…ris to prepare for her role in Schiller's Mary Stuart at London's National Theatre, Rickman acted as escort and squired her round town, throwing parties to introduce her to people. Back in 1993, when his consortium made its bid for Riverside, he was to have played opposite Huppert in Strindberg's Miss Julie, a much-postponed pet project.

While he was beginning pre-production work on the film version of The Winter Guest, Margaret Rickman became increasingly poorly. Alan was acutely aware that his peripatetic career had kept them apart for long periods. Later, while ostensibly talking about The Winter Guest's central mother-daughter relationship, he was to give away clues to that difficult time in his life: 'It's a moment that comes to many of us. that point when the roles switch and the child must become the parent. You either accept the responsibility and look after your parents or you don't.'

When Emma Thompson came on board to play her own mother's daughter in the film, Rickman had signed the Oscar-winner who would guarantee the finances. As he explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1997, 'Whenever the film version came up, it was son of automatically assumed that Emma would do it too She helped finance the project,' he admitted, 'but it's also a great part

for her as well as being a great gift to her mother.' Alan felt a particular affinity with Phyllida Law, who had, he pointed out, been widowed young like his own mother. Margaret had brought up four children on her own, while Phyllida raised Emma and her younger sister Sophie after the death of their father Eric Thompson. As he acknowledged, the casting of a real-life mother and daughter "could have been a nightmare, they might have been horribly competitive or their real-life relationship might have been incred­ibly complicated to shake off. But their complementary' acting styles and the 'bonus' of their physical resemblance turned them into a dream-team.

Yet, in order to cast Emma, Rickman had to drop the Welsh actress Sian Thomas who had played her role on stage to great acclaim. He hated cutting Sian out of the equation, but it had to be; though he was tired of playing screen villains, Rickman was to discover die hard way that sometimes a director has to play the bad guy for the good of the film. 'It was tough for her and me and it was a difficult thing to cope with in one's head; we'll do something else [together] down the line and I just hope that somehow makes up for it,' he said.

Despite the beautiful performances, however, the film is curious­ly inert, at times too reminiscent of a studio-bound television play. You may find yourself wondering why there are no frosty gusts of breath issuing from the mouths of the characters, who spend much of their time talking outdoors in the frozen wastes of a Scottish mid-winter, but that was because Rickman shot the film in a string of Fife fishing villages from October to December 1996 with the art department supplying the ice and snow that hadn't arrived in real life. The frozen sea was created in the computer; what a pity they didn't muster up ice-cubes for the actors to suck to make the setting look cold enough. A location like Iceland, Rickman explained, would have been 'too cold - and you won't get the insurance to put your actors on the ice'.

By filming a story with such a wintry setting, no one could say that he made things easy on himself as a first-time director; but would we expect anything else? 'It was a great experience, but sometimes it was just awful,' Rickman admitted. As he told the Boston Globe, 'My friend Bob Hoskins says film-making is like being pecked to death by pigeons; I would use a more violent bird. I suppose I saw it as a challenge - why not take it on?'

Why, indeed? In early 1997, while he was in the middle of editing The Winter Guest, Margaret Rickman died. 'He got very in on himself in that period when his mother died; he was very close to her,' recalls Peter Barnes. 'The film didn't help; that subject matter is not a barrel of laughs at the best of times.' Even Alan himself admitted that for him, the winter guest of the title was 'a moment in the life of everyone when you have to grow up quickly'. It certainly was the ultimate maturing experience, that moment when the middle-aged man finally became an orphan and lost the one person who had always continued to indulge him on some level as a child. And for those who don't have their own children, the sense of bereavement is even bleaker.

But Alan doesn't rant and rail and beat his breast; instead he retreats crablike into his shell (also a very manlike reaction, of course). He was determined not to allow himself to wallow in despair, either on or off screen. Yet despite changing the original tragic ending of the stage version and stubbornly describing the film as 'a hymn to life', Alan's wanly delicate directorial debut seemed mired in gloom - though without being Bergman. Some viewers felt, and audiences seemed to agree, that the film was rather precious — in the wrong sense; although it had its admirers among the critics and it won three awards (including the prestigious Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival), the lack of narrative drive hardly set the art-house box-office on fire.

The same charge was levelled at Rickman's next two projects that same year, with Alan returning to acting for the movies Dark Harbor and Judos Kiss. Rickman justified jumping back on the performing treadmill again by saying rather defensively to the Boston Globe, 'Acting is not something I'll stop doing. I can't see how.' He was anxious to reassure himself, after the loss in his own life, that it was business as usual; hardly ideal circumstances under which to make fully focused choices. Yet both movies were offbeat projects that carried the adrenaline-producing element of risk to which Rickman always responded. Dark Harbor, he hoped, would 'turn out to be 'another strange love story in the vein of The Crying Game'. He played the husband, his first spousal role since Close My Eyes, in an arctic marriage that ices up even further with the arrival of a mysterious and good-looking stranger. The latter comes into the lives of a couple when they rescue him alter an accident in which he nearly became roadkill. Playing the wife was Polly



Walker, star of Peter Barnes's Oscar-nominated Enchanted April, with newcomer Norman Reedus completing the triangle as the stranger to unsettling effect. Despite good reviews for the perform­ances - and in particular, a role that astutely deployed the Rickman quality of tumultuous mystery - this wannabe Hitchcock was pulled from its US theatrical release and went straight to video.

