head of Drama at Carlton Television. The



director Simon Langton cast Alan as Vidal. What struck us was that Alan brought a whole interior life to this made-up character. It was obvious you were in the presence of a major actor.'

'It was almost the first thing that Alan had done on TV,' says Simon Langton. 'My first impression of him was a laconic drawl, which is his trademark. At first I thought he was a little too contemporary for Vidal.

'But he had such a physical presence - a natural, unflustered approach. A man of the world. Plus he was humorous, which was very important.

'Therese Raquin is one of the first sexy novels ever written. It's very much the darker side of sex and illicit love, and we had to manifest that in every way. I don't like it on TV as a rule: you impose an anxiety on your audience,' says Simon, a veteran of Upstairs Downstairs and The Duchess Of Duke Street who went on to direct such acclaimed, award-winning series as Smiley's People and Mother Lave.

In 1995, Simon had a huge popular hit with Andrew Davies' racy BBC1 adaptation of Pride And Prejudice. Although he thinks that now he probably couldn't get away with many of the sado­masochistic sex scenes in Therese Raquin in a politically correct climate that fights shy of sexual violence between men and women (although not, cynics would say, in a same-sex scenario), his dramatisation of Jane Austen's most popular novel famously plunged Colin Firth's Mr Darcy into a lake in order to cool his pent-up desires for Lizzie Bennet. You can always say it with symbolism.

'Since Vidal was an artist, we used a well-known artist's studio in Chelsea. We booked the girl who played the artist's model. She had to cross from one side of the room to the other and sit down as if about to pose. In the rushes, everyone was watching this naked girl: but the boom operator and the sound recordist were caught on frame, crouching in the comer. No one had noticed them at first because everyone was looking at the girl. It was quite funny.

The shooting took two weeks. Alan's hair was cut in a fourteenth-century pageboy style. He wouldn't wear a wig. He had this marvellous, aquiline Roman nose and looked very haughty.

'He didn't have a scintilla of nerves with this naked model. Jonathan Powell said, "He's going places" and swore by him. And




he did have a magnetism. He wasn't at all nervous, although it was only his second TV.

'It was all done in a rush, because we were behind schedule. We had to cut comers; but he was terribly unfazed by the pressure and sailed through it, whereas other people would get rattled. Most of it was done on tape: it was very fevered filming.

'Vidal's worldly-wise smile desperately worried Laurent, who had just killed Camille. You wondered just how much Vidal knew about his friend; there was always an enigmatic quality about him. Alan was very self-composed; you didn't have to guide him much. There was no agonising over motivation: he sees things quite clearly and directly. He doesn't go in for bullshit or any equivocation. He's no luvvie.'

The story of Therese is the story of a strong-willed, fiercely repressed, highly sexed woman who is stifled in a loveless marriage to Kenneth Cranham's pallid Camille, living with his elderly-mother (played by the late, great Mona Washboume). Kate Nelligan has a lethal inertia as Therese, just waiting to be awakened.

When she meets Brian Cox's moustachioed, ox-like Laurent, he becomes her lover behind the back of his best friend Camille. He's a rebel who appeals to her brooding nature; and his Bohemian friends, such as Vidal, have an earthy, worldly attitude towards women and sex.

Rickman's Vidal is a flamboyant fop who bluntly asks Laurent why he hasn't been to bed with Therese yet. In the fashion of the time, he has a luxuriant moustache and beard and wears a neckcloth. He has the worst haircut in living history: it looks as if he spent the night in curlers. He also wears an unfortunate fringe, which has the effect of making him look like Eric Idle from Monty Python. Somehow he carries it off.

Laurent eventually drags Therese down for burly sex on the carpet; it's all very animalistic and sexy and uninhibited for dear old 'Auntie Beeb'. They have sex games on the bed, when she prowls around on all fours in her frilly drawers and pretends to be a wild animal. These fleshly pursuits are brutally contrasted with the naked, decomposing corpses on the slabs at the morgue, on-lookers, including very young children, gaze morbidly at this almost pornographic display.

'She always comes early in case there's anything else I want,' says Rickman airily at Vidal's studio, gesturing at his naked model.



'Would you like her?' he asks Laurent. 'She won't cost much and she's as clean as a whistle.' Laurent is certainly attracted to her, but his yearning for Therese makes him turn down the offer.

Laurent and Therese conspire to drown Camille in a lake on a day's outing and manage to pass it off as an accident. His mother's circle of friends, never once suspecting foul play, eventually make a match between the widowed Therese and her late husband's best friend. But Camille's ghost comes between the lovers; and Therese is going mad with guilt.

Meanwhile Vidal has become rich and famous, with a fashion­able salon. Laurent goes back to visit him, telling him he has set up in a studio to learn to paint like Vidal. He asks him for a second opinion. Rickman screws up his already hooded eyes and looks inscrutably at the daubs, still keeping us guessing about whether the ever-cool Vidal suspects the sweating Laurent of murder. Laurent is drawing tormented portraits of some skill and feeling, he says. But, remarks Vidal critically, he always uses the same model . . .

That is the last we see of Vidal, who has served his purpose. Cynic that he is, at least he was open about his desires. Therese, whom sex has imprisoned rather than liberated, has become a hard-faced, painted street tart. 'I'm as tired of life as you are,' she says to Laurent, offering to go to the police. The lovers, now bound together in hate, confront each other. They drink Prussic acid in a death pact as Camille's mother watches, paralysed, with the accusing eyes of her murdered son.

The role of Obadiah Slope in the BBC's Barchester Chronicles was still three years away. But the Therese Raquin team of Simon Langton and Jonathan Powell cast Rickman again in Smiley's People, the 1981 sequel to John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. If you blink, you'll miss his one appearance behind a desk. But even as a receptionist at London's Savoy Hotel in a scene with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, he still made an impact.

