…h caste system of the British theatre. It was to be in the more democratic medium of film, paradoxically enough, that he would be able to exploit his extravagantly theatrical roots. He had to go away in order to become truly honoured in his own country.



One is reminded of the famous brick dropped by John Gielgud when he talked about a very talented British stage actor called Claude Rams, who had been a West End star m the: 20s_ But he threw his career away,' said Gielgud plaintively, shaking his head sadly. 'He went off to Hollywood and completely disappeared, I wonder what happened to him?'

In Alan's case he staged his 'disappearing' act in a sulphurous cloud of Mephistophelian smoke.



7. A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL                                                                                                      119


One sunny day towards the end of the twentieth century, Alan Rickman found himself being avidly stared at by a waitress while he and Peter Barnes were having lunch at a restaurant near their respective homes. They were sitting outside at a table on the pavement and the woman kept looking at Rickman, who main­tained his customary Garboesque cool and pretended not to notice the kind of attention that had become an everyday occurrence in his life. Eventually, when Barnes went inside to pay the bill, the puzzled waitress said to Peter: 'I recognise your friend from somewhere, and I can't think where.' When Peter said, "You might have seen him in Die Hard on TV recently,' she gave a tiny shriek of excitement and said, 'Of course, of course - it's Bruce Willis!'

'It's a great story about the fleeting nature of fame,' adds Peter. 'But Alan was just amused by it when I went back outside and told him; some people wouldn't be amused, of course.

'Actors don't like you saying this, but Alan's present fame is a matter of luck. There are crossroads in everyone's life,' points out Peter. 'If he hadn't had Die Hard, it might have taken him much longer.' Barnes has a particular fellow-feeling for Rickman because both had slogged  away  for years  until  one  film  completely transformed their fortunes. With Peter, it was his screenplay for Enchanted April. 'I had struggled for twenty years until Enchanted April opened the doors for me. It did huge business in America and was nominated for the Best Screenplay Oscar.' Later Peter finished a massive epic for Warners about the Medici ruler of Florence, Lorenzo the Magnificent; when he was asked his take on it in script conferences, he said, 'You should do it as The Godfather in tights.' He's learned the Hollywood pitch. These days he works like a demon, writing seven 'highly lucrative' American miniseries in just five years. Yet there's no danger of Peter living in an ivory tower: he impressed Alan by swapping his regular writing venue at the British Museum for the Leicester Square branch of McDonald's much as the Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling first created her boy hero on scribbled notes in an Edinburgh coffee shop With Alan   it was the make-or-break movie Die Hard that changed his fortunes. It made his career - and it broke a cartilage



in his knee after he performed eleven takes of a jump from a ledge on to uneven paving stones on his very first day on set. This torn cartilage is my souvenir of Hollywood,' he said afterwards sounding like someone who didn't expect to be invited twice For Rickman, always wary of getting carried away, had sternly told himself to regard the job as no more than a once-in-a-lifetime working holiday of the kind that never even happens for most British actors. He also took a Califomian driving licence away with him as another souvenir after passing his test on his second attempt; he was failed on the first one for driving too cautiously through a green light. 'I think maybe that is a metaphor,' he told Karen Moline in Elle magazine, laughing at his own inhibitions.

'He's much loved by actors because he has a profound sense of irony,' says the RSC's Artistic Director, Adrian Noble. 'He can do trash and elevate it. Somehow he can keep above the shit. It's a deal with the devil. All actors have to do it. You have to do trash to survive, but he can send it up. Great Hollywood role models are so macho; but most people are not like that at all. Alan isn't macho at all.

'1 was thrilled for him when it went so well in films. In many ways, he's an old-fashioned actor who can hand in a star performance - he has the intelligence and cut to create some of the great parts. He's very big, with a big voice.'

Die Hard producer, Joel Silver, preoccupied with casting his new movie, caught Alan's Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway. Rickman reeked of decadence, of course, and Silver professed himself duly asphyxiated. 'He was staggering. 1 was bowled over by the theatricality of how he played that role,' he told BBC2's The Late Show in November 1994. (Well, it was in a theatre.) 'For Die Hard, we were looking at conventional heavies . . . when we got Alan, it set the stage for a new evolution of the bad guy.'

In fact, it was all part of the long-established George Sanders and Basil Rathbone syndrome, in which suave British actors carved out a niche for themselves as the cads of Hollywood. (The fact that Sanders was half-Russian need not detain us.)

Claude Rains, of course, was clever enough to extend his range and make even the politically ambiguous police chief in Casablanca seem craftily sympathetic as he uttered the immortal 'Round up the usual suspects.' Even so, if you possess sharp features, narrow eyes and a drawling English accent, you are bound to be typecast thus.



Jeremy Irons won his Academy Award for the gallows humour of his performance as that suspected Bluebeard, Claus Von Bulow, a class act if ever there was one. Interestingly, Irons was later to play Rickman's vengeful brother in Die Hard With A Vengance.

American xenophobia has been blamed for the lazy habit of casting foreigners as the bad guys; but the preference for the theatrical disdain of those silky British scoundrels also betokens an inferiority complex on the part of a bedazzled Hollywood. It is as if they have to send out for their very best badduns, because they think they can't get them at home.

'When I was working in Hollywood, 1 got a call from someone saying he was a friend of Alan and that he had a script,' remembers the director Simon Langton, who had cast the then-unknown Rickman in Therese Raquin eight years previously.

'Alan, being a mate of this person, said he would meet me in a well-known bar in LA. It was an ultra-modem place, full of gleaming marble surfaces. He looked completely at home in the LA bar, but utterly English: rather louche and laid-back.

'We had a couple of beers and then he lounged back in his seat and said, "I have got this ridiculous Hollywood movie. It's called Die Hard and I play some crazy East European fanatic. It's non-stop explosions - the actors won't get a look-in. And I'm appearing with Bruce Willis! I play the lead baddie . . ."

