… on a script. On the script for Other Worlds, he crossed out the adverbs "happily" and "sadly" and said: "You can't put actors in strait-jackets". He's absolutely right: it's for actors to find the way to play it. He wasn't afraid to trample on my sensibilities if he thought his point was valid.

'I'm not good at changing stuff,' admits Robert. 'I play a waiting wait for them to see my point of view. Alan always saw my




point of view in the end. If he understands what you're saying, he's loyal to a fault.

'At the time, Other Worlds was the most expensive play the Court had ever done. It was a magnificent set built by the people who did 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alan was very loyal and stuck with his own opinion. It had the worst attendance figures ever for the Court; and it was savaged by the critics. Then there was a rearguard action in the Press; it wasn't orchestrated, I had nothing to do with it. There were letters to the Guardian in defence of it.

'I had severed a tendon in my hand after cutting my finger; I came out of hospital, saw the first night and then went back in. At the time I was annoyed by the criticism; but I have no lasting grudge. It's the actors who have to do it night after night, and you have to support them. In the scheme of things, plays are not the be-all and end-all They are not life and death. You take bad reviews with good reviews.

'But Alan is a perfectionist. He is driven because of that. I suspect he is as hard on himself as he is on everyone else,' observes Yorkshire-born Robert, mulling things over in his soft Alan Bennett voice.

'I always found him very interesting as an actor. I wrote a BBC film about the poet Edward Thomas for Alan ... it was never made. We had various arguments about the director, then there was talk of Alan directing it. Had it gone ahead, Juliet Stevenson would have played the wife.

Thomas was a loner who suffered from deep melancholy. His life was quite harsh. He married a younger woman, they had this spartan cottage in Hampshire near Bedales and grew their own veg He would leave her with the children and have affairs, disappear without telling her.

'Alan would have been very good at that melancholia. People who think a lot, as Alan has, to a degree need their own space. I suspect Alan is quite spacious in that way.

'And I suspect that's why Alan has given directors a hard time He was debating whether to become a director, what son of work he was going to do as an actor and whether he wanted to be a star All those things are slightly incompatible. As a star, you have control over what you do, but you're limited in what you do.

'Alan's performance is all behind the eyes, in a way. He can be his own rigorous person within the confines of a slightly daft movie like Die Hard.



There's a degree of conceit in Alan, behind those eyes, and conceit is sexy. It's not arrogance, but it's a sort of rigorous conceit. 'His sense of humour is very droll. I think he's too spacious to be an actor; I can see why he's not completely satisfied with acting. Even with the directing, he would want more. He would be wanting to do everything, including the publicity.

'During Other Worlds, he said to me: "Your writing's on the line." In other words, there's no doubt in the actors' minds when they say something; they have already thought it. So you have to think hard between the lines, between the full stops. He was the first person ever to say that. The thoughts spring fully-formed; you can't be half-hearted.

Theatre has an air of unreality; it's heightened reality. There's a suspension of disbelief. Theatre is about how you get people on stage and keep them there. And then the characters can't get off because of some emotional need. The trick is to keep them there, to sustain the scene. Why do those characters have to stay in that box? Alan understood that.

It's a pity the Edward Thomas film never got made. It was written in 1987 and I was paid for it, but this was around the time when Alan was flirting with Hollywood and then agreed to do Die Hard.

'But I'm quite well balanced, I don't go in for troughs of anguish or highs. 1 suspect Alan would be very good if someone were throwing a wobbly. He is a political animal, and that grounds him.

'He would have been good at running Riverside Studios; he would have given the Board a run for its money. And I think he would be formidable if he went into politics. But I don't know if he would be diplomatic enough. He's undiplomatic about saying what he thinks. He's an actor, he shows off,' explains Robert. 'He wouldn't be a tough director like John Dexter was; he would care about the actors. Essentially, he's one of the good guys. He only plays bad guys because of his comic ability.'

Poor old Other Worlds did receive some good reviews, but most were along the lines of the Daily Telegraph's withering intro: 'If you ever felt you didn't know enough about the rivalry of fishermen and fanners on the North Yorkshire coast in the late eighteenth century, go to the Royal Court Theatre immediately.'

The right-wing Spectator thought it 'a three-hour bore', while the left-wing Tribune considered it long, measured and thoughtful. . .




holds you till the last minute," Charlie Spencer in the London Evening Standart while deploring "a perplexing and ultemately irritating enigma1, conceded that there is a compassionate feeling. for the strength as well as the weakness of human nature, of ordinary people's longing for other and better worlds.'

But there wasn’t time to brood: another radio success came to Rickman's rescue. He had renewed his connection with Peter Barnes for the tatter's adaptation of John Marston's play The Dutch Courtesan, transmitted by Radio 3 on 19 June 1983.

Once again Rickman was cast as a sexpot, his extraordinarily insinuating voice perfect for the role of the impudent dancer Cockledemoy. He robs Roy Kinnear as the inn-keeper Mulligrub for pure devilment, and lusts after every woman within reach, His lechery is presented as a comic counterpoint to the main story, wherein a seductive Dutch courtesan holds both the hero and his Puritanical best friend in thrall. As ever, Alan walks off with the show despite being part of the sub-plot.

Cockledemoy has a bawd, whom he bullies and calls 'My worshipful organ-bellows, my right precious pandaress, necessary damnation (they really knew how to curse in those days).

Even Rickman's coughs are instantly recognisable and heavily pregnant with meaning, signalling the crafty approach of Cock­ledemoy. There's a smooth thigh, the nimble devil in her buttock.' he says of one "punk' (tart) singing a carefree snatch of song in his smooth tenor.

Cockledemoy assumes a variety of disguises in order to outwit Master Mulligrub; and the range of accents here shows astonishing] versatility from one who is so often thought of as a one-voice actor. He begins with a camp Scottish accent, straight out of Morningside, when he poses as a Scots barber called Andrew Shark.

Then he disguises himself as a French pedlar and languidly addresses Mulligrub as 'Merseeyur". 'Turd on a tilestone!' is his muttered description of the unfortunate Mulligrub as he plans a raid upon his property. 'Conscience does not repine. 1 hold it as lawful as sheep-shearing; I must have the new goblet."