The little parts always meant something in Smiley's People, remembers Powell. The doormen etc. always had a personality. And of course people came along just to have a scene with Alec. Those who wouldn't normally do a part consisting of two lines did it in order to act with Alec. 1 had seen Alan as Trigorin in The Seagull, and remembered him from Therese Raouin. So all that decided it.'




Alan played Mr Brownlow, an upright young functionary with a luxuriant, almost military moustache. (I have a theory that he stowed it away in an envelope afterwards to recycle it for the part of Jamie in Truly Madly Deeply.) He joked with Smiley, a regular visitor whom he knew of old. Brownlow kept a shopping bag in the hotel safe for him, jesting that he hoped the carrier-bag wasn't ticking. Not exactly a part with a neon arrow over it, but another of those high-quality productions that Rickman prized above all else.

Which was why he dived back so quickly into theatre after leaving the RSC. Firstly, Nottingham Playhouse, then the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre and, afterwards, the Sheffield Crucible.

Peter James, now the head of the London drama school LAMDA, cast him when directing Stephen Poliakoffs The Summer Party at the Sheffield Crucible in 1980.

They had worked together before when James cast him as Jaques in As You Like It at Sheffield in 1977, with Ruby Wax in one of her many early 'wench' roles as Audrey. 'Jaques was absolutely where he lived,' says Peter. That quality of stillness that allowed him to be as aloof as you hope Jaques to be. He was brilliant, mature beyond his years.' He was 31 by then.

Той would listen to Alan for his opinion on design and a quasi-directorial feel for the overall, for what is going on.

It's either a pain in the arse or a huge advantage. He was very sympathetic to the way things were being done, so he was a huge advantage. He was a marvellous company member, a terrific person to have in a group-

'In The Summer Party, Alan played a pop promoter called Nigel. It was well ahead of its time, a play about how top policemen were becoming media figures. Brian Cox played the lead and Dexter Fletcher was a pop star with Uri Geller properties. It was set in the backstage area, and showed how a pop star and a policeman turn out to be very similar.

'Hayley Mills and Alan were two city types who put on the concert. Hayley never got the chance to work in rep; she wasn't offered the roles. It's a shame.

'One felt Alan was going places because of die intellectual vigour he was bringing to the part. He expected very high standards of others, but that didn't manifest itself in impatience. There's a graciousness there; he would assume you were mortified if you



missed your cue, so he wouldn't rub it in. There was no short-temperedness from him.'

'I don't remember having any audibility or clarity problems with Alan at all; adds Pete. 'Sheffield and the Citz are smaller families than the RSC. They're not so competitive and probably more easily open to his influence. One can't imagine him pushing himself in any situation, but always having the same quiet modesty. The scenery in Glasgow was beginning to walk round the actors, he said; so he left.'

Alan had been cast in a total of seven roles in Giles Havergal's acclaimed Citz revival of the Bertolt Brecht play about the rise of Nazism, Fears And Miseries Of The Third Reich. Michael Coveney in the Financial Times noted how 'layers of authoritarian corruption are laid bare with merciless economy and real glee' by Rickman's performance as a judge wrestling with his professional conscience.

Prior to that, he had taken the role of Antonio in Peter Barnes' conflation of two plays by the Elizabethan dramatist John Marston: Antonio And Mellida and its sequel, Antonio's Revenge. That was the occasion when Alan designed the morbid poster of himself, half-naked in an almost crucified pose with a pronounced pout and an embarrassment of rich eye makeup. One of those collector's items that comes back to haunt you.

Marston wrote the two plays for a company of child-actors. Paul's Boys. There was indeed something of the precocious choirboy - as most of the young players had been - about Alan's melodramatic pose.

'Antonio is the Hamlet story done in a totally different way by John Marston,' explains Barnes. 'Alan came in, swinging on a rope: inevitably something went wrong and he was clinging to the scenery, suspended in the air. So years later, in Die Hard, he was the one that suggested swinging in on a rope. He never forgets anything.'

Rickman returned to work with Peter Barnes after The Summer Party at Sheffield, taking part in Peter's version of Frank Wedekind's The Devil Himself at the Lyric Studio in London's Hammersmith. Here, the Rickman singing voice was first heard by the public, wooing audiences with bawdy songs for a little-known but extraordinarily erotic interlude in his patchwork career.

Barnes recalls how another cast-member, Die Hard, 'saw Alan looking ashen-grey in the wings. He said, "God, this isn't easy, is




it?" ' But it was to prove the most extraordinary liberation for him. This uninhibited musical revue was a collection of songs and sketches on the theme of sex; Wedekind wrote a great deal of experimental cabaret material before embarking on his plays. Rickman played a punter at a brothel in several pieces, with his RADA contemporary Tina Marian as the young tan he visited. Charles Keating also appeared in what was to become Peter's very own repertory company for several of his radio plays.

In a sequence called The Sacrificial Lamb', Rickman asked for Tina's life story or 'confession'. Addressing her as 'My child', her John clearly got considerable kicks from posing as her priest. 'First I want you to uncover yourself completely, not only your clothes but your skin. Are you still in love with the man? The man you are going to te'Il me about?' he asked unctuously.

Then he launched into various ballads, sounding rather like a sonorous monk with a gloriously deep baritone that strays into the tenor range. This was Rickman letting his inhibitions down: one song carried a comic refrain about 'frayed trousers':


I slaughtered my aunt last week

but she was old and weak

The blood began to spout

as I shredded her like sauerkraut

I tried burning her

she wouldn't ignite


One song celebrated a boy/girl of indeterminate sex while Alan tap-danced around in the role of a happy drunk. In another liaison between Alan and Tina as a girl called Wanda, he breathed insinuatingly: 'I know your whole being. . . your way of loving. . .'He claimed to be able to tell what a woman is like from her walk, whether she's 'free or small-minded'. That languorous, highly suggestive voice was used to great effect on all these coded messages of love.