From Dark Harbor's location in Maine, he flew straight to Pasadena to film the quirky Judas Kiss, which was also pulled from theatrical release and subsequently premiered on Cinemax cable TV in 1999. Though some critics detected the influences of Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino in the film, it was by general consensus filed under 'cult' - always a useful way of hedging bets. But it did reunite Alan with Emma Thompson for the third time, one of the reasons why he had agreed to do it. As soul-mates in socialism with the same facetious sense of humour, they had become good friends. And, in the roles of an alcoholic police detective and an FBI agent respectively, Rickman and Thompson proved to be dryly amusing in what Variety magazine called 'a wannabe film noir that's badly in need of a rewrite.' It gave Emma a gun-toting peach of a part, and it also cast her new partner Greg Wise, whom she had met on the set of Sense and Sensibility. Alan, by now permanently on the run from screen villainy, saw the chance to escape into lugubrious black comedy in this efficiently plotted but unsparkling script by a first-time writer-director who had been working as a Columbia TV stagehand until just before his metamorphosis into a would-be Raymond Chandler.

To compound the problems, Alan's old knee injury from Die Hard began playing up during the middle of filming Judas Kiss and left him in so much pain that he had to see a doctor. There was to be no let-up, though, because his next film project was due to start shooting in Memphis in February 1998. Rickman was cast as an angel with attitude in Dogma - the latest project from Kevin Smith, the loquacious, self-indulgent writer-director who might one day be a genius if only he allowed himself a tougher editor.

Before arriving in Memphis, however, Rickman paid a flying visit to London to deliver a speech at the National Film Theatre that attacked his old alma mater, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and conclusively showed that the old campaigner in him had not been de-fanged by celebrity success. It's difficult to think of any other actor with his international reputation who gets stuck into the

politics of the British arts scene in this way, but Alan is as much a maverick as the parts he plays. He had discovered two remarkable schoolboy actors, Douglas Murphy and Sean Biggerstaff, for the cast of The Winter Guest, he remains heavily involved in fund-raising for his old drama school RADA and he takes his growing reputation as a mentor for young people seriously. Impulsiveness is not a quality you immediately associate with Alan, but when he feels deeply about something, as Jules Wright discovered, he doesn't hesitate to give it plenty of welly.

Word had reached Rickman of some RSC company members' unhappiness. Never having forgotten his own bad experiences there as a young actor, he called the organisation 'a factory'. 'It's all about product endlessly churned out - and not sufficiently about process,' claimed Rickman. 'They don't look after the young actors. There are a lot of people who slip through the net. People are dropping like flies.' The RSC hit back by accusing Rickman of being 'out of touch', pointing out that the RSC was 'one of the few companies actively concerned about nurturing and developing young talent'. Yet their subsequent troubles at the beginning of the 21st century - widespread opposition eventually engulfed Artistic Director Adrian Noble, leading to his decision to stand down after he had dared to make radical changes to the RSC - were to show that the prescient Rickman could claim to have had his ear to the ground two years earlier.

One of the reasons why Rickman manages to stay in touch with what's hip, why he is considered so cool by people half his age, is that he always takes care to listen to and talk to the younger generation, something he calls 'passing on the baton'. He drags friends along to see such eclectic theatrical innovators as Pina Bausch and the stand-up comic surrealist Eddie Izzard, who has since followed Alan into acting - including a much-admired West End performance in a revival of Peter Nichols' A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg.

'Alan is still very much in touch with the whole simplicity of the process; he stays in touch with the basic elements,' explains Peter James, who persuaded Rickman to give talks to his LAMDA students. Tame and money came later to him; it's always a better way for it to happen than for young actors who have it too soon. He has astonishing leadership and spokesman qualities and he has passionate views on subjects and issues: training, the subsidy of theatre, new young actors.' As the RSC found out.

Rickman went on to send himself up alongside a young cast by playing Metatron, a black-clad, spiky-haired angel or 'seraphim' without genitals - as Rickman takes pains to show Linda Florentine in the film - but with a hotline to God in the cosmic conspiracy-theory movie Dogma. Kevin Smith had written the script while he was still shooting the film that made his name: the award-winning Clerks. Rickman first appears in Linda Fiorentino's bedroom in a blaze of flames put out only by a fire extinguisher: 'Sweet Jesus, do you have to use the whole can?' he screeched. There are those - particularly the self-styled Rickmaniacs on one of Alan's many websites - who argue that he overdid the black eyeliner and sooty hair, which were to be revisited later in Harry Potter. But he got forgiven when this crotchety angel discovered his inner cherub and walked on water to comfort Fiorentino in a wonderful example of Rickman's ability to switch from sour to sweet instantaneously. As Mesmer had revealed, films are collab­orative experiences; the gourmandising side of Metatron, who demonstrated his superhuman powers by whisking everyone to a ritzy restaurant, was suggested by the bon viveur in Rickman.

Rickman followed up Dogma with more self-mockery in the film Galaxy Quest by creating the perfect parody of a self-obsessive Shakespearean actor reaching his career nadir by playing an alien in a long-running sci-fi series and then getting so locked into that character that a bunch of genuine visiting aliens mistook him for the real thing. If he had been a more limited actor, it could be said that he risked cannibalising himself - as Mike Newell's so-called 'over-the-hill cast were sometimes in danger of doing on An Awfully Big Adventure. Interestingly, Galaxy Quest's star, the com­edian Tim Allen, seems uncannily like a younger version of Alan Rickman with the same feral looks, though Rickman would never be seen mugging as shamelessly as Allen can do. 'How did I come to this? 1 played Richard III with five curtain calls; I was an actor once,' gloomed Alan's character, staring at his alien reflection in the make-up mirror. And indeed he might stare, with Rickman resplendent in a sort of fossilised ram's head that turned his character into a distant relative of Mr Spock from Star Trek.

Galaxy Quest was a cunning, well-sustained romp, with lots of subtle jokes about show business along the way, such as: how do you tell the difference between aliens and obsessive fans? It's so marginal sometimes ... Of course, for an alien species to be so

inspired by a sci-fi show that it bases its entire culture on Galaxy Quest was the ultimate accolade for anyone's acting talents. On top of which, Alan got to do the first punch-up in his movie career with Allen's vain leading man. So much for those who say he never mixes it; that he's too aloof; inside that glacial English exterior, there is an Irish-Welsh bruiser.