Rickman then metamorphoses into a Mummerset peasant to annex the aforesaid goblet, gulling Mulligrubs wife. And he even gets to grope the Dutch courtesan:  There's a plump-rumped wench! Kiss, fair whore, kiss. It's touts if you come to bed. Hump 'em, plump 'em. squat. I'm gone



There's more unbridled lechery when we hear Cockledemoy's haw-haw guffaw, as filthy as Leslie Phillips' snickers in The Navy Lark.

He sings a drunken song as he pretends to be a night-watchman. 'Maids on their backs dream of sweet smacks. I fiddle him till he farts,' he adds of Mulligrub. Cockledemoy reverts to the Mummer-set accent, promising, ‘I’l make him fan firecrackers before I have done with him. My knavery grows unequalled.'

Another disguise has Cockledemoy very plausibly impersonating an Irish sergeant at the foot of the gallows, picking the unfortunate victim's pocket. Eventually he reveals himself as a master of disguise, the Moriarty of Jacobean drama.

'All has been done for wit's sake. I bid myself welcome to your merry nuptials and most wanton jig-a-joggies,' he adds, inviting himself to a wedding. And Rickman speaks the epilogue too, saying that we may scorn such trivial wit ... but cannot hope to better it. It's a virtuoso vocal performance. More than any other medium, radio freed Alan Rickman of all his uptight inhibitions as he allowed his instinctive sensuality free rein. No wonder Caesar had such an effect on those schoolgirls.

Sex was again the driving force when Alan returned to the theatre that August to play a bisexual Cambridge don in his old friend Dusty Hughes' play Bad Language at Hampstead Theatre.

Milton Shulman wrote in the London Evening Standard: 'Played by Alan Rickman as a world-weary ringmaster with a cageful of frisky animals, he keeps a wary eye on [the undergraduates] while carrying on literary feuds, furthering his own ambitions and having short-lived affairs with students of either sex.' In short, the kind of amoral seducer that Rickman was to make famous.

'Alan Rickman plays this lecherous rascal with chilling power and a shiversome disgust ... in his snarling self-absorption,' wrote Eric Shorter in the Daily Telegraph, fascinated yet repelled. That mixed response would become a common reaction.

'Alan Rickman invests [Bob] with enough reptilian charm to explain his intellectual and sexual sway over his coterie of students,' was Rosalind Game's verdict in the Guardian. Francis King in the Sunday Telegraph was snider: There is a tellingly acrid performance from Alan Rickman as the sort of arrogant, self-regarding don who has a mysterious attraction for his pupils of either sex.'




Radio had given him unparalleled opportunities, but he was still coming up against the prejudice of people who couldn't see his peculiar, offbeat allure.

Rickman's strong sense of style set the pace in The Grass Widow, which Alan began work on immediately after Bad Language. 'Alan was always the first choice for Dennis,' said Snoo Wilson. 'He has a genius for doing everything and yet nothing, which I'd seen him do in Dusty Hughes's Commitments. In The Grass Widow, his character Dennis is trying to hold things together: he's peaceful but that doesn't mean to say he's not opportunistic. There was a dreamy quality to the play which I think Alan got very well; this is a lazy man's fantasy of romance.' The first night was a famously jinxed one at the time, though it's fair to record that Snoo now can't recall it being more problematic than any other production. There was one cherishable moment, however, when Alan's co-star Tracey Ullman turned to the audience when the lights blew and said: 'At least there's something in this that'll make you laugh.'

Milton Shulman in the London Evening Standard found the characters '. . . as weird, disconnected and violent as a drug addict's dream'. But he was impressed by the way that 'Alan Rickman lolls with indolent ease among all these surrealist and scabrous images and chatter'.

But it was The Lucky Chance at the Royal Court in 1984, which reunited him with his actress friend Harriet Walter, that led directly to the role which changed the entire course of his career. Jules Wright launched her Women's Playhouse Trust (later known diplomatically as the WPT because of all the nuisance phone-calls from heavy breathers) with this rarely-produced play by the Restoration playwright, Aphra Behn.

Alan was cast as a lustful adventurer called Cayman, the kind of name that really doesn't travel well down the centuries. His rows with Jules over who was to run Riverside were still nine years away; her only battle here was over her unexpected choice of leading man.

'People said to me, "Why are you casting Alan Rickman as Cayman! He's so laid-back and contained." People have a strong perception of Alan as someone who sits back,' says Jules. 'But he has this tremendous range and he's not really been given that chance on stage. Alan is a really intelligent man, and so sensual. He's a complete maverick. People had stereotyped ideas about him,



they didn't think that he could lead from the front and galvanise. But I knew absolutely that he could.

'I was 35 when I directed him in The Lucky Chance; I didn't then realise that he was nearly 40. In retrospect, that explains a lot. He even asked the stage manager Jane Salberg about me: "Do you think she knows what she's doing?" We had a couple of big rows, though he was very open. Mind you, Harriet Walter was also quite stubborn in rehearsal (Jules mimes stamping her foot and laughs). She was also incredibly bright, like him, and inevitably there were disagreements between them.

'We had a very short rehearsal period of four weeks. Alan said to me at the run-through, "There's a scene we haven't rehearsed." I said, "Who's in it?" And he said, "Just me." He laughed; so did I. It was about four lines - just him on stage. I suggested he pick up a candelabra and wend his way across the stage. He was impish, imaginative, he retained that playfulness and it was magical at every performance. He's a very game actor. His strength is that he still has incredible playfulness, fuelled by energy. He's quite an unEnglish actor, really. He would be just right for an Ingmar Bergman stage production - he fits into that. And a Woody Allen film. He's so funny and dry, yet that dryness is sometimes seen as throwing lines away.

'One row I had with him in The Lucky Chance was about him moving other actors around. Both Alan and I came to the theatre relatively late; I was 30 when I first started. We had had a hard week with two performances on Saturday; I was moving house on Sunday.

