…way run of Private Lives in September 2002, he went off to film the third Potter movie.

In the meantime, Rickman had also kept up his commitment to indie film-making by starring alongside Michael Gambon and the model-turned-actress Sophie Dahl in a fifteen-minute silent film about theatre queues, Standing Room Only, which was released in 2002. But he was more in demand, than ever, and yet another biggie beckoned: the latest romantic comedy from the award-winning Richard Curtis.



The Four Weddings and a Funeral screenwriter was making his directing debut with Love, Actually and taking no chances with his casting. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Rowan Atkinson and Liam Neeson were joined by Emma Thompson (reunited with Rickman to play his wife), Sharman Macdonald's talented actress daughter Keira Knightley and that inveterate scene-stealer Bill Nighy for a shoot that began in September 2002.

By 2002, Rickman had also formed a production company with the Australian actor Hugh Jackman, whom he had first met at the National Theatre back in 1998. Jackman, best known to movie-goers for his role in X-Men, had won over British audiences as a personable Curly in Trevor Nunn's hit revival of Oklahoma/, while Rickman was starring in repertoire in the asp disaster on the same Olivier stage. The two men got on so well that when Jackman's actress wife Deborra-Lee Fumess made her directorial debut four years later with Standing Room Only, there was a part in it for Rickman as well as Jackman. Even the names seemed made for each other.

Somerset Maugham's The Moon And Sixpence was intended to be one of Rickman and Jackman's first projects as co-producers, with a screenplay and direction by Christopher Hampton. It was planned that Rickman should take the lead in Maugham's story of a stockbroker who deserted wife and country to become a painter in the South Seas. But, although Hampton was enthusiastically telling me in late 2002 that he thought the part was a potentially great one for Alan, the team found themselves bogged down in tortuous negotiations for the rights from the Maugham estate. The dual role of an actor-producer can be an immensely draining one, though it's a route that more and more actors are opting to take. Yet, as Alan's old friend Jenny Topper points out, 'Acting alone has never truly been enough for Alan.' And support from Rima, moral and otherwise, was going to prove vital in this new venture.

In July of 2002, Rima had taken early retirement from academia at the age of 55 after a send-off from Kingston University that earned her a herogram tribute on its website. Inevitably, her early retirement meant that Rima and Alan could spend more time together. Friends were wondering whether she might join him in his new producing venture. So far, however, there are no signs of Rima, one of the few experts on applied microeconomics with acting experience, joining her partner in the movie-making business. 'He does have this tendency towards the weaker sex,' says

one friend. 'He does like to promote talented women, he's always got a script by some female under his arm. But, although some people say that Rima grounds him. I think they ground each other; it's pretty mutual

"He really admires Rima's mind,' says another associate. Theresa Hickey, "perhaps because, through Rima, he can live a vicarious political life. Actors have multiple identities, not to mention multiple personalities.' With Rima now confining her political ambitions to low-key local-government level, Alan can quietly support her political achievements without the spotlight constantly upon him. If she had been thrust on to the national stage as a Member of Parliament, it would have placed a great strain on a relationship that is based on discretion. And she remains devoted to him. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 1991, Alan described their life together without children as 'like a trampoline . ,. which gives a certain freedom.'

His playwright friends in particular have strong views about what he should do next. Peter Barnes would like to see him doing more comedy, claiming fretfully that Alan 'shies away from it'. Snoo Wilson thinks that the comic roles immortalise him: 'When you have somebody like that who has great comic timing and can take a whole house of people with him, it's like a good tennis serve It comes from a fully integrated mind and body, it's like being able to hypnotise. To be able to embody so many qualities and to be funny as well raises the consciousness of audiences; it's a truly great gift, 1 think. Comedy is a higher art form than tragedy.'

Yet some will assume that he's sold his soul to the devil again and opted to return to villainy if Snoo's screenplay about Aleister Crowley ever gets made with Alan in the lead. 'Alan agreed to lend his name to my script in the early 90s - in other words, he's interested in playing the role,' says Snoo. 'You can then wave that at producers. But 1 want to do it with Alan because he would understand the comedy of it: the part of Crowley is written as somebody who enjoys being awful and has a wicked sense of humour, who enjoys his role as someone who's vilified in the; press as the wickedest man in Britain. 1 wrote it because Crowley's era is an interesting prism through which to look at us; it was the dawn of psychedelia. I think Alan is a supreme comic actor who can add psychological depth even to Coward, which is quite something.'

Though he can be a curmudgeonly bugger, it says a lot for Rickman that so many of his friends have had such big plans for him: to be a great villain, to be a great comedian, to run a company. Indeed, it's surprising that Alan has not shown any signs of wanting to run another, more manageable theatre than the Riverside arts centre. For someone with such decided opinions on every aspect of his business, he remains remarkably elusive and hard to pin down. It's as if, like Colonel Brandon, he simply aims to be a good influence in the background. One can't help thinking that it's a substitute for a family.

Sir John Gielgud always reacted with a certain amount of giggly horror at the thought of younger actors grovelling at his feet and asking his advice 'as if I were some terrible old Dalai Lama'. Alan Rickman seems to have no such qualms.

'I would hope that one day Alan would be in charge of a company. He's very much a leader of men and women. He has astonishing leadership and spokesman qualities. He has passionate views on subjects and issues: training, the subsidy of theatre, new young actors,' adds Peter James, who asked Alan to address his students at LAMDA in 1995.

Peter wanted a level-headed guide and mentor who would not give them false hopes, but who would still be successful and glamorous enough to be inspirational. That's what makes him a great role model: he's a thinking actor. He's being offered parts that take him into the stratosphere, yet he's still asking serious questions.