'He was very self-deprecating and very friendly; almost too laid-back. I'm sure he doesn't suffer fools, though. He hadn't changed a great deal, he was physically leaner. That haughty-looking exterior had become even haughtier: hooded eyes, aquiline nose. I don't think he quite understood what was going to happen. He was quite unfazed by the enormity of it all, and yet this was his first-ever picture. Normally, you disappear in a cloud of burst fumes and flames when the film bombs, but this one didn't ...'

After playing Valmont solidly for two years, your man was just about ready for the funny farm. Die Hard was, he confessed to GQ magazine in 1992, 'a great big present, with eight lines to learn every two days and a lot of Los Angeles sunshine. It was like being offered a glass of ice-cold water when you have been in the desert. '1 had never been in a movie before,' he told Catherine O'Brien in the Daily Mirror in 1992. 'Suddenly I found myself on a set in the middle of Los Angeles surrounded by hundreds of people at

10 o'clock at night.



'It dawns on you that millions of dollars are at stake and everyone is watching and waiting to see if you balls it up.'

It was certainly a wonderful consolation prize for not winning a Broadway Tony for Valmont and for losing the film role to his imitator, John Malkovich. Die Hard was a huge success whose fortunes at the box office surprised everyone. It propelled the former television actor Bruce Willis into the supernova league and pushed the unknown Rickman to the very forefront of inventive screen villainy.

Alan always behaves exactly the same, regardless of his sur­roundings. If he's annoyed about something he's asked to do, he'll say so. He saw no reason not to have his usual frank and free exchange of views with the director on this, as on any other production. This movie beginner nearly stopped the filming one day when he refused point-blank to throw heroine Bonnie Bedelia to the floor, telling director John McTieman that the violence was both offensive and inappropriate. Rickman combined male femin­ism with an instinctive gallantry towards women that was to make him an ideal Jane Austen hero eight years later.

'A big victory was won on that film set in terms of not conforming to the stereotype on the page,' he told GQ magazine. 'My character was very civilised in a strange sort of way and just wouldn't have behaved like that.

'Nor would Bonnie's character — a self-possessed career woman — have allowed him to. It was a stereotype — the woman as eternal victim - that they hadn't even thought about. Basically, they wanted a reason for her shirt to burst open. We talked our way round it - her shirt still burst open, but at least she stayed upright.'

Which was more than another unfortunate female in the cast did. Hurled across a desk by one of the other terrorists, her strapless party frock fell down and she ended up topless. But at least Alan Rickman's dabs weren't on her.

Nevertheless, Die Hard is still a simple-minded, xenophobic, Neanderthal film, which carries the subliminal message that workaholic feminists - i.e. career women - rot the social fabric of America. Until a cowboy comes to the rescue.

Rickman was there to add the gloss of class. 'All sorts of people asked me why I wanted to be in a film like Die Hard,' Alan told the Guardian in 1989, revealing a lot about the high-minded circles he moves in. 'I thought it could turn out to be a fabulous film,



something like the best ride at the fun-fair. That's why.' He is certainly a thrills addict who loves the most death-defying fairground rides (as his Mesmer co-star Simon McBurney was later to testify).

For all his lordly insouciance in this alien culture, gloomy old Rickman was still convinced he was going to be sacked the first week.

The first shot I did, and this is significant, was one where 1 had to produce an American accent. If I hadn't produced an acceptable accent, I'm sure 1 would have been got rid of. I mean, when a film's costing $30 million, no one's got time to waste.

'On the other hand, once they've decided you're all right, they'll make sure they've got it all in the can before they do the shot where they might kill you. The very last shot I did in the film was one where 1 was dropped from 40 feet.

'I'd certainly never picked up a machine-gun or even a hand-gun before. And we lost a lot of takes because I had a habit of flinching as they went off.' In fact you can catch him flinching in one split-second of fear as he fired a shot; and neither was his elusive American-German accent all that hot. They must have decided they just liked his voice anyway. But the tongue-in-cheek humour of the film was right up Rickman's boulevard; he and Willis got together with various scriptwriters to add jokes and ideas as the production got underway.

'When I met Willis, my immediate comment was that they're such cartoon-like characters that it would be much more interest­ing if they could make each other laugh. There was no emotional development to chart with my character, so it needed something extra. That came as the script was rewritten. In fact the script was rewritten so much that I could hardly say we filmed the script I agreed to do.'

The result of making it, he says, 'was endlessly surprising and endlessly enjoyable'. His name is the second to be credited, followed by Alexander Godunov and then Bonnie Bedelia. Very much  a boys' picture.

We first see Rickman's character Hans Gruber emerging from a group of terrorists who seem to have fallen off the back of a lorry. They walk mob-handed out of the truck. Suddenly this crowd parts like the Red Sea and he emerges from its centre. This is a cinematographers cliche, but Rickman carries it off well, conveying



just enough nerves under the professional cool to suggest a human time-bomb who might explode prematurely.

(Gruber was an inspired choice. There is a rumour that Hitler's family name was Schicklgruber, since his grandfather Johann Georg Hiedler married a peasant girl from Lower Austria whose name was Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Five years before, she had given birth to an illegitimate child.

According to the accepted tradition, the father of the baby was in fact Hiedler himself. But he never bothered to legitimise the boy who continued to be known by his mother's maiden name of Schicklgruber until he was nearly 40 and who was brought up by his father's brother. The latter later took steps to legitimise him and asked the parish priest to cross out the word 'illegitimate' in the register, putting Hiedler's name down as the father.

Yet twelve years before Hitler was born, his father had started calling himself Hitler. Little Adolf was never known by any other name until political opponents discovered the old scandal and jeeringly labelled him Schicklgruber.)

The epitome of a designer terrorist, Rickman has his hands buried deep in the pockets of a long cashmere overcoat as he emerges from the mob. Gruber wears a Mephistophelean goatee beard and moustache. In fact he is Valmont revisited, with the same facial hair. The sideburns and beard form one long seamless stripe of fur round the chops of this sexy weasel.