'I picked up the review in the Observer and I shouldn't have; I felt terribly upset. It said that it was not a feminist reading of the play, that it lacked political depth. I was inexperienced, even though I'd just had a huge success with Masterpieces that had transferred to the Court from the Royal Exchange. I was terribly hurt by the review. I think reviews are sometimes unnecessarily cruel, especially about actors.

'On Monday I had a big note-session with the actors in the stalls of the Court. Alan hit the roof and said, "Don't give me notes out of a Sunday review. We made this production together." We really bellowed at each other, and Harriet cried. He was right. Collective­ly we had made those decisions about the production, and he was very angry.

'I looked up to the Dress Circle and the entire staff of the building were peeping through the curtains . . . everyone enjoying



the row. Especially Max Stafford-Clark,' says Jules of the then Artistic Director at the Cout.

'But Alan you can take the mickey out of. . . With him, laughter is never far below the surface. He's very daunting; because he's a very bright man, directors feel threatened and don't take him on. If you don't take him on, he can be dour.

'Alan always works very hard, and a lot of actors don't. He comes with a very profound understanding of the material, and people probably find that difficult.

'He's a very generous person, and not just on stage. He's an actor who really makes a point of seeing other people's work. When someone has established himself in the way that he has, it really matters to other actors that he does this. They really want to know what he thinks of their work. The only other person 1 know who does that is Alan Bates. It's to do with being confident and uncompetitive. Not that Alan does it in a measured way; he's not a patronising person. He's very honest and disarming.

'He has a great sexuality and charisma on stage. Terribly sexy, to put it bluntly. I don't know whether he knows it. He's certainly always had a lot of women friends. In my experience, there are not many men who are not at some point patronising to women. Alan Rickman is never that.'

It seems an extraordinary paradox that, for someone so sexually constant in his private life, Rickman should be so successful at playing sexual predators. His narcissistic instincts revel in portray­ing manipulative show-offs; but his particular secret of flirting with danger is to give his vile seducers a superhuman self-control. He always knows how to leave an audience wanting more; it appeals to the dry wit and curious whimsicality of his nature.

Far from being just another boring old bed-hopper who enables us to read the washing instructions on his Y-fronts, Rickman's studied performances celebrate and prolong the noble art of foreplay. They hark back to an earlier age when sex on screen was implicit rather than explicit: cleverly, he appeals most of all to the imagination, refreshing our jaded modem senses. The lady-killing image he projects is in fact a fascinating throwback to the sneering Sir Jaspers of the barnstorming melodramas and Gothic novels, the so-called 'shilling shockers' whose influence lived on in the black-and-white films Alan saw as a boy.

'I've never heard on the grapevine that he's ever had an affair. 1 have always seen his relationship with Rima as incredibly solid.



They always seemed to me secure and close; it's a good relation­ship,' says Jules.

'And yet he was so brilliant and funny as this sexual predator Cayman. He was overcome by love and wanted to be smuggled into Harriet's bed; the audience were dying with laughter at that great lolling body. I really hoped he would win Best Actor for it, but he didn't.

‘Yet I was really amazed by that outburst in Sloane Square, when he suddenly said to me at two in the morning after a meal, "Nothing's ever going to happen for me. No one will ever notice me. My career isn't going to go anywhere."

'He is shy, rather diffident. But he's a hard person to praise, because he gives the impression of being quite secure. His measured way of talking may seem pompous to some people. When on the few occasions that guard was let down, I felt startled

by it.

'He genuinely didn't know how good he is. He doesn't look the vulnerable type, so people don't praise him directly. He waits for them to approach him . . . He's hard to pin down in terms of what he wants.

'What struck me was that his Gayman evolved into the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It was almost the same costume - the cut of the coat especially. Alan really can wear clothes and he's not fearful on stage. That rent-a-rake sexual being was there in Valmont.

There's always something quintessentially him there in every performance - he always uses a bit of himself. Character actors do transform themselves. He doesn't. So he's not really a character actor.

True, the Observer's Michael Ratcliffe had a problem with the production and muttered about miscasting. 'Mr Rickman, whom tone excels at portraying the horror of a man compelled to stagger from orgy to orgy without respite, plays Cayman, a one-woman man.’

But the Financial Times' Michael Coveney thought that 'He plays with a superb and saturnine grace ... and force of personality. He still tends to swallow too many lines' - that muffled speech defect again - 'but it must be difficult to make all the material sing.

The Daily Telegraph's John Barber found That excellent actor Alan Rickman discovers a fine line in perfervid jealousy…and




brings a splendid swagger to his character of a penniless but touchy and defiant adventurer.'

And even the Sunday Telegraph's Francis King purred about 'the lank, sexually ravenous Cayman (a wonderfully sharp performance by Alan Rickman)'. The message about his maverick sexuality was finally getting through.

Laurie Stone informed the readers of the New York Village Voice about this wonderful new talent in London: 'Alan Rickman is an amazing discovery. His Gayman is an elegant comedian; he wears his thinness like a man too busy in bed to bother eating food.'

Ros Asquith in City limits rhapsodised: 'Harriet Walter and Alan Rickman bring to their acid repartee the kind of bristling sexual equality that recalls great old partnerships like Bogart and Bacall.' The Bogie/Bacall connection was to be revisited much later by Rickman and Emma Thompson in the 1999 film noir Judas Kiss, when Alan joked that Emma was playing her part like Bogart while he was Bacall. But Michael Billington in the Guardian sensed a disturbing moodiness under the surface: 'Alan Rickman .. . lends the impoverished Gayman a dark, tortured, faintly misanthropic lust.'

Billington had sniffed the all-important whiff of danger in the performance that suggested even greater things around the comer. Despite all the witty fun and games and the coquettish ringlets added to his real hair, Rickman played Gayman like a man possessed. There was the ferocity, the unparalleled intensity of a manic depressive who is madly in love.

He had already made himself known to millions as the oleaginous Obadiah Slope, but it was a theatre role that immortal­ised Alan Rickman. The vicious Vicomte de Valmont beckoned.