Above all, humour was paramount when he played a frustrated client with a bad case off ballsache: 'She almost kicked me out of bed ... she won't strip! My flame is once again lit, but then she starts pulling back instead of pulling IT,' he added venomously

A tape of the production records the rest of the cast corpsing at Alan's refrain, 'Oooh-ahh, the bugs are back again.' Nursing t mother of all

hangovers, his voice slid over the notes of a Bessie



Smith melody in a wonderfully liquid way. '1 groan on my bed I feel dead . . . Oh, Christ, what a picture, I grit my teeth and reach for Nietrsche.' warbled Rickman, archly adding a 'ha!' at the end of the song.

There was always a sarcastic, slightly facetious tone to his singing voice. Yet many of those flippant lyrics carried a deadly serious sting: of Europe's war-mongering history, he declared: 'It's a pleasure every year to rearrange Europe's frontier . . . politicians believe that human beings grow like weeds.'

After that came the first of two formative stints at the tiny Bush Theatre above an Irish pub in west London's scrubby Shepherd's Bush, just down the road from where Alan and Rima had played in an amateur production of Night Must Fall fifteen years previously in 1965. The Bush must have felt like a homecoming. Its other great advantage was Richard Wilson, later to achieve national fame on British television as the comic grouch Victor Meldrew, among its roster of directors.

'At that point my whole working life changed,' Alan was later to declare of the move to the Bush for Dusty Hughes' play Commit­ments, the story of vicious in-fighting on the Left during the ill-fated Edward Heath Government of the 1970s.

The Rickman/Wilson association proved a break-through part­nership, though they did have one disaster together. 'Alan was my assistant director on the Robert Holman play Other Worlds at the Royal Court. It had terrible reviews and emptied the theatre. Yet, occasionally people say to me "What a great play that was" and I say "Which night did you go?" ' says Wilson drily.

When I first auditioned people for Commitments at the Bush, Alan struck me as very centred and easy. If you take Alan, you take his thoughts as well. He is never lost for a thought; he does speak his mind. But I found him very easy to work with; we are on the same wavelength.

'Both of us are into openness, a word we use a lot. It's working from the inside, non-demonstrative acting. Minimalism, anti-gestural. That's one of the problems with the RSC, one I'm not so keen on. It's because of the problems of the large Stratford stage, so I'm not surprised he had difficulties there. Alan is a minimalist. so his style of acting works particularly well on film and TV.

'He's metamorphic in the subtextual sense. His thinking is so accurate, his concentration is total. He concentrates on who he is



He has a great physical sense of where to put himself. That comes back to his artist's eye.

'Unfortunately I lost him to the role when I did the TV version of Commitments; so I cast Kevin McNally instead. Alan had committed himself to The Seagull at the Royal Court Theatre. But he had become a member of the Board at the Bush by that stage.' Indeed, it was at the Bush that Rickman became a script-reader or 'taster' alongside Simon Callow and first discovered the playwright Sharman Macdonald when she sent in the play When I Was A Girl I Used To Scream And Shout under the pseudonym of Pearl Stewart. The congenitally shy Sharman, who still speaks in a whisper, was very diffident about her writing abilities.

She renamed herself Pearl after a song by her heroine Janis Joplin, because the Bush's then Artistic Director, Jenny Topper, already knew Sharman as an actress. Alan suspected the old-fashioned name was bogus, given the new-fashioned, explicitly gynaecological material, but shoved the script at Jenny Topper, saying: 'I think you should read this. It has something.' It was his 'feminine' sensibilities again that had recognised the originality of this rites-of-passage play. The result transferred to the West End for a year-long hit ran, won an Evening Standard Drama award and launched Sharman on a writing career. Years later, in 1995, Alan was to commission and direct another play by Sharman in the hope of beginning a new career for himself.

Dusty Hughes, former Time Out theatre critic turned director and writer, has been friends with Alan since that first meeting on Commitments. 'I ran the Bush; then I decided to do what I'd always wanted to do and write plays.

The first play was fairly autobiographical. Alan came to the audition for the main part of Hugh in Commitments. He was far and away the best person we auditioned; no contest. We even saw Charlie Dance, who was unknown then. Alan's lightness of touch impressed me most, combined with a necessary weight - which is a very rare thing.

'I got the impression he had never done a huge naturalistic part in a modem play before. He got wonderful reviews and his career really took off. Hugh, the character he played, was me, really.

'Alan was studying all my mannerisms, pushing the floppy hair back the way I do. I didn't realise that he had been staring at me all through the run.



Hugh is a happy-go-lucky liberal intellectual who becomes transformed .is a fire-breathing Trotskyism It was typical of Alan's sharpness that he spotted a weakness in the play, that we never actually got to see that transformation.

'He came on as himself: dry, droll and sardonic. I think he is a very strong personality and identity. A very likeable one. You wouldn't necessarily put money on either him or Richard Wilson being prominent one day. There's something archetypal about such actors: they are universal.

'It was a very quiet, ironic performance. He got on very well with Paola Dionisotti in Commitments; he's very much an actor's actor. He intensely dislikes actors who work on their own. He's a very hard taskmaster with actors who don't give you enough effort.

'There's a very clear seriousness about him; he's high-minded. But he's not remotely solemn. He's a wonderful gossip, with a droll sense of humour. There's a very funny, sly side to him.

'He's very unmaterialistic: he's a genuine heart-and-soul socialist. He loves nice food and wine like we all do, but doesn't make a big hiss of it. On a personal level, he's terribly sweet. I trust him completely. We are not terribly intimate, but we are fond of each other.

'There have been three phases to Alan. It took him a few years to come to terms with being a star; he's now as easy and relaxed as when 1 first knew him. In the first stage, he was terrifically exciting to work with; in the second stage, he was trying to come to terms with fame; and in the third stage, he was learning how to deal with a lot of pressure. He always has a ceiling-high pile of scripts: I don't know how you can possibly get through that lot.'