After gatecrashing a Christmas party given by Bedelia's Japanese-owned firm on the 30th floor of a skyscraper, the neo-Nazi admires a scale model of a business project in Indonesia. 'I read an article in Forbes magazine,' he name-drops suavely. 'I could talk about industrialisation and men's fashions all day, but I'm afraid work must intrude.' A lovely camp flourish. Gruber is after 640 million dollars of negotiable bonds locked in the company vault. Who said we were terrorists?' he asks rhetorically, as if playing an elaborate game. He turns his head in slow-motion to glower at his henchman Godunov when the latter says 'It's not over yet' to Bedelia's captive Japanese boss. Rickman then shoots the latter in the head. 'See if you can dispose of that,' he orders, switching from the conversa­tional to the callous in the abrupt way that is supposed to be the hallmark of the psychopath.

His suit reveals Rickman's surprisingly narrow shoulders. He's big-boned but his lean body has absolutely no pecs appeal



although Alan does work out at the gym - reluctantly, according to him. Though he believes fundamentally that the best career advice to a budding actor is to stay fit and healthy, to look after 'the instrument' of your body, he finds the grind of gym a tedious business. In 2 1995 Premiere interview, he told Duncan Fallowell that he goes to his health club 'in secret - and I dutifully bore myself rigid on the machines'. Rickman's Gruber travels light, with high cheekbones and a hawkish nose to confer authority. Willis looks like Popeye in comparison, though the sweaty vest (which surely should have won Best Supporting Performance) stands up

quite well.

Gruber has a rather contorted, very Germanic insult ready for Willis' character John McClane: 'Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne,' he sneers. On the contrary, McClane calls himself Roy Rogers, a Hollywood in-joke that's just a little too smug. But then that's Bruce Willis for you, revelling in the cat-and-mouse game McClane plays with Gruber.

Hans is pragmatic and not uncivilised, however, just as Rickman insisted: when he takes the staff hostage, he graciously allows a sofa to be brought in for a pregnant woman at Bonnie's request. Rickman's feral face is well used here. A TV picture reveals Gruber to be a former member of an extremist German underground movement until his expulsion, too radical even for the radicals. It shows him with hair combed unflatteringly over his forehead, looking very drab and downbeat . . . this is Alan Rickman in real life as a superannuated student revolutionary, sloping down to buy his veggies at the Portobello Road market in Netting Hill Gate. With such a style makeover since his early days, clearly Hans is more in love with capitalism than he lets on.

A welcome touch of satire has a crass Gareth Cheeseman type, of the kind created by the comedian Steve Coogan, emerging from the hostage group. He boasts to Hans that he can broker a deal by giving him McClane, 'the guy on the roof who is the one man that can stop the terrorists. Gruber shoots the fool when he realises that he doesn't know where the detonators are.

They risk more subversive humour when Gruber barks at the police and the FBI that he wants 'colleagues' round the world released - in Northern Ireland, Canada and even Sri Lanka, conjuring up such groups as 'Asian Dawn'. ('I read about them in Time magazine,' he stage-whispers with perfect comic timing to



Godunov, who has mouthed the name in facetious surprise.) It really must be like this with some terrorists, making the revolution up as they go along.

Giruber shows his mettle by posing as one of the hostages when McClane, toting his machine-gun, turns up to ask 'How ya doin?' in that homespun, all-American way.

This little detail is ridiculous: Gruber has altered his accent slightly, but surely McClane would recognise that rich drawl anywhere? He's heard it enough times. And how about the lethal-looking teeth, revealed in a wolfish smile? McClane hands him a gun, whereupon Gruber ominously grounds out McClane's cigarette with his shoe (another cliche") and speaks in German (always a bit of a giveaway) on his mobile.

'Put down the gun and giff me my detonators,' he demands. It would be laughable in the mouth of anyone else but a deadly serious Rickman, who has both the intensity and the integrity to make you believe in his villains.

Alan uses a machine-gun to shoot the glass out of a window in a movie with more than its fair share of defenestration. Again you're suddenly very aware of Hans' jangling nerves under that studied cool: he's the student revolutionary who has hit the big time.

The FBI men are the usual unbearable egomaniacs and McClane is no less smug in his rivalry with them, so much so that you almost feel perverse enough to want Hans to win - especially if he could wipe out some of Bruce Willis's smirks. The villain is supposed to smirk, not the hero; Alan keeps his dignity by contrast. His best line comes when he realises Bedelia is McClane's wife and makes her hostage-of-the-week with a gun to her head. 'You are nothing but a common thief!' she accuses him. '1 am an exceptional thief, Mrs McClane,' he hisses, putting his face close to hers like a furious lover. 'Since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.' But dear old Brute Willis keeps coming back for more punishment, covered in blood like Banquo's ghost McClane makes all the terrorists laugh, distracting them with a bi of male bonding for one vital moment. As a result, it's all over Gruber finds himself travelling backwards through yet another window. His head swivels slightly as if he were an angry snarlirng animal, and then he goes into freefall, imitating the rapid descent of that malignant comic cat Lucifer in Disney's Cinderella.



He vanishes like a magician into the ether, dropping 40 feet. All this and Rickman's own stunts, too, as a first-time action man. The RADA fencing lessons had paid off; perhaps they put the vest on the wrong guy.

'I got Die Hard because I came cheap,' admitted Alan to GQ magazine. They were paying Willis $7 million, so they had to find people they could pay nothing.' However, it planted Rickman's flag on the international map with a scene-stealing performance that began his new Hollywood career in grand larceny. 'I wasn't prepared for the reaction,' he told Sean French in the same magazine the year before. 'I flew to New York for a preview, and the audience just stood up and cheered and threw things at the screen. I walked into that cinema and I could have just been someone with a ticket, but when I walked out I couldn't get to the car.

'My girlfriend and 1 went to Anguilla at Christmas and you're on this little West Indian island and everyone knows who you are. You're not Alan, you're the guy in Die Hard.' He was still bemused when he told The Times magazine of 12 March 1994: 'Black New Yorkers loved Hans Gruber. They come up to me and say: "Yo! My main man!" I don't know what it is. They want him to get away with it, I suppose.'