Such a diverse trio of roles one after the other had established a satisfying distance between Alan and the screen villainy that made his name. But then, out of the blue, came the great Asp Disaster in October 1998 that would, for a while at least, blight his stage career and expose a speech impediment which had never once been apparent in the films that liberated him. Yet, to be fair to Rickman, it had never been so apparent on stage either until his ill-starred Antony and Cleopatra. With someone like Alan, who always takes aeons to decide what he will do, one wonders why on earth he decided, on the turn of a sixpence, to take on such a major role as Antony on the cruelly exposed Olivier stage in a production by Sean Mathias, a hot young director who had made his mark in the West End with a sex-drenched production of Noel Coward's already sexy troilism play Design For Living, but who had never directed Shakespeare before.

Perhaps the fates were against it from the outset, for Rickman took over from Alan Bates who had been contracted to play Antony for some time but then pleaded a knee injury. Not that taking another man's leavings would worry Rickman — he certainly has an ego, but not to that extent. And the profession is full of stories of people who took on roles almost by default, only to triumph; from 42nd Street onwards, it's the stuff of show business legend.

Nevertheless it was a big decision to make in a hurry. 'It's a mystery why Alan Rickman did Antony,' says an exasperated Peter Barnes. 'He had once played a very small part in a production of Antony and Cleopatra by Peter Brook, so maybe that's why he wanted to do the lead part all these years later. But I said to him, "Why the hell did you decide to do it with that director?"'

The truth is that actors are often attracted to a project because of the other names in the cast. Helen Mirren was already on board as Queen of the Nile so Rickman did the gallant thing and leaped into the breach left by Bates to play opposite one of the world's great performers. Not only was Mirren an international name from playing Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante's ground-breaking

detective series Prime Suspect, but also a heavyweight classical actress with a most un-English sensuality that had earned her the nickname of the RSC sexpot in her early stage career. She was no less sexy in her 50s, deciding to go topless in Cleopatra's death scene. The stage coupling of Rickman and Mirren was widely seen as a dream-team, and it set the box-office on fire, selling out the production long before the reviews were published.

Yet Tim Hatley's cumbersome and clunking stage design over­whelmed the actors and the all-important intimacy of the play, which would have been better served in the Cottesloe studio theatre - always the actors' choice - than the problematic Olivier. His voice already muffled slightly by a short moustache and beard grown for the part, Alan retreated into himself and often became inaudible - a problem compounded night after night as the impact of the bad reviews gathered momentum. Most were excruciating, with the headline writers having a field day, though some damned with faint praise instead. 'The grand fall of the great warrior becomes more of a drunken stagger into disillusionment and despair,' wrote the Stage's Tara Conlan, while acknowledging that Rickman 'does bring out Antony's common humanity and his war-weariness - when you can hear him.'

So much for the one original idea in Mathias's production - that the battle-weary Antony should, very plausibly, be an alcoholic. It seemed to have fallen as flat as the rest of the evening, with Mathias lacking the experience in Shakespeare to articulate his theme.

But Rickman was never going to be the ideal man of action; more the ideal man of inaction. With his last Shakespearean role, Hamlet, still lingering in his mind, Alan's Antony was in truth more middle-aged Prince of Denmark than decorated hero of old Rome -as Michael Coveney's perceptive review alone suggested. 'Rickman's Mark Antony is a spineless poet of a warrior, caught with tragic splendour.' Coveney did add that 'his articulation could be sharper. But in his case, what else is new? He cuts a marvellously shambolic and charismatic figure.' But with the production failing to make clear its governing idea that Rickman's slurred diction was deliberately imitating an alcoholic, it was an unforgivable bodge that left the hapless actor in the role of the fall guy. Yet it was always going to be a tremendous risk for someone with a speech impediment to make his voice more slurred than usual, and many of the critics simply made the assumption that he couldn't speak the verse.

Nearly three years later, when the dust had settled, Rickman tried to defend the production in a BBC News 24 interview: '1 was playing somebody who was basically an alcoholic. And I think people got very upset that they weren't seeing a great hero. The point about the play, to me, is that you see these childlike people who were once great and they're now reduced to being drunk, rowing, throwing things at each other . . . It's the most extraordi­nary deconstruction of a great duo, and they're presented as little children.' He was to take the same theme later that year and deconstruct Noel Coward's spoiled Elyot and Amanda in Private Lives; but with Mark Antony, it was a deconstruction too far in trying to turn elements of the play into a Shakespearean Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Particularly when some of the most peerless poetry in the English language had to be delivered in the middle of their spats.

Some elements of the media, scenting blood and detecting a lack of on-stage chemistry between the two leads, stirred things up and tried to make a crisis out of a drama by citing alleged bad karma between Rickman and Mirren as a reason for the fiasco in the first place. But with reviews like the ones the production was receiving, the alleged lack of chemistry would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 'I hadn't heard that they fell out, but it's easy to fall out if you are in a desperate production,' says Barnes. 'You get to the point where you hate going on stage.'

Stories of difficult rehearsals, where the lack of communication between the director and at least one of the leading members of the cast was apparent, had indeed seeped out. Sheridan Morley hit the mark in his Spectator review, when he wrote of an Alan Rickman 'so patently exhausted and dispirited, presumably from rehearsals, that his defeat at the hands of the Romans and Cleopatra herself. . . also came as no surprise. Whether Alan Bates would have survived any better is debatable.'

Rickman angrily refuted the charge that Cleopatra and her Antony were not getting on: 'I've never been closer to an actress on stage than I was in that production. And off-stage the greatest of friends People wanted to create some kind of furore off-stage as well as on.'