Dusty clearly feels protective about him, and suspects that Alan's socialism has put him beyond the pale in some showbusiness circles.

'He's not a member of the luvvie mafia; he and I don't belong to the set that they want to invite to the Standard Awards. Alan is not a member of that inner circle, so he will always be vulnerable. There are lovely people in that inner circle, don't get me wrong. But I think a lot of people have been sidelined. And being socialist or even mildly Labour is one of the reasons he's excluded.'

It is only fair to record that organisers of the London Evening Standard Drama Awards have reacted with incredulity - 'Absolutely not true,' snorts one of them derisively - to what seems like writer's




paranoia. They point out that Alan is regularly on the guest list of the Standard's annual awards. But he's away filming most of the time, hence the non-appearances. And six years after Dusty first made those remarks to me, Alan was a guest of honour at the Standard Drama Awards as one of the contenders for Best Actor for his performance in a sublime revival of Private Lives. So there was no dire conspiracy. Instead, because of a recurring stage fright that was to cast a shadow over his career in the late 90s after an unexpectedly disastrous production at the National, he had been a rare sighting on the London stage until that triumph with Private Lives broke the jinx and changed everything. And as for Alan's membership of the Labour Party, its leader Tony Blair attended one Standard Drama Awards ceremony before his landslide election victor)' in 1997 that felt rather like a Shadow Cabinet dinner and dance. Fired up on behalf of the arts, it was full of anti-Tory Government rhetoric. Alan's impresario friend, Thelma Holt, a lifelong banner-waving socialist, has a table every year at the event.

Alan was to be reunited with Dusty for the latter's university play Bad Language at Hampslead Theatre after stints at Oxford Playhouse and London's Royal Court in 1981, with his move to the latter proving crucial in getting Rickman spotted by the right people. Max Stafford-Clark directed him in Thomas Kilroy's Irish version of Chekhov's The Seagull, with Alan playing the Trigorin role under the new name of Aston. There he met another great friend, Harriet Walter, whose Nina became Lily in this transplantation to Galway.

The reviews, however, were very mixed. B. A. Young in the Financial Times opined: 'I couldn't understand how anyone could fall in love with Aston as Alan Rickman plays him.  He is as passionless as a fish, even when he is making love.' The Guardians Michael Billington, on the other hand, thought that leading lady Anna Massey was 'superbly backed by Alan Rickman's Aston', and the Listener's John Elsom wrote that 'Alan Rickman's Aston was a fine performance, clarifying Trigorin's fear of failure and his belief that the very nature of his art sucks life dry'.

Fellow Old Latymerian Robert Cushman in the Observer was of the opinion that 'Alan Rickman's Trigorin is ... uncompromising . the analysis of his writer's disease is wonderfully lucid. Nina would have to be not only star-struck, but a bit deaf, to fall for him.'



Nevertheless, the playwright Christopher Hampton was to catch that performance and see in Rickman the dread seducer of innocent women for a daring stage adaptation of a notoriously corrupting French novel.

'Alan was enormously creative in The Seagull. As Aston, he had a self-loathing and obsession that was quite outstanding,' says Max Stafford-Clark. 'He has got a sexuality that is very particular. The role that created him was Valmont, a complete libertine, and Aston's cynicism played a part in that.

Tou know where you are with Alan: if he's in a bad mood, you know he's in a bad mood. He used to be very candid about what he thought. The big companies do rather smother you, and he operates best outside big companies. In some senses he's a bit over-careful about his career. He should tour with my company Out Of Joint. I offered him Plume in The Recruiting Officer, but he said he didn't want to play any more parts with lace at the sleeves. It's the Valmont syndrome.

The frustration of being an actor is that it's sometimes a passive life, hence his involvement with directing. The problem is that he's a brilliant actor, and everyone wants him to act. He's very special; and he's coped with power and comparative wealth with an elegance that eludes a lot of people.'

Having also caught his Aston/Trigorin at the trendy Court address, Jonathan Powell wanted to build on Packman's impact in Therese Raquin and Smiley's People. The part that was to make Rickman famous on the small screen carried a sexual innuendo far beyond the original characterisation by Anthony Trollope. Obadiah Slope became a byword for beguiling sleaze, thanks to Rickman's insinuating performance.

Dusty remembers: 'Alan and I were having a drink at the bar in the Bush, while he was doing the Stephen Davis play The Last Elephant. Alan said to me, "I've just had the most extraordinary experience. An old man kept winking at me. I thought he was trying to get off with me. He came over and said he wanted to run this article on me as the wickedest man in Britain. I said no, thank you."

'Alan thought he was being kind to a tramp, that he was doing him a favour by speaking to him. It turned out to be a tabloid hack.'

Jonathan Powell admits that the casting of Alan as the slimy Obadiah Slope was a second choice, albeit an inspired one: 'Alan

Plater scripted Barchester Chronicles from the two Trollope novels, The Warden and Barchester Towers. We had cast all the major characters with some starry names: Donald Pleasence, Geraldine McEwan, Nigel Hawthorne, etc.

'I think we offered Slope to someone else who turned it down. We were up a gum tree. So I suggested this bloke . . . and the director, David Giles, said, "If you think he's good, cast him." I did think Alan would be brilliant. I also thought it would be nice, in this glittery cast, to have the interloper Slope played by someone who brought no baggage.

'In one article, Alan was quoted as saying "How boring to do a classic serial" - until he picked up the scripts. This was the star part. He was sensational: he had an ability to deliver comedy without upsetting the balance of the piece, to play the part full tilt without being overbearing.

'Of course he was virtually unknown to television audiences. He brought that repressed ambition to the role . . . but it was perfectly judged. It did reveal that he had the makings of a very great actor. It was very clever and perceptive of him to fear being typecast as a Uriah Heep thereafter.