Yet he went from there straight back to BBC television and the intellectual comfort of a Michael Frayn play, Benefactors, which was transmitted on 28 May 1989. It reunited him with Harriet Walter, a member of the Rickman 'harem' whose inimitably dry little-girl voice was perfect for her role here. Benefactors was a miniature state-of-the-nation play - or perhaps just a state-of-South-London play - about the collapse of idealism. It told the story of how a tower-block architect - played by Michael Kitchen, with Barbara Flynn as his pragmatic wife - fell to earth. Rickman's character was

as an ex-senior classics master at Eton, now the bad-tempered editor of a  woman's magazine. Harriet was his girlfriend, the archetypal dippy hippie-chick with a wonderfully vacuous and dithery manner and a maddeningly enigmatic air. They both sponge off kitchen and Flynn, almost living round at their place. Harriet eats her hair and watches Z-Cars while the other couple, furious at her constant presence, argue about just whose friend she is. Kitchen and Flynn are capable, confident; the other two are incredibly disorganised, with smelly children we never see. With her long bell



sleeves and curtains of hair, Harriet looks like the moping lady of Shalott. She whimpers a lot and tells herself she has held Alan back in his career.

Of course she begins a relationship with Kitchen, and Alan gets his first chance - but by no means his last - to play a cuckold. He's bitter and defensive, baggy-eyed and haggard.

'Life goes round like a wheel: what we have done once, we do again,' he says doomily.

Kitchen's anti-social skyscraping plans are leaked to the papers by Alan via Harriet. Alan goes to live in a derelict house in the middle of the redevelopment area, squatting there.

Welcome to the war,' he snarls at the visiting Flynn and fires off an angry monologue to camera. 'I see in you a little of the bleakness I have in me,' he says provocatively to her. That's why you don't like me.'

He's menacing, shaggy, sexual, insinuating: a natural subversive and tinpot urban guerrilla. It is to Frayn's credit that he is not so obvious as to allow Alan and Barbara's characters to end up in bed together, but it's a natural conclusion to draw.

'Don't scrape the sky, just sweep the streets - a whole philosophy of government in eight words,' Alan says, using his headline-writing skills. But, by the end, this vulnerable malcontent is drily reflecting: 'We had all kinds of supporters by this time -but not all of them had heads.'

Nevertheless, he becomes famous as a spokesman for the campaign and attacks 'North London cultural imperialism'. He even survives two attacks by boiling brown stew from the hysterical Harriet, which would have scalded anyone with a thinner skin. Eventually Flynn fixes him up with a new job, while Kitchen's practice withers in this nicely cynical but over-long piece.

So much for the revolution, indefinitely postponed. It was in 1989 that Alan Rickman became a member of the property-owning classes. He was 43. After half a lifetime in the theatre, it was the first time that he had been able to afford a property. He and Rima had shared the rent on her Holland Park flat since 1977, but Die Hard had made a significant difference at last to his finances. Rima stayed put because she was required to either live or work in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in order to remain a councillor.

Though he was worried about how Rima would feel if he moved out, Alan bought a maisonette near a garden square just over a mile



away from Rima. They lead such different lifestyles that it's hardly surprising they find it difficult to share; but it was his burgeoning film career that made the real difference.

Once you start playing the Hollywood game, you have to make yourself available to work around the world at very short notice. The restless Rickman is forever on the move, while Rima is permanently home-based by virtue of sitting on no less than ten council committees, not to mention her governorship of Barlby Primary School and her involvement with a canalside project and a community centre. Her speciality is education, despite, or because of, not having had any children of her own.

'We were all very worried about them at first when Alan set up on his own, but it seems to have worked out,' says die close friend.

Indeed, there is a longevity to all his loyalties. Alan said no to several overnight movie offers on the back of Die Hard and returned to Britain and his old mentor Peter Barnes for three remarkable BBC projects: two period television dramas and a disturbing radio play, Billy And Me. He believes in causes, and he certainly found one in The Preacher.

The latter was the third of four Barnes monologues under the series title of Revolutionary Witness, based on eyewitness accounts of ordinary men and women caught up in the French Revolution.

Alan played Jacques Roux, a radical priest who officiated at the execution of Louis XVI and organised food riots in 1793. This was - and still is - the most passionate performance he has ever given, laying his emotions bare in a wonderful fusion of head and heart.

Roux is standing in a pulpit in an apparently deserted church, with his dog Georges at the foot of the pulpit as his only audience, apan from us. He is a true terrorist from history; this is the real "ling, as opposed to Hans Gruber's entertaining ersatz version.

'God created rich people first and then showed them the world they would own,' he says through clenched teeth. He has wild hair and looks incredibly unkempt, the epitome of the turbulent priest. "Your slavery is their liberty,' he adds in a spell-binding incitement to righteous violence, based upon Roux's own writings. The church offers fear and punishment for ever and ever. Religion is a liar and a cheat.  Mad Jacques, Red Roux, sower of sedition, subverter of  all law.'

His first sermon in a new parish is being preached in this ruined church. He goes before the tribunal tomorrow, charged with



excess. 'It seems I'm too revolutionary for the revolution,' he says with a bitter smile. 'Do not forgive me, Father, for I have not sinned.'

His own father had twelve children; Jacques was the cleverest. He was a priest at the age of fifteen years and became a professor of philosophy. Eventually he was arrested, he tells us, for a crime he didn't commit. This is how fires are kindled,' he warns menacingly. For he was not given a trial.

'Revolutions must be violent ... the only way to end the greater violence,' he says, banging his fist on the pulpit. As the title of one South African film put it, Death Is Part Of The Process.

He lives, he tells us, with a good woman and is now a pamphleteer; she sells them. They adopted a son, Emile. The close-ups reveal Rickman's sensual, well-defined lips, the upper one slightly lifted in that characteristically animalistic way. 'Don't be fooled by those who set themselves above you. Look at the bill they present you with. It's not my purpose to be popular. I am here to sting.' As Rickman himself is; he's not a beige personality.

To stop me stinging, the Assembly hired me to write the report of the King's execution . . . the rich we will gobble up, tra-la-la,' he sings. He tells us how ordinary people die in the mud and calls King Louis a toe-rag.