Just as well that Antony and Cleopatra had been planned as a limited season  of only  54 performances, for careers can be damaged by a long run in such  a critically savaged production



There are, of course, exceptions: Peter O'Toole's much-panned Macbeth became a must-see, rather like an on-stage car crash, and it merely confirmed him as a maverick steer.

Although Alan was later to tell the BBC that Antony and Cleopatra was a success by virtue of being a sell-out (in the box-office sense), at the time he was so devastated by the adverse reaction that he told his producer friend Paddy Wilson that he doubted whether he would ever go on stage again. And this at a time when American movie stars were already forming long orderly queues to prove their serious acting credentials by appearing on the ultimate live arena, the London stage. But as Paddy knew only too well from their days in rep, when the passive-aggressive Packman is seriously unhappy with a production, he digs his heels in and retreats into himself - with the inevitable result of an underpowered, muffled performance.

Yet the great shock, of course, was that he had first made his name on stage as a character who was a byword for vicious power and control. Suddenly, it seemed that Alan Rickman had lost it.



15. SHRIEKS ACROSS THE ATLANTIC                                                                                                      253


One June evening in the year 2000, Alan Rickman clumped on to the main stage of London's Royal Court with Doc Marten boots, bicycle clips and a bad attitude. Mention to anyone that Rickman was taking part in a benefit for the restoration of Burmese democracy, and they would have expected yards of high-minded worthiness from him as he deployed that cawing voice to its most thrilling extent in a speech or a reading that concentrated minds on great causes. Instead he was performing a Victoria Wood sketch about a stroppy tour guide who had parked his bike in the Bronte Museum before dragging visitors round the place in a take-it-or-leave-it way. The whole thing came complete with a Yorkshire accent - which no one had realised he could do - and the kind of cosmic disgruntlement which men from that part of the world regard as their divine right. He could strop for Britain.

To add to the party atmosphere the assembled actors were all seated at tables on stage while waiting their turn to perform. They couldn't believe how funny and northern he was (the two are not necessarily synonymous). Especially that working-class icon Miriam Karlin, a legend in her own picket line with a long history of radical theatre, the distinction of being one of the first funny ladies on British television and with no film profile to be tainted by.

The legend goes that it took Alan Rickman three years to get his confidence back on stage after the disaster of Antony and Cleopatra. Not so. Nearly two years after the serpent of Old Nile had apparently done for Alan's grand theatrical ambitions, he screwed his courage to the sticking-place and went back on stage in a deliberately low-key way for two one-off events: the benefit for the Burma UK campaign, in which he performed the Wood monologue in those black bovver boots, and a masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket three months later in September. His triumph in Private Lives in 2001 was the high-profile return to the stage that rehabilitated him in the headlines, but it was the first tow events that really broke the curse and reassured him that he could still cut the mustard

Rickman had been contacted early in 2000 by Glenys Kinnock, the wife of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock but prominent

in her own right as a Member of the European Parliament. The Kinnocks were theatre buffs and had long since become friends with Rickman, a kindred spirit in socialism; Alan is also heavily involved in the charity One World Action, of which Glenys is the president. As organiser of a fund-raising benefit in support of Burma's imprisoned pro-democracy Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Glenys had asked Alan if he would join a celebrity cast for the show at the Royal Court in June that year.

Philip Hedley, Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, had a long record in directing such events. He, after all, was the man who had once persuaded the great Peggy Ashcroft to make her entrance by riding a bike on stage while John Gielgud was delivering Prospero's final speech from The Tempest: 'Our revels now are ended'. She was, Philip recalls, all of 73 at the time. Ashcroft had rushed from the theatre named after her in Guildford, Surrey, where she was doing a one-woman show, to reach the Court for the final minutes of a fund-raiser for The George Devine Award; Hedley suggested a bike as a prop to make a joke of her mad dash. That was an historic occasion, and not just because Peggy got on her bike; Laurence Olivier shared the same stage as Ashcroft and Gielgud that night.

Yet many people on that same stage for the Burma UK benefit in 2000 came from, as Hedley puts it, 'a different world' to him and wouldn't have known that Philip the Radical could also direct these mega-starry evenings with aplomb.

Both he and Alan found themselves in the same boat on this occasion: each had been stereotyped by their peers, some of whom didn't know how much either man was capable of. 'I know Alan and Richard [Wilson] from various fundraising theatrical dos and dinners with the usual suspects,' says Hedley, 'and they happened to be standing together and talking to me after the Burma benefit and saying to me, "That was really good." And they're not naturally effusive people. There was a sense of "1 didn't know you could do that" - and yet Alan was getting the same reaction as well from his fellow actors. He seemed so secure in the character. And people there like Miriam Karlin were very impressed by that, because they hadn't known that it was part of his range.'

'Although Alan is very chatty and agreeable when you meet him, I had the cliche in my mind of the highly serious actor,' admits Philip. 'He had phoned me up about the choice of material before

the show: he gave me, as director, a choice of three pieces - and the other two were much more serious. He actually auditioned over the phone, going through each piece. I very much liked the idea of the Bronte guide being wonderfully pompous and unknow-ledgeable about the Brontes, saying "Mind the bike" when visitors were tripping over it while trying to get round the museum. The character was wonderfully ungracious without meaning to be rude: he was down-to-earth, he didn't know how crass he was being. So I was attracted by the idea of Alan doing that.

1 can claim no credit at all for how good it was, because he just did it; there wasn't a run-through. We were not aware he could play a working-class character. This was a very unimaginative man, worthy of a Mike Leigh play; and Alan could do that difficult thing of playing the character genuinely, not patronising him, but also being enormously funny and adept at the same time. He pressed all the right buttons.

'If you had a play with that character in it, you wouldn't have thought of approaching Alan to play it. That's why it was brave: he wasn't using the tools you could fall back on when you're lazy. He obviously went back to his working-class roots in some way; he would have known that kind of man. But,' Philip adds tellingly, 'how many people in any position of power know he can do that?'