'He's very parsimonious with what he will do, which is a pity for all of us. He says he won't do television now. He's a particularly special, very unique talent.'

Initially Nigel Hawthorne looked set to be the star of The Barchester Chronicles with the showy role of the harumphing, irascible Archdeacon Grantly, a part he played with a whirligig impatience. Everything changed, however, when Rickman made his entrance and caught the imagination.

'He has a lovely sardonic warm personality; ladies find him very sexy. He's a very straight guy, very unpretentious. I'm also a socialist, though I don't put myself on the line like he does,' Hawthorne told me. 'He's a dreadful giggler, which is a very endearing side to him. He's very warm, nice and enormously generous, a trait that's not always considered to be very common in theatrical circles. But theatre people are very supportive of one another. He's much more a theatre person than I am: you are constantly under scrutiny.

'He had an extraordinary presence as Slope. I didn't, however, agree with the way he said Slope's last line as if he were cursing like Malvolio: "May you both live for ever!" I always thought it would have been better if he had said it simply.



'Something like Slope sets up a situation you have wanted for a long lime; and when it comes, it's not as easy as you think it is' added Nigel, who found himself in the same position after becoming a great success on both sides of the Atlantic in the role of George III.

"You have to be very wary. You have suddenly been elevated into a commercial position. You have to ask yourself whether this is the right move. Alan wanted to stick out for better . . . he's got that integrity, a very sophisticated attitude that doesn't succumb to flattery. He's able to be aloof.

'But I couldn't believe at first that he would turn down so many roles some of us would give our eye-teeth for,' adds Nigel. 'I understand it now, though: you have to act with conviction.'

Our first glimpse of Slope is of the back of Alan's head: his greased-back hair, worn slightly longer over the collar than the allowable vanity of a bishop's chaplain strictly permits. When he treats us to a full-frontal of his face, Alan is frowning as usual.

Slope's first bid for power comes when he usurps the canon-in-residence's sermon in the cathedral by telling the bishop and his wife - Slope's patroness, Mrs Proudie - that the canon has been frivolously residing on the banks of Lake Como for the last twelve years instead of attending to his duties.

What gives Slope a unique advantage with the ladies is that he is the youngest man in the episcopal circle. His contempt for the bishop, Dr Proudie, is thinly veiled. A serpent in a provincial Eden, he hisses slightly during his maiden sermon at Barchester as he lifts his eyes up in false piety.

Alan's portrayal of Slope is infinitely smoother than Trollope's description, which is pretty damning. The original Slope's lank hair was 'of a dull pale reddish hue . . . formed into three straight lumpy masses . . . and cemented with much grease ... bis face .. is not unlike beef ... of a bad quality. His forehead . .is unpleasantly shining. His mouth is large, though his lips are thin and bloodless . . . big, prominent, pale brown eyes ... his nose possess(es) a spongy, porous appearance . . . formed out of a red coloured cork. A cold clammy perspiration always exudes from him.'

That is the description of a Dickensian grotesque without any real appeal to women, for all his appalling pretensions. Alan's Slope is a consummate ladies' man, pursuing a protracted and very




believable flirtation with Susan Hampshire's Signora Neroni. She, however, is sharp enough to see through him and plays an elaborate game with him as he 'slobbers' (in Trollope's words) over her hand. Alan even manages to make the kissing of her fingers an unusually bold and intimate gesture.

The audience is left to wonder about the exact nature of the intense relationship between Slope and the apparently invalid Signora. He bestows a lot of lingering looks upon her as she reclines on her couch, and she jousts with Mrs Proudie for his attention. He also infuriates the short-fused Archdeacon Grantly, who vows to his wife: 'I shall destroy him.'

'What were you doing with that painted Jezebel?' demands Geraldine McEwan's grande dame of a Mrs Proudie, all organ-stop eyes and shuddering consonants. For Slope has more effect on women than on men. That's his weakness, as Trollope points out: he should have cultivated the men for greater advancement. But he has a vanity, cleverly suggested by Alan's feline performance, that instinctively gravitates towards the distaff side.

He is, in fact, horribly attractive, with his boyish, sensual lips, almond-shaped eyes and sly, sideways glances. The bishop is weak and dithery, easily manipulated by the infernal alliance of his wife and Slope. Of course, Slope turns out to be a brandy snob - a sure sign of his great aspirations - when he declines an impoverished man's offer of some Marsala. Those piously downcast eyelids shoot up as if yanked by a hoist when told that the young widow he has been sniffing round is a woman of wealthy means. Slope slithers from one (im)moral position to another, forever changing his allegiance.

It is a delight to see how the fickle, flirtatious Slope has aroused even Mrs Proudie. 'Your behaviour with women . . .' she enunciates with awful majesty, almost unable to utter the unspeakable. 'At my party, your conduct with that Italian woman was inexcusable.'

In another telling piece of body language that Rickman has patented, Slope puts his face very close to other people's when he wishes to be intimidating. It's rather like one animal facing down another. He's a surprisingly physical performer, but elegantly controlled and tremendously instinctual.

In his serpentine way, Slope becomes the viper nestling at the bishop's bosom. He makes 'love' to Signora Neroni, declaring his passion. Slope bares his teeth amorously at her, another animalistic



gesture, but he's a moral coward and she calls his bluff in a scene of unusual sexual intensity. Poor Slope looks vexed and pouts sulkily, with Rickman finding the vulnerabilities in even this slimy creature.

The ghastly man schemes to become the Dean of Barchester, but the bishop outmanoeuvres him. His only hope, thereafter, is the rich young widow, whom he treats with very unclerical passion. 'Beautiful woman, you cannot pretend to be ignorant that I adore you,' is his declaration. She slaps him hard for his presumption and he falls backwards upon the lawn with a look of such genuine surprise that, for a moment, one feels a pang of pity for Slope.