6. VALMONT IN CURLERS                                                                                                       103


The unglamorous truth about Les Liaisons Dangereuses was that Alan Rickman took the role that made his name in the West End and on Broadway because he was facing unemployment at the time. With no other offers pending, he accepted the RSCs imitation to rejoin the company.

'He did have periods out of work in the early 80s,' remembers Richard Wilson. 'He said to me, "I don't know what to do: the RSC has asked me to go back, and there's this Christopher Hampton play." 1 think he went back because there was nothing else around.' This is not to say that Rickman, always a devotee of new writing and a very choosy picker of parts, failed to realise the potential of a part like Valmont. Although Obadiah Slope was not a charismatic character on the page, Rickman certainly made him so on screen in his peculiarly insinuating way. But Valmont was a vampire who fed on the emotions as well as the flesh. This dissolute aristocrat, who conducted his amorous intrigues in the spirit of the Marquis de Sade, captured the morbid imagination.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, whose story takes the form of sly letters that positively invite you to read between the lines, was written by an obscure artillery officer with the cumbersome name of Pierre-Ambroise-Frangois Choderlos de Laclos.

First published in Paris in 1782, the epistolary novel caused an immediate scandal; later, in 1824, a decree of the Cour Royale de Paris ordered this dangerous work to be destroyed. Its critics talked of 'the most odious immorality', 'a work of revolting immorality' and 'a book to be admired and execrated'. It leaves a taste of bitter ashes in the mouth, and also a feeling of tragedy that the two protagonists should allow themselves to become the engines of so much destruction. For there is no doubt that the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont are creatures of vitality and intelligence.

The poet Baudelaire was one of the few who spoke in its defence, but even he prudently judged it an evil book: 'If you could burn it, it would burn like ice bums'. Clive James quoted him on BBC TV's Saturday Review on 28 September 1985, just after the





production had opened at the RSCs studio theatre The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Laclos was a revolutionary Jacobin; and the French Revolution began seven years after the publication of this deeply subversive book about two cynics on a mission to corrupt.

Christopher Hampton says that he had first wanted to dramatise the book ten years previously in 1975. 'It's a play about institutionalised selfishness . . . absolute indifference to needs, sufferings and emotional requirements of other people . .. it's about ruthlessness.'

On the Saturday Review panel, Clive James rightly predicted: 'It's going to be an enormous world-wide hit.' That professional gainsayer A.N. Wilson was, as per usual, the only dissenting voice: 'Alan Rickman has not varied his acting technique one jot since Obadiah Slope.' But writer Paula Milne strongly disagreed: 'I can't see anyone else in the part.'

'He's very conscious of what critics say; I often tease him about it,' says Stephen Poliakoff. 'He was very upset by some review during his second RSC stint. It was just before Les Liaisons, when he was in As You Like It. I remember him saying to me that he read a review with his fingers spread across the page. Michael Ratcliffe in the Observer didn't like him.

'So his eventual success was sweet: it was almost a form of revenge for those of us who thought he deserved better. A revenge on circumstances, not on one person,' adds Poliakoff circumspectly.

'His Jaques was unfairly attacked by the critics; they didn't forgive him for that,' says Adrian Noble, his director for As You Like It in 1985 and Mephisto the following year.

They attacked his voice; he was terribly upset by it. He is easily upset by bad reviews, although he won't admit it. They did the same with his Hamlet in 1992 - they objected to his voice.

'His Jaques was a deeply passionate character who lived on the fringes of society and was sought out by the great policy-makers and thinkers. That sums up Alan,' says Adrian with a giggle. 'He does court being a guru to a certain extent (is the Pope a Catholic?) It's a role that sits comfortably on him. He has always lived his career by his own lights, and it's difficult for theatre folk to do that. He's quite selective about things, mostly successfully.

'He can be railing against the world one minute and be at Neil Kinnock's supper-table the next. Well, most of us were,' admits



Adrian with another giggle. 'Alan does have a wonderful line in disdain. He doesn't corpse, but he's very funny. He retreats into his cave, as Jaques did, but he's sought after there. Young actors need people like that who say "You're going on the right path".'

Rickman's second attempt at that quixotic philosopher Jaques was unveiled on 23 April - the date generally assumed to be Shakespeare's birthday.

It was followed by that epic sulker Achilles in Troilus And Cressida on 25 June. Les Liaisons was the late summer 'sleeper', in Hollywood parlance, that finished the year's Stratford season with an opening night on 25 September.

In Howard Davies' production of Troilus, Alan was judged by some to have made Achilles even more of a heel than usual. He did not meet with Irving Wardle's approval in The Times: '. . . an unshaven Alan Rickman overplays the hysterical tantrums even for Achilles.' Similarly, Ros Asquith in the Observer wrote ambivalently of 'Alan Rickman's over-the-top but disarmingly rakish Achilles'. Significantly, Asquith had seen the sexual potential in Rickman's portrayal.

But the quills-were sharpened for his Jaques in As You Like It: Michael Ratcliffe wrote in the Observer about how Rickman would 'talk through [his] teeth in a funny manner' and how he 'leaves the field of history standing for the outrageous contrivance of his Seven Ages of Man'.

Of course such a staunch socialist as Alan would always get upset about a bad notice in the Observer, though Michael Coveney in the Financial Times praised his 'languorous Jaques - now the sensational performance it threatened to become'.

Jack Tinker in the Daily Mail wrote of 'Alan Rickman's all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wearied Jaques'. Eric Shorter in the Daily Telegraph admired 'Alan Rickman's philosophical Jaques in a shabby dinner jacket who rules the entertainment with a refreshing relish'.

As if to confound the critics, Alan had set forth his views on playing Jaques in his only published work to date: one of a collection of essays by Shakespearean actors under the title of Players Of Shakespeare, published by the Cambridge University Press.

Jaques is all about attitude, which makes Rickman a natural for the role. He wrote of a Jaques "who is perceptive but passionate, vulnerable but anarchic . He's very sure of himself and a bit of a mess.'