How many, indeed? Rickman has fought against typecasting all his life; and it would seem that he had reinvented himself just a little too successfully all those years ago at Latymer Upper. With a background like his, this was the ultimate paradox.

But with so many film offers coming his way, he didn't have time to brood for long about making a proper return to the stage. Invariably he opted for character roles in indie movies, in which he wouldn't be dictated to by a major studio and where his name - that real-life Robin Hood tendency again - could help to raise the finance for struggling film-makers. In a transformation that recalled Michael Douglas's turn as a bespectacled ordinary Joe in Foiling Down, Rickman was almost unrecognisable in menacing horn-rimmed glasses and pinstripes for the role of a burnt-out, but still fully fanged, executive in the corporate comedy The Search For John Gissing, which co-starred Juliet Stevenson and which won the Critics' Choice Award for Best Feature at the 2002 Sarasota Film Festival. Actor/director Mike Binder played an American business­man who arrived in London with his wife, played by Janeane

Garofalo, to take over final negotiations for a big merger with a Carman firm. He was replacing chief negotiator John Gissing played by Rickman with all the venom and passive aggression of one passed over for the job and determined to sabotage his successor at every stage of the game. It was the kind of satire on the corporate ethic, or lack of ethic, that American film-makers do particularly well.

He followed it with Blow Dry, which, according to the end credits, was curiously only 'based on' a screenplay by the acclaimed writer of The Full Monty, Simon Beaufoy. Rickman played an equally burnt-out, but by no means extinct, hairdresser. The Yorkshire accent was deployed again, with Rickman getting top billing in this uneasy and uneven tragi-comedy about a crimping contest. It was the second time Alan had played a cuckold, here losing his wife Natasha Richardson to an over-the-top Rachel Griffiths in one of the least convincing lesbian relationships portrayed on film. Talk about subverting stereotypes: the hair­dresser was the straight guy for a change. Even for a Yorkshireman in a backstreet barber's shop who charges Ј2 extra 'if it wants washing', Rickman seemed unusually dour in the role and, though he acquitted himself with panache in the final scissor-sharpening moments, the film was not his finest hour. All one can say with conviction is that at least he had the hair for it. Rickman defended the film to the Irish Times, revealing that he had wanted to work with the director Paddy Breathnach after watching his sublimely funny gangster film I Went Down. Paddy was a loquacious Kevin Smith, only funnier - except, unfortunately, in Blow Dry.

Funniest of all was Alan's voiceover for a power-crazed pilot fish in the animated feature Help! I'm A Fish, which Rickman imbued with his insinuating brand of cartoon menace. Rickman's pilot fish drank a potion that gave him a human voice and an overweening desire to rule the ocean, which is how he managed to upstage the great white shark in his territorial ambitions. It is left to three child heroes, who have been turned into fish by the same magic potion, to defeat him and save the day. More than one reviewer remarked on how the pilot fish's newly acquired vocals resembled the sinister tones of Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham, who had been some­thing of a cartoon character himself in human shape; here Rickman was really letting rip and enjoying himself in an animated feature whose sophisticated visuals, as The Times observed, paid tribute to



Busby Berkeley, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and even the Beatles' psychedelic period. But there was no doubt who was the star: as the Guardian pointed out. Help! I'm A Fish 'flags a bit when Rickman's superbly wicked character isn't on.'

Strangest of all was the part of Man in the twenty-minute Play, that reunited Rickman with Anthony Minghella, the writer-director of Truly Madly Deeply, for one of Channel 4's most ambitious commissions: all nineteen of Beckett's plays to be screened between 2001 and 2002.

The sight of a landscape populated entirely by despairing talking heads in pots, with the camera focusing on the front row of pots, could have been designed by Hieronymus Bosch in one of his visions of an adulterers' hell. Trapped in an eternal triangle, Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and the lovely Kristin Scott-Thomas were buried up to their necks in gigantic urns with mud-caked {aces as grey as the vessels they had been poured into. There was to be no sitting or slouching and slacking in these pots, as Beckett's religiously followed stage directions make absolutely clear. Despite a fleeting resemblance to the unfortunate, mud-covered Mesmer after he had been tipped from his coach, Rickman was oddly compelling and hypnotic as he and his women chanted the tale of their menage a trois from their earthenware prisons in just fifteen bleak minutes. John Hurt had already made an acclaimed West End comeback in Krapp's Last Tape before filming it for the Channel 4 season; getting Alan Rickman to stand upright in a pot with a face smothered in muck was an equal coup.

Yet there was a perception in some quarters that Antony and Cleopatra had, for a short time, created a blip, a bit of a career-falter; and the media abhors a vacuum, longing to fill it. Somehow the rumour spread that Rickman, long since tired of playing the villains that kept resurfacing in endless television reruns of Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, might want to play the would-be good guy in real life and put his money where his socialist mouth was by following a political career instead.

Neither would the edge that Alan Rickman brought to everything disqualify him. When the spin doctor Peter Mandelson was asked who he would like to portray him in a film of his life, he famously replied, 'Alan Rickrnan - because he is not afraid to play the hard guy.' Being a Labour politician didn't necessarily mean being a softie, as Mandelson, that alarming charmer credited with turning



the labour Party into a ruthless, election-winning machine  had proved only too conclusively.

Because he is a political animal with strong views and a good grasp of policy debate, some of Alan's friends had long speculated about whether he would enter politics. Others pooh-poohed the idea. 'Rima is a very substantial intelligence, but I think there are too many lies and too much dissembling that has to go on in politics for Alan to enter it himself,' Peter James told me back in 1995. Maybe Rickman is just not diplomatic enough.