Not that Rickman sentimentalises him one jot; but, absorbed by his ambitions, he has no idea what other people really feel about him. For all his scheming, he's a hopeless innocent.

Signora Neroni, tiring of his machinations, finally humiliates Slope in public. 'I find your behaviour abominable!' he snaps and bangs the door behind him. 'Ambition is so tedious,' she says to her littering friends by way of explanation.

Slope, now really nettled, is finally carpeted by the Proudies. bishop makes it clear that he should seek some other preferment There is an exchange of unseemly insults between Slope and Mrs Proudie; he has lost all caution and becomes a snarling animal. She suggests he become the curate at Puddingdale. 'PUDD-ingdale?' growls Slope, with Alan disdainfully emphasising the ludicrous sound of the first syllable. Obviously not an option for someone like him.

'May you both live for ever!' he snaps, after putting his shark-like face close to the bishop's in his usual intimidatory way. This is, in fact, the voice of the author's own ending, put into Slope's mouth instead by the adaptor Alan Plater.

It was a bravura performance of great subtlety and detail. And yet, as he defiantly told the London Evening Standard in 1983, Rickman crudely based the character on his favourite political hate-figures.

'You look in vain for any redeeming qualities in Slope," said Rickman. Trollope himself grudgingly admits that the man has courage. And that's about it. really. He doesn't know fear at all

'Although Trollope was ostensibly writing about the Church, I think he was actually talking about politicians. My performance as Slope was modelled on various members of the Government.



'If you just glanced at Norman Tebbit via Michael Heseltine and wiped a bit of Mrs Thatcher over the two of them, I think you might end up with something resembling Slope.'

This was the first political gauntlet that Rickman had thrown down; and there were to be more. Though he gives few interviews and guards the sanctity of his private life as if he were the custodian of the Crown Jewels, he does at least seize the opportunity to make his left-wing politics abundantly clear to the meanest intellect. But he's too imaginative a performer not to have revelled in the excesses of the character. Slope was a monster, and certainly a wicked Tory one, but he was scandalously enjoyable company. 'Playing Slope was like a wonderful holiday,' he admitted. 'It was such a rich character that you could just take a great big dive into it.

'I could see the potential danger that, after playing it, I'd never be offered any other sort of part . But in the end, it was too good to say no. There's one part which comes along and opens a door. Antony Sher was working brilliantly for years before he did The History Man - and zappo! It's the same with Bernard Hill playing Yosser Hughes in Boys From The Blackstuff.'

Slope opened not so much a door as a Pandora's Box. And thus began Alan Rickman's lifelong Faustian contract with the devil, playing the kind of deliriously evil character of whom he fundamentally disapproved. You could call it therapy, or just magnificently ironic fun. Maybe it's an exorcism. They're all raging sexpots into the bargain; he has never played, indeed, could never play, the kind of person who is dead from the neck down. He is a very physical being.

'I was rather surprised by the Obadiah Slope effect,' says RSC Artistic Director Adrian Noble, trying not to sound missish. 'I had an opening night in Tunbridge Wells that year for the opera Don Giovanni. Alan and Rima came down for it. There was a real frisson about him, especially among women of a certain age, and it was all because of Obadiah Slope.

'Rima was always fantastically philosophical about it; she found the female attention funny. I don't want to be sexist about it, but s Slope was fantastically charming and believable. There was a real sexual tension with Alan: he did keep you constantly wondering whether Slope does sleep with some of the women he flirts with, such as the Signora




'As a result, it was the most extraordinary evening. All those Tunbridge Wells ladies definitely wanted to be misled by Alan Rickman.'



5. 'I WANT WOMEN'                                                      87


In November 1983, Alan Rickman embarked upon his first nude scene with all the surface aplomb that one would have expected of him. He and Tracey Ullman were the leads in Snoo Wilson's marijuana play The Grass Widow in a Royal Court production by Max Stafford-Clark, a skilful director no more noticeably encum­bered by inhibition than Snoo himself. All these years later, this dangerously funny play can now be seen as a precursor to Sexy Beast, the gangster film that begins with Ray Winstone lying in a heat haze next to a pool. Except that Winstone (the wuss) wore swimming trunks. Rickman opened the play by sunbathing in dark glasses and nothing else, delivering the first of many jolts to a startled audience. Later on in the same scene, his character Dennis clambered up on the roof of a house and perched there buck-naked except - as Snoo's stage directions helpfully pointed out - for his binoculars. Such completely matter-of-fact nudity, quite without the coyness that creates prurience, sent out a very efficient signal that anything was possible in a play which administered such early shocks.

'Alan was a perfect Dennis; he understood the humour,' recalls Snoo. 'And there's a quality of fastidiousness in Dennis's character which is very Alan. He did the nudity very well: there was no trouble at all, no stuff about wanting towels and so on. It makes a good stage picture to begin with nudity; people say if you are a leading actor you should be in full shot early on so that people can establish an idea of your character. So the character was completely starkers to begin with. And Alan was very much a pin-up anyway; there was already a bit of a buzz about him.'

Yet that cool which Snoo remembers was just a front: the only way Rickman could get through the nude scene was to pretend it wasn't happening to him. Years later, in Antony and Cleopatra, he was to envy Helen Mirren's ability to seem completely unaware of the audience - even when she went topless in the death scene.

'One casting director spent years arguing Alan's case, because a heterosexual director had said, "He's not sexy",' says the writer and director Stephen Poliakoff. 'Alan flowered when he got confident.'




Fellow playwright Stephen Davis has an interesting perspective on Rickman's fatal attractiveness for women.

'He is incredibly aware of his sexual charisma professionally. He has hordes of women writing to him, and there is evidence that it gets in the way. He wants to avoid being cast for it. He's not an exploitative person. In his private life, he's not in the remotest a sexual predator. He's incredibly vexed by this image.

'He has a matinee idol hold over the audience. But he has enormous self-control in his life - unnervingly so - and he's tried never to play a role where his sexual charisma is the ticket money.'