He admits in print that he made a meal of things in rehearsal: The other actors must have tired of wondering where I was going to enter from next, or if there would ever be a recognisable shape to the scene.' And there was an air of the dilettante about the character's self-conscious pose: 'Jaques seeks, frets, prods and interferes but he doesn't DO ... he definitely needs the other lords to cook his food.'

Rickman saw him as an 'extremist ... he might be in real danger of losing control. He's condemned to wander forever, endlessly trying to relocate some innocence, endlessly disappointed. Therein lie both his vulnerability and his arrogance . . . you are left with an image of complete aloneness . . .

'In some ways, it is a lonely part to play,' he concluded, recalling how he and Ruby Wax as Audrey had jazzed things up at Peter James' suggestion eight years previously at the Sheffield Crucible

In a modem-dress production, they had sung 'Shake it up Shakespeare baby' while eleven hundred people rocked with laughter. So much for the critics.

Light relief from Jaques' intensity came with another Peter Barnes radio play, an adaptation of Thomas Middleton's satire A Trick To Catch The Old One. Rickman played another shameless scamp, a Leicestershire gentleman called Theodorus Witgood who is con­stantly strapped for cash. Since his estate is under the control of his penny-pinching uncle Pecunius Lucre, he hatches a plot to gull him.

Rickman is a wonderfully Gothic combination of silken hypoc­risy and pantomime villainy in the role. TNN-keeperrr . . .! I have been searching town for you,' he utters shudderingly, fastidiously attacking each consonant as if spitting out cherry stones. Though the late Sid James need not stir uneasily in his grave at the thought of the competition, Rickman also unleashes one of his hearty and dirty belly-laughs again. So much for his laid-back image; once again, radio released him.

Alan has a working-class insecurity that has never left him, compounded by the usual doubts and fears that always assail the late starter. He's a great one for endless agonising in long, dark nights of the soul.

'In fact, he's a bit too concerned with what the world will perceive,' says Stephen Poliakoff. That's a drawback for actors even more than writers. He's very concerned with whether something is the right step.



'Nevertheless, Les Liaisons was pure luck for Alan,' he adds. Poliakoff had lunched the year before with Daniel Massey, who told him that Christopher Hampton was dramatising the book for the RSC. Was Massey ever considered for the role? Howard Davies swears until his fax machine is puce in the face that Alan was his first and only choice; but it's tempting to speculate on Massey playing Valmont as a macaroni dandy in powder and high heels, in which case we would have lost one of the great sexual animals of theatrical history.

Christopher Hampton, however, insists: 'It was my idea to cast Alan. In fact, it was my wife's idea. She has a very good eye for casting. She had seen Alan in Barchester Chronicles and Snoo Wilson's play, then I saw him in The Seagull at the Royal Court. I suggested him to Howard Davies. The RSC was thinking of asking him to play Jaques anyway.

'It was a great boost to all our careers - Alan, Howard Davies and myself. All of us were at the same stage, same level and about the same age.'

The way Hampton tells it, Les Liaisons was the dark horse that crept up on the RSC and took it completely by surprise.

'Something remarkable was brewing. Howard and I felt like a subversive cell and the actors did, too. We were opening against Terry Hands' main-stage production of Othello with Ben Kingsley. The RSC thought of Les Liaisons as filling up its quota: it was the last play of the 1985 season in The Other Place. We were left on our own quite a lot.

'I can't tell you how dubious everyone was. Even Howard was dubious about directing it. It was a project we cooked up; I got him to commission me. The RSC had dramatised Les Liaisons in the 60s and called it The An Of Love. It was a complete flop then. John Barton directed it, and Judi Bench and Alan Howard were the stars. It was a black polo-neck job, reading from the script.

'I suggested Juliet Stevenson as La Presidente de Tourvel for our version, and Howard suggested Lindsay Duncan as the Marquise de Merteuil.

'I first met Alan in rehearsals for Les Liaisons. I knew of him because we had various mutual friends, like Anna Massey. He comes from an unusual background, with very clear ideas and images - he's an artist like Tony Sher. Some actors are clothes-horses.




'Alan's voice suggests darkness; and it's expressive, not all on one note. There's a lot of variation. When he played the Trigorin role in The Seagull, it was the voice of a much older, more experienced man.'

Of Rickman's notoriously pernickety approach, Hampton ad­mits: 'Alan was interventionist about costume. He was adamant that he wouldn't shave his beard, though an eighteenth-century aristocrat with a beard was of course unheard of. He wouldn't wear a wig either, so he had to sit in his curlers every night to get enough - what do hairdressers call it? - body in his hair.'

A backstage Valmont in curlers was quite a sacrifice to his dignity, yet Rickman's artistic instinct was impeccable. The result of all this carefully created 'naturalism' was a primitive, satyric, rough-trade Valmont, with the stubble and the long frock-coat of a (sexual) highwayman.

For all his elegance, there was something of the wolfish Captain Macheath from The Beggar's Opera about him. He even wore his boots on the bed in one scene as he discusses tactics with Merteuil. Rickman refused to play Valmont in the tights and high heels of the period, partly because he didn't want to make him a fop, and partly because Rickman has large, slightly bandy calves.

It was that sense of a werewolf in aristocrat's clothing that John Malkovich also picked up on for his performance as Valmont in Stephen Frears' film version of Hampton's play, although I also felt that Malkovich modelled himself on Mick Jagger . . . with a touch of the Japanese percussionist, Stomu Yamashta.

Alan later told Jane Edwardes from Time Out magazine: 'I always wanted the play to have the same effect as the book, and I knew I had to seduce 200 people in the audience as well as the women in the play. The quality of stillness and silence was a measure of how far we had succeeded.'

There was an electric atmosphere at the first night at The Other Place,' remembers Hampton. The audience were on three sides: it was like being in the same room as the actors. The RSC have been touring it ever since. I said to them in 1995, please don't do it any more. Adrian Noble acknowledged that. It's been done all over the world. It's only last year that it's been released to the repertory theatres.

'Valmont's one moral act brings the whole house of cards tumbling down. He's in love with this Tourvel woman, the one decent instinct that destroys the whole business.