But an opportunity for the rumour-mongers suddenly presented itself when Michael Portillo was mooted as one of the candidates for the safest Tory seat in the country, Kensington and Chelsea, after the sudden death of Nicholas Scott's successor Alan Clark. With the blow-waved Portillo still giving all the Tory ladies a thrill even after (or, some mischief-makers suggested, because of) revelations in The Times about his homosexual experimentation at university, it was reasonable to speculate that Labour needed an equally glamorous 'star' - or at least one with just as much hair. Speculation about Rickman turned into a story in the Sunday Times, followed by a furious rebuttal from Rima Horton on the front page of the local Kensington And Chelsea News in September 1999. 'Why on earth,' a sarcastic Rima was quoted as saying, 'would Alan give up his highly paid and extremely highly respected career as an actor for the unglamorous and frankly hopeless job as a candidate?' Well, if she must put it that way - quite. 'At first Alan was bemused and then perturbed by the sudden interest in this,' she added, 'but he now treats the whole affair as something of a joke.'

The Sunday Times had pointed the finger of suspicion at Margaret McDonagh, then the General Secretary of the Labour Party, for wanting to sprinkle some show business Stardust at the Party conference that year. The story claimed that discussions were believed to have been held at the highest levels in the party between McDonagh and Alastair Campbell, though the paper acknowledged that Alan had already proved somewhat off-message as a 'renegade' Labour supporter by joining Tam Dalyell, to protest against Government action on Iraq, and Vanessa Redgrave in sending messages of support to the newly formed Emergency Committee on Iraq.

But it still seemed a long leap to make from the undeniable facts: that Alan's partner had parliamentary ambitions and that Rickman



had been a guest at a Number 10 Downing Street party held by the chancellor Gordon Brown shortly after the election, along with Rickman s old mates Bob Hoskins and Richard Wilson and the actress Helena Bonham-Carter. He was also a guest at the election night party held at the Chalk Farm home of the QC Helena Kennedy to celebrate Labour's 1997 landslide victory, but so what? That didn't necessarily make him MP material; it just meant that Helena Kennedy knew a lot of actors. Despite Rima's emphatic denial that the story had any substance, some people remained convinced that there had been loose talk at Labour's Millbank HQ. In August 2002, I phoned Margaret McDonagh at home to ask her to put on record for the first time the truth about her alleged involvement in wanting Rickman to run for Parliament. The story was, she told me, absolutely not true, and she remains as puzzled as anyone over how the rumour started. Т had no discussions whatsoever with Alastair [Campbell] about the Chelsea by-elec­tion,' McDonagh told me. 'I've never known Alan to articulate that he wanted to be an MP. Besides,' she added, 'unless there's some problem, it's up to the local party to choose its candidate.'

Two years after the story had first run and had been rubbished by Rima, Alan finally denied it formally in an interview with Tim Sebastian of BBC News 24. 'I think they tried it on,' he said, not naming names, 'because somebody in a press office somewhere thought they're not going to let Portillo have all the publicity without any challenge. 1 have no political ambitions in that way anyway, so it was complete nonsense.'

Yet his social conscience had not been allowed to rust; it simply manifested itself in other ways. In September 2000, he agreed to do his pastoral bit for his profession by holding a Masterclass, a well-established annual event at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket in which prominent playwrights, actors and directors share the secrets of their trade for free with an audience of drama students and schoolchildren. Rickman remains one of the biggest names ever to commit to Masterclass. Although, unlike some of the other Masters, he refused to allow his contribution to be filmed for television, he honoured his com­mitment despite still being fogbound from a dose of flu caught while filming the first Harry Potter film, The Philosopher's Stone. in Durham Cathedral. Dressed down in his trademark black for the Masterclass, Alan perched on a Dave Allen chair on



stage (.later one irreverent student was to characterise the afternoon in almost Beckettian terms as 'a man on an uncomfortable chair") and established an immediate rapport with the front stalls for what he saw as a conversation rather than a Masterclass, unhindered by ego. Once again, he had stepped out on stage without visible nerves, though he was to admit that the problem of stage fright gets worse, rather than better, with age.

Later that year there was also a further development from the Burma UK benefit in June. That had made public the mutual admiration society between Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood; and Wood, who likes to use actors in funny roles rather than comedians in order to shake up our expectations, asked him to be a guest star in a costume-drama spoof alongside Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant and Robert Lindsay in her BBC1 Christmas Day comedy Victoria Wood with all the Trimmings.

So much for Rickman not doing any television these days; he certainly does parachute in for the odd guest appearance. But for an actor at a certain level in his career, film and theatre remain the most prestigious art-forms; in Hollywood, there's a snobbery about television which means that A-listers rarely do more than the odd guest spot, such as Brad Pitt dropping in on an episode of Friends to have a screen spat with his real-life wife Jennifer Aniston.

And Alan wanted to go back to the theatre, where, despite his fear of that nightly ordeal, he could prove himself as an actor more than in any other arena. Once a play opens, the show belongs to the actors to improve or impair it. Film is a director's medium in which the actors are pawns to be spliced and sliced in the editing suite, as Rickman discovered on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and even on Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Plans were brewing among West End producers for the perfect project for Rickman's theatrical comeback: an RSC Class of 85 reunion - of Rickman, his Les Liaisons co-star and old friend Lindsay Duncan and their director Howard Davies. Yet they were taking risks with the Antony and Cleopatra jinx, by using the same designer, Tim Hatley. The plan was for a revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives, which would, like Les Liaisons, rely upon the sexual chemistry between the two leads - with rather less fatal results And Alan himself was suffering from cold feet about even being in a Coward, as he was later to admit on American TV in The Charlie


Rose Show: he might be a mannered actor in some people's eyes but he wasn't that mannered.