'We must appropriate the land and money from the rich, who have it in excess. We have to push the revolution as far as it will go and then further . . . and that's never enough for me.'

He tells us he wrote a pamphlet condemning the revolutionaries for banning women from power; so he's a male feminist as well as a socialist. T shun fame ... it costs too much,' says this passionate, ruined romantic in his last confessional. Not Alan Rickman's own words, but certainly his sentiments. 'Making love or making revolution . . . but with a revolution, you have to be right.'

He waves a sword in the pulpit and says he will strike himself down if he's condemned by the tribunal. 'Living well is so much harder than dying well,' he says of the friends that he expects to 'move on1 when he is dead. 'I have tried to create a people who are sceptical, rational, critical.

'We are of the generation that so transformed the world that it can never be the same. One last word ... the revolution is not complete. Don't sit back. Act. For God is an active power. We do his work in fighting.' Roux committed suicide in 1794. You could



almost fall in love with such a man, as conveyed by the Rickman brand of full-blooded romanticism that finally gives the lie to the image of this actor as the archetypal cold fish. Roux knows he's condemned, but he has no self-pity. His friends will move on because they have the difficult task: to live. It's a barricade-storming performance that sets out to change lives, just as he swears his was changed by Peter's play The Ruling Class. 'Alan's Roux was Lenin and Danton rolled into one. He was too left-wing for Robespierre, who had to get rid of him,' says Peter Barnes.

The radio monologue Billy And Me was the familiar story of a ventriloquist who is taken over by his dummy, yet Rickman played it very effectively on a rising note of hysteria.

'Yes, of course it's my wife . . . would I have a maid so ugly?' went his patter, very much in the spirit of Archie Rice in John Osborne's The Entertainer. He proved an unexpected virtuoso at the music-hall innuendo; as with all great actors, Rickman has a strong vulgar streak of the grotesque in him. 'I'm depressed. I feel so dull, I can't even entertain doubut' he moaned; Alan's natural lugubri-ousness is well employed here. Master Billy Bent on is the creepy schoolboy dummy who exercises a sinister control over him. The Vent' has had a nervous breakdown and becomes a schizophrenic as a result. He starts having visions and gabbles wildly about a row of dummies all singing Handel's Messiah, as camply funny as it's frightening.

However, it was the third Peter Barnes project, the TV drama From Sleep 6- Shadow in a Screenplay trilogy entitled The Spirit Of Man, that was to provide a fascinating foretaste of his performance in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Rickman often cannibalises himself: here, in this playful madman, is the genesis of his barn-storming Sheriff of Nottingham.

'Peter Barnes is our most Gothic of writers,' as Rickman's co-star Nigel Hawthorne pointed out to me. 'From Sleep & Shadow was a very complex religious thing, but we had a great deal of fun doing it and laughed immoderately throughout - which I don't suppose was totally proper or totally what was expected of us, but it was certainly very good fun.'

Alan was cast as a seventeenth-century Ranter, one of those travelling demagogues who sprang up in vast numbers during the apocalyptic New Age turmoil of what the Marxist historian Christopher Hill termed the English Revolution. The Ranters were



a primitive branch of ultra-zealous Methodists who split from the prim ranks ot the Wesleyans; most of them were harking mad, and there were many great pretenders among the sane ones

Rickman nude his flanboyant entrance in twentieth-century sunglasses, it still amuses Peter Barnes that no one has ever spotted this camply anachronistic detail. 'For the Ranter, the costume was made up from bits of different countries. I believe historical accuracy is not as important as dramatic accuracy, though some of the dialogue was from the pamphlets of the time.'

Hawthorne played the right-hand man of the regicide Oliver Cromwell. He is mourning the sudden death of his beautiful young wife Abegail, played by Eleanor David. Now a pastor, he questions. his faith. This is God's revenge for some unknown sin.'

Upon which cue, Rickman bursts in like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition. 'You sent for me and I am here ..." he says excitedly. 'I'm naked before women . . . proclaiming the word of God.'

Whereupon this extraordinary figure has a seizure, spluttering that Hawthorne had him whipped out of Southwark for enjoying bawdy mixed dancing and wearing shaggy hair and a hat during prayers. Hawthorne upbraids this lunatic upstart. 'I'll still rant with the best of them,' shouts Alan, leaping around the room as if the bugs are biting his bum.

He is Israel Yates, a tatterdemalion mountebank with a witty and paradoxical turn of mind. He mesmerises Hawthorne with his mad staring eyes, urging him to believe in faith-healing and telling him that Abegail is in a cataleptic coma. With his jigs and capers, it's a preposterous but beguiling performance of enormous charm.

'Curing carbuncles and haemorrhoids, capering up and down in the gutters of the world,' is how he describes his vocation. He produces a quartz stone on a chain and waves it above her. a gesture that is very Mesmer. He sweats, and that quiescent hazel snake-eye suddenly becomes bright and human Unfortunately. he's brought the wrong woman back to life - Abegail is possessed by the spirit of Hawthorne's first wife Sarah.

Rickman is a cunning charlatan with a touch of genius, not quite in touch with his gift. Again, very Mesmer. He shouts in Abegail' s ear, playing the voice of God, and then kisses her violently on the mouth. She faints. Then she comes back to life, restored by the sheer randiness of this apparent exorcism. Brother Israel-of-the-

ten-tribes-Yates then boasts: We Ranters who cling to the bright lights of liberty and love.' He exits, but then suddenly bursts in a^in with a thought for the day. There can be no happy glad-man compared to a madman.' He sings and dances on the table. 'I'm shaking off melancholy soul-dust, sister.' And the three of them form an all-singing, all-dancing, table-top chorus line.

After this strange BBC interlude, Alan went straight back to Hollywood, but his inexperience made a bad mistake in choosing The January Man as his second foray. This lethargic and whimsical thriller about a serial killer might have worked if Rickman himself had been the murderer. Instead, he was the artist friend of Kevin (line's ex-detective-turned-fireman, who is reinstated by his police commissioner brother, Harvey Keitel, in order to find the murderer.