'I don't think you could play that part and be unaffected by it, but you never know with actors.

'Alan really conveyed Baudelaire's burning-ice description, he was very, very cold in the part, but also very disturbed. He was oiling that subterranean energy; it was palpable. I was tremendous­ly impressed by the simmering violence.

'He was absolutely besieged by fan-letters. A typical letter would be from a grown woman, not a schoolgirl, and it would read: Tin a feminist but I don't understand how you can have this effect on me." 'I'm not very good at answering those sorts of letter myself .. . though 1 didn't get nearly so many as he did,' adds Christopher modestly.


·Pressures had to be applied on the RSC, or it would have disappeared from the repertoire. You never saw Trevor Nunn or Terry Hands: they were so remote. It was just the pressures of running this huge company. They were certainly quite distant figures. At least we were left on our own and not interfered with, but I felt we were an unscheduled success and inconvenient for them. Most of my dealings were with Genista Mackintosh: 1 remember screaming at her, saying "You must do this or that".

We were never really acknowledged by the RSC as a success,' Hampton feels. 'It was a terrific hit, yet to keep it alive in the repertoire, an inordinate amount of hustling went on. Alan was very active in all that, fiercely loyal.

There were 23 performances in Stratford, 22 in London and then it was withdrawn from the repertoire. It was out of the repertory for three months, and there was a battle to get it on again. The RSC was opposed to a West End transfer, I believe. And I always felt they refused to approve the selling of the film rights. All we could think of was that there was this rage, because the RSCs Camille had been a flop. Frank Gero was finally allowed to do it in the West End. Alan was worried about the space in the West End and had a wheeze about the Almeida. He had a lot to do with the final choice of the Ambassadors.

Then there were problems with the Broadway transfer. There was a lot of pressure from America to get an American company Howard and I had a tremendous lot of argument about that. Jimmy Nederlander finally agreed to let the original RSC company go over They were allowed 20 weeks by American Equity rules, and the play wasn't allowed to continue after that.




'Alan was very militant about that and attacked the Schubert Organisation's Gerald Schoenfeld about Les liaisons' sell-out busi­ness. There was talk of Glenn Close taking over from Lindsay Duncan as the Marquise de Merteuil, but Gerry Schoenfeld uttered the immortal words: "Glenn Close means nothing on Broadway." This was just before Fatal Attraction was about to open ...'

Glenn Close, of course, played Merteuil opposite John Mal-kovich's Valmont in the Hampton/Frears film version, Dangerous Liaisons. Close subsequently enjoyed great Broadway success as that other legendary vampire, Norma Desmond, in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard.

'1 don't think anyone came close to Alan's performance as Valmont; and I don't think that Juliet Stevenson has ever given a better performance than she did as Tourvel, either,' says Hampton. 'Alan did it for six months in the West End and five months on Broadway. I think it was murderously difficult for him to adapt from the intimate Ambassadors to the Music Box on Broadway. I remember finding him in tears in his dressing-room from the enormous strain of the project in that big theatre. We only had three or four previews, but he was wonderful. Wretched Frank Rich of The New York Times insisted on going to an early preview. The night he came, Lindsay Duncan caught a panel in her dress on a nail and had to play a scene with her back to the wall. Howard insisted on turning off the air-conditioning because it was making a noise. So the audience was perspiring in the heat. When I saw a drip of perspiration on the tip of Jackie Kennedy's nose, I thought, "We've overdone it".

'But Alan really flowered in New York; and in this play, it's the man that does all the work. But although he and Lindsay were nominated, we got shut out of the Tonys - August Wilson's Fences won everything.'

Then came the greatest disappointment of Alan Rickmans career. Having made the role of Valmont his own, he was passed over for the film version. The story of how the screen role slipped through his fingers is yet another illustration of how timing means everything in this rackety business.

"We were able to use Glenn Close for the film version, and I slightly backed into casting John Malkovich,' says Hampton. 'The thing is that there was a tremendous battle over the film rights. I took a lower offer from the production company Lorimar in order



to retain more control. I said we should rethink the whole thing and start again, and I said 1 thought we should have Alan Rickman Lorimar said "Start again". Alan had made Die Hard by that stage but it hadn't been released . . . and of course no one knew it would make such a huge difference to his career. And Lorimar wanted someone with a profile. The director Stephen Frears came on board at a late stage, and he was keen to do it with American actors.

'Another factor was the rival film Valmont, so we had to move with tremendous speed. I had seen Malkovich in the play Burn This. I know Alan was very, very upset over it,' admits Hampton, 'but it didn't affect our friendship. We were in New York one evening, on our way to the theatre. Alan had told me that people kept coming up to him in the street and saying, "It's terrible you didn't get to play Valmont on film, I don't know what to say to you." As we left the play, a woman came up to him and said "It's terrible you didn't get to play Valmont on film . . ." Alan just pointed at me and said "Ask him!" I think it was a very hurtful thing for Alan, but it's rare that a British actor could ever reprise a role in America; I think only Nigel Hawthorne has managed it with The Madness of King George. And I just didn't have the clout. But Alan's performance was unmatchable.'

Inevitably, playing an evil intriguer night after night had a terrible effect on Rickman's psyche. After a lifelong commitment to socialism, he belatedly joined the Labour Party in 1987 as if to distance himself from this degenerate aristocrat. Valmont was not a pantomine villain; that would have been easy to live with. It was his Byzantine intelligence, his insidious understanding of human nature and finally his moral despair that made  the  part  so depressing for someone with such staunch principles. What made it even worse was that Rima had become a Labour councillor in 1986 for St Charles Ward in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. There's still a large element of puritanical working-class asceticism, the old Methodist hair-shirt tradition, in the Labour Party, as if you have to renounce all sins of the flesh - apart from eating mushy peas - in order to be taken seriously. With one or two exceptions - 'Gorgeous' George Galloway springs to mind - the Tories have always had the best sex scandals. As Rima embarked on a political career with a public profile for the first time in her work as an educationalist, her long-time boyfriend was seducing women on stage every night and finding himself buried



under snowfalls of fan-mail. Of course, Rima appreciated the subtle joke and took it in her stride; but the contrast still made Alan uncomfortable. No wonder Valmont nearly gave him a breakdown Those tears that Christopher Hampton saw had been just the beginning. 'It stopped being a play in a way, and became an event - especially on Broadway,' he told Sean French in GQ magazine in 1991.