Somehow the roles of the Vicomte de Valmont, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Mesmer and Rasputin have slipped through the barbed-wire. Snoo Wilson is keen for Alan to play that uninhibited occultist Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Great Beast and 'the wickedest man alive', in a film Snoo says he has spent 'a lifetime' trying to get off the ground. Rickman has already agreed to lend his name to the project. Can we have Satanism without the sex? I think not. It would be such a waste.

Sylvia Plath caused a sensation with the posthumously-pub­lished poem 'Daddy' when she claimed that women craved the discipline of the fascist iron heel. The piece was a complex and belated response to the early death of her father, a German entomologist who had died when she was eight. With its incantatory rhythms, this was a dark and disturbing fantasy about the tyrannical power of a male parent with the prerogative of punishment. She breaks taboo after taboo, mocking the marriage vow as an incitement to violence and identifying herself with a Jew on the way to a Nazi death-camp. Despite its obvious ironies, the poem remains so controversial that I was refused permission by Plath's literary estate to quote from two stanzas.

This incestuous work was addressed to Hitler as a father figure. Plath was exorcising the fascist impulse, but the daring sentiments were still seen as an appalling lapse of taste and she would never have got away with voicing those uncomfortably sharp insights today. Even as they endorsed the attack on an aggressive male sex, feminists deplored the wallow in morbidity that accused the entire female sex of masochism.

Plath had caused an even bigger sensation when she killed herself by putting her head in the gas-oven. Her death was an accident, the last in several suicide-bids that were never intended



to be successful. The man downstairs, who was due to knock on her door at a regular time, went to sleep because of the soporific effect of the escaping gas. And a returning home-help got caught in a traffic-jam. For all her rhetorics, Sylvia wasn't quite the masochist she made herself out to be. Her words, however, continued to resonate.

Certain roles do tap into disturbing undercurrents in the psychic electricity and mm some people on like a light-switch. There was to be nothing kinkier, or indeed funnier, on screen than Alan Rickman's black watered-silk costume as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. It was straight out of a domination-master's wardrobe at a suburban S & M party.

The tone was playful, not intended to be taken seriously, although Rickman was to throw himself with his customary gusto into the part. This became the performance that turned him into a worldwide sex-symbol.

A Peter Barnes TV play was to have an important influence in shaping the Sheriff, although Rickman was not among the cast. A Hand Witch Of The Second Stage, transmitted on BBC TV in 1989 as part of Barnes' Spirit Of Man trilogy on the pursuit of faith, God and the devil, set a medieval witch-trial in an underground torture-chamber. It was full of Peter's usual comic-grotesque conceits, with much savage humour. It was the black-clad torturer, who talked lasciviously about 'having my old master in the tight clamps', who was to prove an inspiration for the demented Sheriff, since Peter Barnes played a vital role behind the scenes of that film. Alan Rickman's wonderfully suggestive drawl alone seems to wire some of his fans up to the National Grid.

There are two piles of letters in his flat: one that he answers and one that he throws away,' says Rickman's old teacher, Ted Stead. 'Some letters are absolutely obscene: there's talk of him being in leathers, and so on.

'One woman was actually following him around. She sat in the front row of a play he was in and brought her son or nephew around to the stage door to ask for acting advice. He spent a few minutes with her and the boy, talking to them. He then got this abusive letter from her, saying he hadn't spent enough time with them. She sat down in the front row again for another performance of the same play, and he told me, "I don't know what to do."' Although Peter Barnes  has  been  badgered  by  the  occasional




over-zealous fan, he remains grateful for a writer's relative anonymity; as he points out, 'Actors get the worst of it because they get the very sick people.'

'His sexual charisma doesn't do anything for me,' quips Stephen Davis. 'I think he's rather embarrassed by all the letters. He has a very puritanical attitude towards the triviality of his profession. Look at how many people are destroyed by success; you'd think people would be more likely to be destroyed by failure. He doesn't like the notion of stardom, but he's fallen into it four-square because he has the gift of projecting his personality.'

Stephen Davis wrote his BBC play Busted, recorded in 1982 some months before The Barchester Chronicles and transmitted on 28 January 1983, for Alan and co-star Michael 'Mickey' Feast. It begins with a post-coital bedroom scene after Alan, playing a sulky-looking lawyer called Simon, has rung an old girlfriend up to suggest some lunch-time sex.

He's living with a manipulative child-woman called Roxy, well played by a fey Sara Sugarman, who never listens to a word he says. So Simon is really in need of a sympathetic ear rather than a touch of the other. 'I'm a bit fed-up,' he glooms to his old flame.

Rickman is still wearing his medieval pudding-basin haircut, which makes him look rather like an overgrown schooboy. As ever, he is sexy and intriguing despite himself.

Simon is a barrister, a Chancery law specialist in tax whose rebellious past comes back to haunt him. He receives a midnight call for help from a Dave Spart character: his old friend Macy has been busted. Simon and the scapegrace Macy were socialist activists together, Treasurer and Secretary of 'Soc Soc' at Oxford University. The police have found Macy's Derringer pistol on a spot street-search in a visit to an off-licence. 'You were always so bloody childish,' snaps Simon, exasperated by this unreconstructed rebel without a pause.

Simon leads a rather empty, unfulfilled life and envies Macy his primitive certainties. He discovers that Macy was planning to try to rob the off-licence, hence the gun. On a romantic, quixotic impulse that's very much at odds with his training, Simon does a Sydney Carton (after the example of Dickens' self-sacrificing anti-hero) and swaps clothes with Macy in his cell to enable his old brother-at-arms to escape. They will bust you right back to the ranks,' warns Macy. Yet there's still an element of risk-taking left in Simon, which is what gives the drama tension - and also release - at the end.



He settles back on the cell bunk to await discovery, a smile of relief on his face. He has thrown off his Establishment shackles and found freedom - of sons.