Rickman was attracted by the cast - Susan Sarandon played Keitel's wife, on the rebound from Kline - and the prospect of portraying an artist once more was such an easy gig that he nearly did it in his sleep. Perhaps he followed Sarandon's advice rather too literally, for he later recalled, in a Los Angeles Daily News interview, how she had advised him not to think about it too much after seeing him agonise and pace back and forth before doing a scene. As he rationalised it, "You have to let the animal part of an actor have its head.' Eventually Rickman was to patent a peculiar animal magnetism of his own, but in The January Man he was more of a good-humoured sloth than a prowling panther.

The first scene recalled Vidal in Therese Raquin ten years previously. Rickman is an eccentric bearded painter with a dilettante air whose studio has a lush nude model installed on a sofa. Just languish there, darling, don't molest anything,' he instructs her. Kline offers him a job. '1 resent the fact 1 need money,' Alan sniffs, and spends most of the movie squinting at a computer: '. .. trying to get the hang of this'.

He is supposed to be Kline's assistant, offering mumbled insights here and there. To add to the insult, he's dressed like a kooky clown - baggy check trousers, violently clashing neckerchief. He looks like a German artist with his spikily-cut, shaggy hair, beard and moustache. But he makes much of raising a lone eyebrow and producing goodies from a hamper with a sardonic flourish - Alan always manages to manifest signs of humour somewhere.

I'm an artist, I watch the women,' he jokes heavily when he declines to enter the murder apartment. As if to mean business,



he's now clad in a leather jacket that makes him look like an East German dissident with the faintest echoes of Hans Gruber Essentially, he was paid to hang around as a spare part that became an embarrassment to him, judging by Alan's inert performance The film was a box-office disaster.

It seemed that his Hollywood career was over before it had really begun until the Australian Western Quigley Down Under, released in 1990, rescued Rickman's fortunes.

'On Quigley Down Under, I hear he was so hysterical and anarchic that they loved him and he took over the film as a result,' says theatre director Jules Wright.

He had recovered his energy and intensity for another great scene-stealing performance in a movie that he took only, so he disingenuously maintains, to Visit the Outback'. Later he would talk about the 'pull' of the Australian desert landscape, the so-called red centre whose mysterious vastness would attract anyone raised in Acton. Movies are often chosen by actors for their location alone, but in this case Rickman chose the right vehicle. Its politically correct perspective was an obvious attraction for him; but he couldn't resist the subversive urge to jazz it up.

Quigley Down Under has to be the slowest Western since Dances With Wolves, which was made the same year. Rickman gives it a giant jolt of electricity as the guy in the black hat, the psychopathic land baron Elliott Marston. He has shaved off the beard but kept the Valmont moustache and tuft under the bottom lip, which makes him look rather like Eli Wallach at his most weaselly.

His artistic eye insisted on changes immediately. 'When I arrived in Australia, they had me dressed in a purple jacket and white trousers as this indolent ne'er-do-well who sat around drinking glasses of wine,' he told the Guardian in July 1991.

'1 didn't see Marston like that. He lived in squalor. He might drink wine, but from a dirty glass. My idea was to have him dressed all in black, which turned out to be a good choice but a hot one!' The result was a rather sexy character straight out of a maverick spaghetti Western.

Elliott has hired Tom Selleck as the finest long-distance marksman in the world. He wants him to wipe out all the local aborigines, for whom Marston has conceived a pathological hatred after the massacre of his parents. His mother, he reveals on a note of rising hysteria, was even butchered while holding her sewing.



English hunting-parties did in fact conduct a campaign of genocide against the aborigines of nineteenth-century Tasmania; it remains an appalling blot on Australia's human-rights record.

Quigs, a fine, upstanding Wyoming cowboy of no little sensitiv-ity and nobility, is so furious at this churlish commission that he hurls Elliott out of the nearest window. That's another fine defenestration Alan's agent got him into . . . And this after Elliott has even tried to make friends by offering Quigley 'mint jelly on your lamb - it's my own creation' over a chummy meal. Every reasonable person would agree that Elliott has no choice thereafter but to leave Quigs plus leading lady Laura San Giacomo stranded in the broiling heat of the Outback desert as punishment, and none too soon so far as she is concerned. As the childish heroine Cora, Ms San Giacomo is seriously embarrassing ... as well as being half Tom Selleck's size. Only his gentlemanly upbringing makes him put up with this prattling circus midget when most of us would have dumped her in the Outback ahead of schedule; it makes one speculate wistfully about the rather more hilarious sparring partnership that the irascible Elliott would have had with the brat.

When Quigs and Cora escape, Elliott's men make the mistake of breaking the news to him while he's being shaved at the barbers. Hence another entertaining outburst of peevishness from Rickman, who - be he never so villainous - makes a point of observing the proprieties. 'Don't bother to knock, will you? Oh SHUT up,' he snaps.

'He's going to spring something on us during the night - all right, nobody sleeps,' he snarls.

Quigs, however, is captured and dragged back to base on the end of a rope pulled by a horse. 'Good of you to drop in again,' is another example of Rickman's exquisite sarcasm. But Elliott is such a shameless showman that he insists on organising a duel with two Colt guns, which he mistakenly assumes Quigs has never used before.

The excitement of the occasion makes Elliott wax philosophical, another endearing trait in Rickman's laterally-thinking villains

Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent. Oh, by the way, you're fired; he barks with superb delayed timing.

That's his last word on the subject - or any subject. He is dispatched with indecent haste, and the film ends with a scene that



pays self-conscious homage to Zulu. An endless line of aborigines, armed only with Stone Age spears, appears on the horizon. This magic circle surrounds the hostile British soldiery and provides Quigley with a safe passage.

'No animals were killed or injured during the making of this film,' say the credits at the end of the most right-on B-movie ever made (if you count Dances With Wolves as an A-movie).

The life goes out of it when Elliott finally catches that bullet, but Alan Rickman had now established himself on the movie map as the definitive die hard. Twice.