In the event, Hatley's perspective-defying sets were as imagin­ative and daring as the production and the performances proved to be; everything came together. It opened at London's Albery Theatre on 4 October 2001 to ecstatic reviews. An immensely confident and radical reading of the play it rescued Coward from the usual stylised archness and dwelt very specifically on the excitement of sexual violence between two sparring partners; Alan's early years of work with Peter Barnes, in tapping into those dangerous but undeniable undercurrents in the chaos of human behaviour, had not been wasted. Rickman and Duncan told the New York Times that Davies - who made a point of saying he had never read Private Lives until he got the job of directing it - wanted them to say the lines 'without any of the usual stuff that comes with Noel Coward, to make these people real'.

As a result, the smack Rickman gave a hysterical Duncan was only too audible, the passion behind it only too believable as they fought each other on the sofa, unable to live with or without each other. Rickman's Elyot, after all, is the man who declares at one point, 'Women should be struck regularly like gongs', a line greeted with a collective intake of breath from the audience at the matinee I attended. Rickman delivered it scornfully, implying that it shouldn't be taken seriously, that this was just Elyot's bullshittery in the battle of wills with an imperious dominatrix, but he certainly followed the threat up in the struggle with Duncan. They were evenly matched and she gave as good as she got, but Rickman also had the wit to capture the needy uncertainty, the neurotic vulnerability and, most importantly, the self-awareness that gave his Elyot unexpected depth.

There were those - Peter Barnes among them - who thought Rickman was robbed when he lost out as Best Actor in the Tony Awards (to Alan Bates for his role as Zuzovkin in the Turgenev play Fortune's Fool after Private Lives had transferred triumphantly to Broadway in April 2002, though the production itself won a Tony and Lindsay' Duncan was named Best Actress. 'She was sexy, but so was he - and funny as well,' argues Peter. Nevertheless the critics went mad for both of them, with Clive Barnes writing in the New York Post of 'a surprising, electric Private Lives done jungle-style; this Elyot and Amanda have the heady scent of an entire zoo


of predators Rickman feral and unsatiated'. As with the Vicomte de Valmont, he was the wild animal in the boudoir, the man who put the kick into Coward, defying expectations and playing against type once again.

His old friend Peter Barnes had been pretty creative himself, this time on the family front by becoming a first-time father at the age of 69 - his daughter Leela was born in the year 2000. 'I did things back-to-front,' admits a sheepish Peter, who then found two years later that his wife Christie was expecting triplets in November 2002 - the same month that the second Harry Potter film was released. 'My friends can't imagine me being a father, they just think of me as a writing machine. A producer friend of mine went to see Alan in Private Lives on Broadway in the summer of 2002. I told him to tell Alan about the triplets but, when he arrived backstage and said he was bearing the latest news from Peter Barnes, Alan said to him, "Don't tell me, I already know," and started roaring with laughter. His reaction was very similar to lots of people's, and you could almost hear his shrieks of laughter across the Atlantic. I don't know who told him, but he knows everybody, he's so gregarious; sometimes I wonder how he gets the time to do it, but he always has been like that.'

Far from belonging to the W.C. Fields school of thought - that would like to see little people lightly fried - Rickman, despite his sometimes daunting presence, is a child-friendly man.

Barnes was particularly impressed that Rickman made time to come along to his little girl's second birthday party in May 2002. 'Alan is tall and that can be a little intimidating for tiny tots, so Leela was slightly intimidated by him at first. But actors usually get on with kids because they can express fantasy. He brought her a present of an animal alphabet, which she has over her cot; she loves it. It's a big silkworm with lots of pockets containing a letter of the alphabet and an animal.'

Stephen Davis, who has often had Alan's nieces Claire and Amy to stay at his home in the Cotswolds, regards Rickman as a 'virtual godfather to my children Natalie and Zoe. Over the years we raised them in company with Alan and Rima; Ruby Wax and her husband Ed have raised their three children in his company, too. The reason he's not an official godfather is that Rima told us we needed Roman Catholics as godparents because my wife Jane is Roman Catholic. But I've always been sorry,' adds Stephen, 'that I didn't go against



the Pope on that one. Alan would have made a great dad; I suspect the reason he and Rima don't have children themselves is that they came late to the idea of parenthood because of career reasons.'

To those who know Rickman well, it came as no surprise that he agreed to do the Harry Potter movies - which meant filming one a year - after having read the books first. Being a 'virtual' godfather is one thing, but the childless Alan Rickman was to discover another way of enjoying those childhood pleasures vicariously by joining an all-star cast for the big-screen realisation of the most successful children's stories ever written.







Thanks to the success of Private Lives on both sides of the Atlantic, Alan Rickman had proved he was back in action as a leading man. And Hollywood was watching; movie producers are always looking in the shop window of Broadway, which is how Alfred Molina landed the role of a lifetime as Frida Kahlo's painter husband Diego Rivera in the film Frida after starring in the New York transfer of Art.

Yet, because of Rickman's commitment to projects by indepen­dents and his reluctance to sell his soul back to the major studios, his film career had taken a decidedly eccentric turn by the beginning of the 21st century. He not only dreamed of directing again, but also of becoming a producer in order to develop scripts himself. Having arrived at his mid-50s, he was learning to conquer his neuroses and owning up to his control-freak tendencies: 'I suppose it's the director in me,' he admitted disarmingly to a group of drama students before adding: 'But I'm getting better at letting it be.'

At the Brussels Film Festival in 1998, he had argued that 'there have always been actors who have become directors. You only have to think of Orson Welles, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper ... I think that we simply want to "write". Working as an actor in many films allows you to observe directors. It's like taking a film-school course.' Or, as he put it much more trenchantly on another occasion to a group of students: 'You learn fastest if, on the second day of filming, you realise, "It's another idiot."' No wonder some directors fear him. Yet, despite this nagging ambition to take over the show, he will never give up performing. 'Acting is a compulsion,' as he puts it.