'People came with such high expectations that a mountain had to be climbed every night. You are up there manipulating the audience in the way Valmont manipulates the characters. And when you're playing someone as self-destructive as that, night after night, it can't help but get to you to some extent. The body doesn't always know when it's lying. You know from the neck up, but you send the rest of you actually through it.'

The following year, he told the same magazine: Tou are really brushing evil with a part like that, you're looking into an abyss and finding very dark parts of yourself. Valmont is one of the most complicated and self-destructive human beings you would ever wish - or probably not wish - to play.

'Playing him for two and a half hours for two solid years eight times a week brings you very close to the edge. Never again. Never ever again. By the end of it, 1 needed a rest home or a change of career.'

He also told the Guardian: 'It's a part that ate you alive.' There's a story that he gave Howard Davies a hard time during rehearsals for Les Liaisons; but I'm inclined to think that it was more likely to have been the other way round. 'Howard is very cold and self-contained,' says Poliakoff.

Nevertheless, losing the film role to Malkovich was still an incredibly depressing experience for Alan. 'He became very withdrawn and broody, though he never said a word. You fell terribly sorry for him,' says a friend.

'It would be untrue to say he wasn't put out,' says Stephen Poliakoff judiciously. 'In 1989 I bumped into him on the street in Notting Hill; I had just seen Die Hard. He told me he had not gone to see Dangerous Liaisons; and out of solidarity, I hadn't either. Stephen Davis goes further: 'He was terribly hurt.'

'I prefer Alan infinitely,' says loyal friend Theresa Hickey 'Malkovich is this self-obsessed guy in Kung Fu slippers, whereas Alan is genuinely interested in people. He's very generous-spirited.



And he's so filmic: he would have made a wonderful Valmont on screen.'

For Alan, stage fright was the ever-present malignant monkey  on his shoulder. In 1992, he told GQ that he had to 'struggle to find the character every time I walk on stage'. And the pressures of playing the vampiric Valmont, who must instantly dominate, only added to that.

Christopher Hampton's excitable view of how Les Liaisons Dangereuses had to fight for long-term survival against an intransi­gent, bureaucratic Royal Shakespeare Company makes a colourful story which is, of course, completely refuted by the RSC

Adrian Noble, at that time associate RSC director, does admit that there was a problem with the transfer of Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the West End.

The context of that year was that it was a truncated season. Trevor Nunn wanted to open Les Miserables and also Nicholas Nickleby in London in the Christmas of 1985, so all Stratford shows were cut short. The cast in a repertory system are cross-cast across different productions. The year we did Les Liaisons, Alan, Fiona Shaw and Juliet Stevenson were all in As You Like It as well. To free up all that cast - and Lindsay Duncan was also doing The Merry Wives Of Windsor - you have to wait for the shows to end in the repertoire, otherwise productions would be asset-stripped of their actors. Actors do prefer rep rather than doing the same thing eight times a week. So yes, there was a problem with the Les Liaisons transfer to the West End: endless problems with hoicking actors out of the rep. 1 don't know if Ben Kingsley, the star of Othello, was hacked off or not by all the attention Les Liaisons was getting. That's all speculation.

'As for the film rights, the RSC is always diligent about protecting the film rights of any production. We strike as good, and as hard, a bargain as we can.'

When 1 contacted the RSC's General Manager, David Brierley, he elaborated on that complicated transition to screen and the RSC's alleged delay. 'When we enter into a contract with a writer, part of the contract is to do with potential film rights.

'We negotiate a share of the sale of film rights that goes back to the original stage-producing company, which also gets consultation rights. Christophers agent, the late Peggy Ramsay, was the best agent ever for ferociously protecting her authors. She did the deal



and didn't consult the RSC. She was in a hurry because of the competing film Valmont, so it was a bit of a race to the tape. Plus Christopher's rights to be producer of the movie were also part of the deal.

'James Nederlander was by then the American producer of Les Liaisons. Peggy had cut us out - both the RSC and Nederknder. We asked her if she had the right deal, the best deal. We thought there wasn't necessarily a competitive approach here. At this point. Nederlander found a competitive offer. Christopher and Peggy were anxious not to accept this, because they had gone a long way down the road with Lorimar - who eventually produced Chris­topher's film version. But we said, "You can't just do the deal if there's a better offer. We can't approve of this deal until we have explored the competition as much as possible."

'So Lorimar upped their offer in cash by 50 per cent. Finally the deal was done with them, but the process had been slowed down Chris had been willing to take a lower offer in order to have a position as a producer.

The RSC and the Nederlander Organisation managed to up the ante in the end, but I think Christopher has never forgiven us,' says Brierley. 'It was a bit naughty of Peggy to go ahead without the RSC. Nine times out of ten, she would have done a good deal -but in this case, we helped secure a better one.

'James Nederlander is the commercial rival to the Schubert Organisation that owns the Music Box, the theatre where Les Liaisons played on Broadway. These are the two great theatre-owning organisations over there. Unusually this production brought the Schuberts and the Nederlanders together, so the RSC engineered a shotgun wedding. Normally they're like the Mon­tagues and the Capulets. Nederlander thought the Music Box would be big enough. When we came to New York, our courage had grown and we wanted a bigger theatre - even though it went on for 20 weeks.'

Trevor Nunn, then the RSC's Artistic Director, emphasises 'Certainly no opposition to the work having an extended commer­cial life ever came from me. I saw Howard's production in both London and Stratford and thought it one of the best pieces of intimate theatre I had ever experienced. But I never had anything to do with the selling of the film rights, which I imagine had been retained by Christopher.'