8. HOW THEY SHOT THE SHERIFF                                                                                                      137


Behind the scenes, Alan Rickman takes pains to behave like a real-life Robin Hood. He quietly gives away proceeds from his rich films to poor theatre projects, an orphanage in Romania and other pet causes such as Glenys Kinnock's One World Action campaign against poverty and Children On The Edge. When he secretly agreed in 2001 to voice the Genie of the Lamp in Philip Hedley's production of Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Stratford East on a strictly-no-publicity basis, Alan recorded it at RADA where he has long been quietly involved with fund-raising for his old theatrical alma mater. Yet his sharp looks made him a natural Sheriff of Nottingham.

Everyone in the business has fallen for the rumour that Ruby Wax rewrote Alan's dialogue for the Sheriff in the Kevin Costner movie Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Nearly every person I interviewed for this book muttered conspiratorially, 'Did you know that Ruby . . .?', so it's travelled a long way. It's a great story, save for one thing: it's not true. To be fair to Ruby, she herself has never claimed the credit; instead it was claimed on her behalf by friends and/or admirers who made the logical deduction: The dialogue is funny, Ruby is Alan's friend, Ruby is funny, so . . .'

The real truth behind the Gothic humour of such bravura lines as 'Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans. No more merciful beheadings - and call off Christmas' is that Alan's old friend, Peter Barnes, was the author.

Alan called him in to help as a script-doctor. A downmarket Greasy Spoon caff in London's Bloomsbury was the improbable operating theatre as Alan spread pages of the script over the table and Peter rolled up his sleeves (very characteristic of Peter, this) and set to work.

'1 wrote the dialogue for the Sheriff,' Peter confirms. 'Alan and I have been friends for twenty years. 1 used to work a lot in the Reading Room of the British Museum. There's a working-men's cafe nearby and we went through the script together, because Alan said it needed some work on it.



'So there we were: I said, "Look at us, we've ordered egg and chips and we're working on the dialogue of a $40 million movie!" Alan, slightly misunderstanding me, said "Don't worry - I'll pay for the egg and chips." And he did.

'I made it more speakable. Kevin Costner was clonking around because his dialogue was a bit heavy-going. It doesn't trip easily off the tongue. Alan is a mixture of Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone in the role. There was something about a teaspoon in the middle of one speech - cutting a heart out with a teaspoon. It was a bit oddly positioned, so I made it work. In an action movie, everybody kicks in with the dialogue. The poor old writers are very much relegated.'

The results of that barnstorming session in a Greasy Spoon were such choice witticisms as 'I had a very sad childhood, I never knew my parents, it's amazing I'm sane', 'You - my room at 10.30 tonight. You - 10.45. And bring a friend' and 'Now sew - and keep the stitches small' to a physician.

The year 1991 was Alan's annus mirabilis. Four Rickman films were released, and only one of them - the little-known Closetland - was a flop. Truly Madly Deeply, Close My Eyes', and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves all enhanced his reputation to an extraordinary degree, so much so that influential film critic Barry Norman named him British Actor Of The Year. All three films were in the Hollywood Top Ten.

It was Robin Hood most of all that caught the imagination, though to my mind Rickman has never bettered his performance in Stephen Poliakoffs Close My Eyes. Therein he gave a cuckold - that traditional figure of fun - an unprecedented dignity and complex­ity. Truly Madly Deeply completed the Top Ten triumvirate, remarkable for its raw emotional intensity. Few people know that it is also the story of Alan: the man you see on screen is his real self (save for the fact that he's not a ghost and he hasn't had an affair with Juliet Stevenson).

Of course his mad, ranting, glam-rock Sheriff of Nottingham was a huge popular hit, and so completely upstaged Kevin Costner that there are stories circulating to this day about how Costner removed Rickman's best scenes from the final cut in the editing room. What's left is so wonderful anyway that one hardly needs to bitch about the missing bits.

Kevin Costner didn't really know who Alan was - the name meant nothing to him. But when filming started, Costner realised



what a formidable actor Alan was. Costner has a reputation in Hollywood for being incredibly physically well-endowed. That's why he didn't wear the traditional tights in the role of Robin of Locksley; they made him a pair of breeches instead. However, Alan Rickman still upstaged him with his wonderful roguish quality and powerful presence.

Rickman's single-minded intensity responded to the need for speed in filming the Ј25 million project. The film lacked enough time. We were filming at the time of the year in England when you only have light until 3.30p.m., so it was very difficult to get everything done,' he admitted to Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail in


Yet his Sheriff almost never happened. 'He turns a lot of things down, fussing a lot,' says the playwright Stephen Poliakoff.

'He tends to be a bit of a pessimist; he has mellowed a lot in the last year or so. He's very honest; he sees the pitfalls perhaps a bit too much. He doesn't bullshit and he's very self-critical. And he said to me gloomily that he was about to ruin his career by signing to play the Sheriff of Nottingham in a new film about Robin Hood. I said to him, "Is Prince John in it? No? Do it!"'

So he did, persuaded only by an offer of some control over his lines with help from Peter Barnes. And the preview audiences at early screenings cheered for Rickman, not Costner, hence the notorious cuts in the editing suite.

'At first I thought "Robin Hood - again?" I just turned it down flat. Then 1 started to hear of some of the names involved and I could see the way forward for having fun,' Alan told People magazine in 1991.

And have fun he most emphatically did. '1 tried to make him certifiable and funny - a cross between Richard III and a rock star,' he explained to the Daily Mail. It was that Thin Lizzy Crotch-Rock memory again . . .

Director Kevin Reynolds, who had manifold problems in getting Robin Hood to the screen and lost the friendship of his old chum Costner in the process, wisely gave Rickman his head.

Closetland, Truly Madly Deeply and Close My Eyes were in the can by then. 'So it felt okay to go back into the primary colours and just stride about in two dimensions for a while and have fun,' Rickman told the Sunday Express in 1991.

For someone who is popularly supposed to be politically correct, Rickman has a lot of subversive humour. He's one of the few actors



who could turn the Sheriffs attempted rape of Maid Marian into an absolute hoot without making it tasteless. 'It has to be treated with humour,' explained Alan. 'You give it a particular tone, so that it's one of the more fun scenes. The only difficulty, to be honest was getting out of the costume.'