Tides of banality and callowness have washed over society over the last ten years,.and Alan has not budged a bloody inch,' said the writer Stephen Davis, making his friend sound like some cranky old sea-god when I invited him to reassess Rickman in the summer of 2002. 'His livelihood is in the celebrity business, but his integrity towards personal publicity and promotion in this New Labour age of cult celebrity and superficiality is an absolute bloody beacon. Of all the people I know who come from a generation

where we were highly idealistic and optimistic, he, along with some of my old college contemporaries, has not wavered or diluted his values. Even when he does Noel Coward

'He doesn't take himself as seriously as other people think he does. Above all, he doesn't confuse the illusion with the reality in what has become a virtual reality society. He's aware there's something more significant. He's not looking for the quick payday the smash-and-grab raid on the BAFTA awards; he doesn't care. He is indifferent to those things, and I think that's fantastic. He's a Bronze Age standing stone,' adds Stephen, who in 2001 became the first person in a century to discover such a stone. Part of a pagan worship site, the 4,000-year-old, 6-foot-high stone was 300 yards away from Stephen's house in his back garden. (He hasn't yet decided whether to nickname it Alan - even though it's the same height.)

Considering that Rickman fears the ageism of the business more than most because he made his name relatively late, his incorrupti­bility shows no little strength of character. He knows what he's up against as a middle-aged actor: 'You are on a shelf with a sell-by date on your forehead. You are in a profession where you are constantly judged.' Yet he has joined die ranks of the movie immortals, celebrating his 57th birthday in February 2003 in the knowledge that he has now become a household name to millions of children around the world for his role in the Harry Potter films. And that meant getting into bed with a major movie studio again

As with Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones series, the first two Harry Potter films, The Philosopher's Stone (known in America as "Hit-Sorcerer's Stone) and  The Chamber of Secrets, reverted to that sure-fire formula for success of going back to the future, with movies that recreated the old-fashioned excitement of movieland's melodramatic past but repackaged it for modern audiences with the cutting-edge special effects of today. After all, that was the whole point of the books themselves, the secret of their success And the movie realisation was exactly the kind of project suited Rickman s retro appeal, which harked back so effectively to a more glamorous age where silken villains prided themselves on a deadly wit and chutzpah.

Yet some argued that Alan had not been showcased to his best advantage in Harry Potter, since he had to share screen space not just with Dame Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Robbie Coltrane and



Zoe Wanamaker but also myriad special effects of the kind that can blow a mere actor away. He had feared the same with his very first movie, Die Hard, but at least that had no fire-breathing dragons or hobgoblins hogging the limelight - only Bruce Willis.

There was no place for the actors to expand in the first Harry Potter film,' complains Peter Barnes. 'I thought they were terribly restricted. I gather that a lot of scenes had been cut, and it certainly gives that impression - particularly with Alan's scenes. But that's formula film-making at its peak, I suppose,' he concludes, shrugging. Tainting by numbers.' There's no help for it, then, but to wait and see it as a series, judging the performances across all seven films.

Other friends feared that, with the role of Severus Snape, Rickman had fallen into the trap of villainy again after years of resistance. But, as all fans of Harry Potter know, Snape, the Professor of Potions and head of Slytherin House at Hogwarts, is a classic red herring: a neurotic, irritable schoolmaster capable of petulance and viciousness but not, as it turns out, a malignant baddie. In other words, he's not as black as his hair is painted, even though he does a very good job of putting the filmic frighteners on. Even so, Rickman had deliberated 'for ever', he later confided, about doing the film - until everyone he knew insisted that he 'must' do it. Why? Because it was an event, a phenomenon. Had he played that old vampire Voldemort, of course, he would have been locked into villainy forever.

Yet, as soon as you see Snape on screen, the logic of Rickman playing him becomes apparent with the unmistakeable influence of an earlier incarnation of Rickmanesque deviousness: Obadiah Slope from The Barchester Chronicles, Alan's first big success. The pasty face, the clerical look, the flapping black cloak, the sulky lips: it's all there, bar the obvious contrast between Snape's lank and sooty hair and Slope's swept-back blond quiff. And how Slope-like are such lines as 'I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses', delivered with Rickman's usual menacing sibilance.

From the very beginning, Rickman catches Snape's vulnerability, despite the fact that the camera is up to its old tricks with him by shooting him up the nostrils in order to depict him at his most sinister. Snape seems frightened and uneasy in the presence of Harry, which puts him on the defensive: a classic passive-



aggressive reaction. 'I think at heart Snape is basically quite an insecure person,' Alan later admitted. 'He's always longing to be something else that people will really respect, like a black magician - not just a schoolmaster. That's why he envies the more popular and successful boys like Harry.'

Snape, of course, does have the secret ambition to be a Professor of the Dark Arts, the source of all the dramatic tension in his character. And in Potter he enviously recognises the real thing: a genuine wizard garbed in grubby schoolboy attire. The legion of adult fans of Harry Potter will appreciate such nuances, but Rickman took care to put on a grandstand show for the tots as well. As J.K. Rowling described him, Snape had 'greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin'. In other words, a pantomime villain on the page, but, with Rickman's performance, a supercilious class act on screen; you certainly wouldn't want to be kept in detention by him.

That was not his only contribution; such is the collaborative medium of movie-making that everyone is encouraged to chip in with ideas, and Alan had not forgotten his art-school training. The thirteenth-century Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire was used by the design team as location interiors for Hogwarts, but other shots of the boarding school for young wizards bore a distinct resemblance to Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire as well. It was not a coincidence: Woodchester Mansion happens to be a special conservation project for Rickman's old friend, the Cotswolds-based Stephen Davis, who has now persuaded the Prince of Wales to become its patron. The Harry Potter people worked very hard to make the location of Hogwarts resemble our conservation project, which looks like a cliche of an abandoned Gothic mansion,' confirms Davis.

Despite his early misgivings and the fact that some of his scenes were cut, Rickman was firmly on board the Harry Potter roller-coaster. After finishing the Broad… Продолжение »

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