'Everyone knew Les Liaisons would be a hit,' Adrian Noble insists. 'I don't remember Howard Davies being dubious; in tact, I can remember him fighting off the idea of anyone else directing it. I was pash [passionate] about Alan rejoining the RSC for Les Liaisons and I did have a say in that, although ultimately it was Trevor's decision. But it was because I've known Alan ever since he did Man Is Man for me at Bristol.'

With Valmont, as with Slope, Rickman had demonstrated the supreme art of showing the vulnerability in a multi-faceted villain. As Michael Billington wrote in his Guardian review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses: 'It is easy to say that Alan Rickman, with his air of voluptuous languor, is superbly cast as the Vicomte: what is really impressive is his ability to register minute gradations of feeling.

'He stiffens visibly as the Marquise de Merteuil denies him sex, literally shrugs an eyebrow at the news that people live on 56 livres a year, allows his hand to hover over Cecile's body as if exploring a relief-map.

'But the keynote of Rickman's enthralling performance is growing self-disgust at his own destructiveness: he becomes a seductive Satan with a stirring conscience.

'Alan Rickman seems born to play the Vicomte. He endows him with a drawling, handsome languor and a genuine sense of spiritual shock at discovering he may be in thrall to love.'

Irving Wardle in The Times wrote: 'Alan Rickman, elegantly dishevelled and removing his mask of amorous melancholy to reveal a mirthlessly grinning voluptuary, carries the mask of death.' John Barber in the Daily Telegraph thought that 'languid, darkly handsome Alan Rickman makes a perfect Vicomte: plausible, cruel'.

Charles Spencer in the Stage and Television Today was ecstatic. 'Alan Rickman gives a performance of hypnotic brilliance as Le Vicomte. Fleshy and reptilian, languid yet prone to sudden bursts if feverish energy, he oozes charm and danger in equal propor­tions, an amoral predator who finally finds himself the prey of a stronger woman and the incomprehensible stirrings of his own soul.'

Only Barry Russell's review in Drama magazine's spring issue of 1986 dropped the classic clanger by questioning 'the casting of Alan Rickman as the scoundrel of the piece. He is too engaging an actor to play a "nasty" with much credibility'. (Oh yeah?)



In short, it was one of those reviews that you spend the rest of your life living down; though Russell at least noticed Rickman's 'endearingly unkempt quality, more fitted for Fielding's Tom Jones than for the aristocratic Vicomte de Valmont'. But surely that was the point: he was a wild animal in the boudoir . ..

Michael Coveney in the Financial Times gave 'thank* chiefly to Alan Rickman's predatory, dissolute Vicomte de Valmont, a languorous, squinting agent of destruction'. Sheridan Morley in Punch wrote of 'the silkily splendid' Rickman's 'elegant decay', although the late Kenneth Hurren was less convinced in the Mail On Sunday. Though Alan Rickman has been widely praised as the jaded vicomte, I feel he lacks something of a plausible seducer's practised charm,' he wrote.

Perhaps it was the glimpse of the conscience that Rickman's Valmont carried around with him which inspired so many women to write lovelorn letters to him. It's that potential for redemption and reformation which presents the ultimate challenge to female zeal.

Before Rickman's Valmont transferred to the West End and thereafter to Broadway, the RSC repertory system had given him the chance to play another Faustian character who had sold his soul to the devil. Rickman took the lead in Ariane Mnouchkine's didactic epic drama Mephisto, based on the Klaus Mann novel. As the actor Hendrik Hofgen, he found himself becoming the darling of the Nazi gods in pre-war Germany. The tale of how this former radical becomes Hitler's protege is the story of an entire country's corruption.

Mark Lawson in Time Out considered that Rickman 'consolidates his status as a new RSC star', though some other reviewers expected a more grandstanding performance, finding him far too gloomy and depressive. Perhaps that old blood-sucker Valmont had sapped his energy; certainly it was crazy to play both in swift succession.

'Mr Rickman is merely bitchy when he ought to be demonic, pettish when he ought to blast everyone in sight or hearing with his rage,' wrote Francis King in the Sunday Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph's Eric Shorter thought Alan had 'a compelling line in languid disdain and slimy hauteur', but others felt his heart didn't seem to be in this story of the Nazi rise to power and the equivocal attitude of the people.



Of course the voice, never to every drama critic's taste, came in for a hammering. Kenneth Hurren wrote in the Mail On Sunday: The chief focus is on a star actor and political renegade, played with enervating vocal monotony by Alan Rickman.'

As for Michael Ratcliffe in the Observer: well, he didn't like Alan's performance. Again. There are some attractive and truthful performances ... all these sustain an evident humanity, but Mr Rickman chooses not to.

'Having frequently been accused in the past of camping it up, he has on this occasion put on sober attire and elected to camp it down, a dispiriting decision which leads to lugubriousness of voice and feature suggesting complete disillusion with past, present and future instead of a driving ambition to succeed at all costs. There isn't so much as a whiff of Mephistophelian sulphur all night.'

Barney Bardsley had written in City Limits, 'Mephisto is about the devil in us all.' But by this stage, the puritanical Alan was becoming revolted by the devil in Mr Rickman. Valmont was his darkest hour; his great film villains were tap-dancing scallywags by comparison. Time Out's theatre editor Jane Edwardes pointed out in a 1986 interview for Mephisto that Rickman had become one of the hottest actors around by playing the coldest of bastards.

He took it all terribly seriously, as usual, and saw his character in Mephisto as a dire warning to those consumed by ambition. 'It's about how big a trough you can dig for yourself,' he told the Guardian.

Rickman had lost the battle to play Valmont on film and, in retrospect, it may have saved his sanity. Nevertheless, he was to win the Hollywood war in a strange and quite unexpected way, rediscovering his sense of humour in the process. His performance as Valmont on Broadway had brought him to the attention of a film producer who wanted a charismatic, intelligent, sophisticated baddie for his next action movie. Someone, in short, who would put up a truly satisfying fight, who would enter into mortal combat with a die-hard . ..

Despite having given us the definitive Valmont, Alan Rickman still felt as if he were a misfit outsider with a muffled voice in the snobbis… Продолжение »

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