Dressed in black, with sprouting ebony wig, beard and mous­tache, his Sheriff looked like the proverbial Bluebeard. 'I thought about Richard III and a rock guitarist and I said, "Let's make [his costume] raven so you know who's coming,'" he told Ann McFerran in an Entertainment Weekly interview. 'It was a cartoon ... I didn't want the film to disappear into all that historical business.' Once again, as with Elliott Marston in Quigley Down Under, Alan instinctively understood that the Man in Black always won the style wars when it came to imposing your presence on screen. Would you ever catch Cruella De Vil in verdigris or Darth Vader in violet? I rest my case.

But Rickman's Sheriff made his first entrance as a wolf in sheep's clothing, as it were, by posing as a masked, white-cowled monk on a horse, confronting Brian Blessed's Locksley Senior with the snarl Join us or die' and a quick flash of his shark-like sneer.

The monks close in on Blessed with a pincer movement, their costumes and burning tapers deliberately evoking the Ku Klux Klan for the benefit of Middle America. Poor old Costner wears a duvet (known as a pelerine cloak in medieval times) and bird's-nest hair. Needless to say, he doesn't stand a chance in comparison with Rickman's lacquered glamour. Nottingham Castle is depicted as Dracula's lair; the horizon is studded with shrieking bats. Rickman is discovered nuzzling a girl's body as if chewing ruminatively on a chicken-leg. His head is cocked bird-like on one side at an interruption, a typical pose for him. His chest is bare but casually framed with black fabric: the effect is very kinky and straight out of a bondage shop. 'I trust Locksley has visited his manor and found the home fires still burning,' he says suavely.

His entourage consists of Geraldine McEwan in a white wig as the wizened old witch Mortiana; they make a wonderful panto­mime double-act. The terribly po-faced Robin, by contrast, carries a blind retainer around with him: the self-conscious effect is that of King Lear, lumbered for life with Gloucester.

The Sheriff was raised by the witch, and scenes that ended up on the cutting-room floor disclose that she was in fact his mother.

'Zounds.' he exclaims in horror at the moment of death, 'who was DAD-?'

Rickman's old school master Ted Stead says: 'You cannot get out of him what happened in the editing of Robin Hood, because he's very professional. But he did say, "You should have seen the eyework that Geraldine and I had." '

' The Sheriff casts coquettish sidelong glances at Maid Marian in the cathedral; very reminiscent of Richard III and Lady Anne. You shine like the sun, my lady,' he snarls over Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's hand. The smile is like a rictus grimace, eyes suddenly flashing as if a snake had awakened with a start. He also has the beaky look of a bird of prey, his head so often cocked on one side that one begins to wonder if he's slightly deaf in one ear. 'Locksley, I'm going to cut your heart out with a spoon,' he promises. He slides on the floor in his haste, swats at people in his rage and frustration and repeatedly bashes the guard who let Robin through the gate. As the luckless flunkey falls, his feet catch the end of the Sheriffs cloak and there's a hideous rending sound .. . this is a Sheriff who's almost endearingly accident-prone.

"Now sew - and keep the stitches small,' is this piece of vanity's instruction to a doctor about to patch up his face. A fury of nervous energy, he flagellates himself with rage and stabs at some meat on a plate as it trying to skewer an enemy. 'Something vexes thee?' enquires McEwan's hag demurely.

He even glowers threateningly at his own statue, trying to wipe off its scar. You - my room at 10.30 tonight. You - 10.45. And bring a friend,' he tells two wenches.

The Sheriff skewers his useless whingeing cousin with a Spanish blade - 'at least 1 didn't use a spoon,' he hisses. Even Costner's bare bum can't compete; both he and it are far too stolid. For, in truth. Robin's ponderous tale is in dire need of Rickman's diabolical inventiveness to jazz it up.

'Tell me. Mortiana. am 1 thwarted?' the Sheriff asks McEwan rhetorically, with a smile like a saw-toothed portcullis as he realises he can hire Celtic thugs to fulfil a prophecy and marry Marian by kidnapping her. So a mercenary band of cider-heads makes an appearance, brandishing bloodaxes on the edge of the forest One is again reminded of lulu and the shot of the assegai-carriers wrapped around the horizon as far as the eve can see. 'Get me prisoners.' grates Rickman

As his men send flaming arrows into Robin's Iron Age village, Rickman is caught gnawing his nail obsessively and fastidiously -as in real life. (One suspects the Sheriff was probably a late bed-wetter, too.)

For there is constant human detail in Rickman's villainy Howard Davies, director of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, says that Alan once rang him up in a fury to disagree after Davies had told a magazine that actors needed to find a trait they could love in a character. 'On the contrary,' admitted Davies to Allison Pearson in the Independent on Sunday magazine in 1992, 'Alan sets out by exploring the pathology of a character. He cuts them open and looks for what makes them weak or bad or violent' Indeed, there is a crazy, deluded gleam in the Sheriffs eye almost as if he really does half-imagine that Marian has fallen in love with him. Rickman's Sheriff has been frivolously compared to Basil Rathbone's Guy of Gisbome in the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, but Rathbone was incredibly stolid by com­parison.

'I had a very sad childhood, I never knew my parents, it's amazing I'm sane,' Rickman glibly tells a child whose life he's threatening in front of Marian . . . such an obvious bid for our sympathy vote that it's breathtakingly funny. There's a hint of cynical contempt for such fashionable psychological sob-stories, too.

'If you fail, I will personally remove your lying tongue,' he tells the spy Will Scarlett, who is now suspended by his ankles in the torture chamber. Rickman turns his own head upside-down to talk to him. At one point Rickman goes cross-eyed with exasperation (don't we all). 'Shut up, you twit!' he shrieks. And when Mortiana slaps Marian's face, he rasps proprietorially, That's my wife, crone!' 'For once in my life, I will have something pure . . . will you stop interf… Продолжение »

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