Simon's air of self-containment suited Alan admirably, yet he also identified completely with that mad, quixotic urge.

'Alan is a bit of a gravitational force - the universe tends to shape itself round him,' says Stephen Davis. 'I thought that the activists, the student radical Trotskyite Left, were superficial and half-baked when 1 was at Cambridge University. I was a sceptical leftist in the middle with Jeremy Paxman on the right wing of the Left - if you see what I mean.

'I think that Simon would have been rescued by the Lord Chancellor in the end as a good man gone slightly bonkers. I was trying to write about that uncomfortable margin between ideologies and the various times of one's life, about characters whose sense of themselves is confused.

There are nuances of distinction between Macy and Simon: Macy is a Manchester Grammar School type and Simon is Harrow. Essentially Simon is a Max Stafford-Clark type, very much in control.

'A certain element in Alan's success is genetic. If he didn't have that timbre of voice . . . Actors are dependent on what nature gave them, that's what they find out.'

Despite the bedroom scene with the old girlfriend (who was rather jeeringly known as Sociology Sara), Simon was hardly an overtly sexy character. He was one of those men that you would have to work hard to arouse, so overwhelming was his sense of ennui. On the other hand, women do respond to a challenge.

The seductive voice got the biggest reaction of all: it made him a radio star. Alan told Peter Barnes that he received more letters from teenaged girls for the role of a decadent Caesar on BBC Radio than for any other performance. Proof at last that the hypnotic drawl was working its caustic magic.

The work in question was Peter Barnes' free and witty adaptation of the Spanish playwright Lope De Vega's drama Lo Fingido Verdadero, translated as Actors - or Playing For Red. Actors was recorded in 1982 and transmitted on 3 April 1983. It began in the reign of the Roman Emperor Aurelius, the year AD 257. The cast was led by Denis Quilley, Timothy West, the late Harold Innocent, Alan's old RADA chum Tina Marian and Peter Woodthorpe.




Alan was cast as Aurelius's older son Carinus, a vigorous debaucher of senators' wives and vestal virgins (he particularly liked to defile property that was out of bounds). Lucky for him rh» lightning burns Aurelius to a crisp during a storm; he is found with his face blackened and his finger-ends still smoking.

So Carinus becomes the new Caesar, despite the fact that his life's work is 'Lust, sir, lust'. As he says disdainfully, 'Keep me from older women. He goes only for the young ones in order to make absolutely sure he is soiling the goods.

"You begin to tire me," he says to his mistress Rosada, sounding very jaded. Hubris looms, however. "We are almost equal to the gods," he says, using the royal "we' as if suffering from delusions of Thatcher.

'I'm changeable as quicksilver. All Rome is open, waiting for my pleasure." he adds in those languorous, caressing, insolent tones.

When an actor is ushered into his presence to perform in a play by Aristotle, Carinus shrieks: 'I've had enough of actors ... I want women. Kill the husband and rape the wife.' Rickman throws himself like a mad abseiler into the role.

A cuckold whose wife was ravished by Carinus turns up no remonstrate with him, complaining: ‘You told everyone, which was worse.'

Carinus is hardly about to deny it. and Rickman's voice shrieks with sarcasm. I did, I have SUCH a naughty wagging tongue. I grow bored. There is a suffocating stench of morality in the air.

The cuckold, an outraged senator called Lelius, promptly adds to the stench by stabbing him in the guts. ‘You have killed Caesar, gasps Carinus.

'What a tragedy. 1 acted my role when Caesar, now I exit from the dirty theatre of the world. Take off the laurel crown of this actor king.' His mistress weeps over him for no one else will.

'He's here for me now, fierce Death . . . what power can match yours? No one escapes you ... not even kings." he murmurs in a moment of sudden self-awareness that very nearly steals our sympathy. Others would have camped it up to the hilt - and the actor playing his servant Celio is pure Kenneth Williams -but not Rickman. He resists the temptation.

Radio was a great release, particularly for one who was so self-conscious about his looks. As his former co-star Sheridan Fitzgerald says: This is a lookist business."



Rickman has subsequently recorded a total of eleven radio dramas, among them productions of Blood Wedding and The Seagull though you will listen out in vain for his voice-overs on lucrative TV commercials. He's too principled - and too recognisable.

The Obadiah Slope effect had given his confidence a huge boost so much so that he had begun to gravitate towards directing He had taken control of Desperately Yours, a one-woman show by his friend Ruby Wax, which played off-Broadway for a short season back in 1980. Although Wax didn't leave the RSC for another two years of playing wenches, the show was the beginning of Ruby's new career as a comedian with her own lines, rather than as an actress reciting someone else's. By 1985, Alan was making guest appearances in Girls On Top, the new ITV series that Ruby had co-written with fellow comedians Dawn French and the future Absolutely Fabulous writer Jennifer Saunders.

Having undertaken this new Svengali role, Alan felt he needed a crash-course in gurudom, which was how he became an assistant director to his friend Richard Wilson for a production of Robert Holman's play Other Worlds at London's Royal Court Theatre in May 1983. In the theatre, Richard is thought of more as a director than as an actor (the reverse is true, of course, for his TV and film). Yet all his expertise couldn't prevent Other Worlds, an ambitious epic set during the Napoleonic era, from being a flop.

'Alan was Richard's idea,' says Holman. 'Alan kept saying he wanted to direct, but then he didn't. But he was heavily involved in the casting: Juliet Stevenson, for example, was in it because Alan cast her.

'He wasn't a lackey; Alan will never be anyone's lackey. He took rehearsals on his own and Richard didn't mind, because Richard is the kind of person who is in full control of his ego.

'Fundamentally Alan doesn't tolerate fools. Some people do that with silence; he does it with contempt. You need ego to do that; I suspect he would show his contempt abundantly now.

'He's very rigorous… Продолжение »

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