'He thinks not only about the profession he's in but the political life of the nation. He applies a very strict criterion to what he accepts. His Labour Party commitment is part of a much broader world view; he's concerned with good quality offered to the public. Many actors think "I'd like to do posh work, not pap", but with Alan, there's a moral view about what the public should be sold. It's rather like the Fabian view, although he's not old-fashioned. It's a view about what you offer young people. We share an anxiety about the deregulated free market, whether that can deliver.

'He's anxious about doing quality work,' concludes Peter, who talks about modern standards of 'junk' education and worries that his students haven't read enough classic texts before they arrive at LAMDA. As with all teachers these days, he's even seriously concerned about standards of literacy.

'Someone like Alan, who takes his work seriously, is a person of tremendous value to students. We have similar backgrounds: I came from the working-classes. My father was a casual racist at first, thinking that black people jumped council-house queues and all that stuff. Then he met my black geography teacher who was an absolute charmer. The two of them got on like a house on fire after that.'

Peter believes that Rickman could have been just as successful as a designer. 'He has a wonderful taste in clothes and design. He could equally well have gone in that direction: he has an expertise in all that,' points out Peter.

'He has an elegant, unmistakable face and frame. He is not a chameleon actor, because he is very noticeable. It seemed to me that Mesmer was the next step, and I'm very sad it didn't appear to have worked out.'

'He hates to be pigeonholed,' says Blanche Marvin. 'He's much more an Alec Guinness than a Laurence Olivier, and there has been no set pattern to Alec's career.'

As for the charismatic villains, Dusty Hughes never saw them as part of Alan's long-term game-plan. 'He can do the villains standing on his head and probably yours too. Knowing Alan, he'll always try to do the things that aren't easy. His dignity on stage will become an enormous force.

'Perhaps he's too intellectual to be an actor,' hazards Dusty. 'It's terribly hard if you are that. A lot of directors are serious charlatans. Any director who is like that doesn't want to meet Alan, who could eat you for breakfast. But he's never unpleasant. He's always even-tempered: I've never known him lose his temper. Some directors get by on a lot of bullshit. They are all control freaks; I suppose Alan is a bit of a one himself, though he's low-down on my list of control freaks. He's a very strong personality and identity, a very likeable one.'

Stephen Poliakoff has argued that he 'needs a part that Mesmer was obviously meant to be. Like Anthony Hopkins with Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Alan is the actor closest to Paul Scofield: that worn but urbane and weathered world-weariness Scofield made it with the role of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.

'I was surprised that he took Rasputin after all; at one stage it had fallen through, and then it was on again. He did say that he



wouldn't play any more villains, but it's difficult for actors of his age to get the lead role in films.

'He needs a really good part in the middle of a large film. If he gets that, he could have a career like Anthony Hopkins. Does Alan want that? I don't know. It's unusual for actors to gel as successful as late as that.'

It's canny of Poliakoff to question whether Rickman does want all that, because he's still undecided. He has not quite sorted out his attitude towards the fame game.

On the one hand, he's certainly not a self-publicist like the comedienne who was 'on' for the entire length of a Tube train journey I shared with her. On the other hand, no one wants to be ignored, especially if your face is your fortune.

A female friend tells the story of how they were both in a shop, and Alan was not recognised by the staff. He took care to say goodbye with elaborate politeness. That was his usual manner, of course, but she did wonder whether he was just a little piqued at not being spotted and wanted to give them a second chance to realise who he was. That could have been unjust to him, of course . . . he's a kind man.

'Writers don't have the visual currency of actors,' says Stephen Davis 'I think Alan is ambivalent about publicity. He hasn't yet completely decided what he thinks about it.

'Even I, as a writer, faced a watered-down version of an actor's dilemma: "Shall I live here or shall I go to California and be a stamped-out version of myself?" There's always some price to pay. Thai's what I mean by the Faustian contract.

'I have known him for years; he's one of my oldest friends. It was Alan Who? in those days. And he said Stephen Who? He walks in his moccasins and I walk in mine.

'We all want to use Hollywood, but it's too big. too relentless and too corrupt for everyone to use it,' warns Stephen.

'Alan was educated in the idea of the virtuoso actor being a chameleon.. That versatility that Olivier had. which Antony Sher has. I think Alan recognises that is what acting is .all about. As Alan gets  more successful, he's threatening to become a cult personality. He could  have a tacky career as a Hollywood villain, but he doesn't want that. There are no careers for actors in Hollywood, just careers  for stars.

Tommy Lee Jones is similar to Alan: he gets offered villains because of his strong looks, when he's actually a brilliantly versatile



actor  If you play villains all the time, you just get this cheesy repetitiousness.'

If Rickman is wary about publicity, that is because he fears being corrupted by it. No danger of that, say his friends. Unlike some actors, Rickman has not succumbed to the urge to dump his nearest and dearest as soon as he became a serious Hollywood star. 'Alan hasn't changed at all. People do start believing their own publicity, but not him,' says Adrian Noble.

Not that Rickman doesn't feel exhilarated by America every time he goes there. He walks even taller on US soil. 'When you get off the plane in Britain, you've got to shrink a little bit, hug yourself into your coat a bit more,' he told the writer John Lahr in Woman's Journal of January 1993.

He likes the place because he feels he is not categorised there by the British class system, by the inferiority complex created by his background. 'I stand straighter in LA. It's something about how the English are brought up and what we're told we can expect. Maybe it's because I drive a car in LA and I don't at home. I feel more in charge of myself. I wouldn't dream of being out there as an actor looking for work. To actually say, OK, I'm going to pitch a tent and wave a flag saying "Employ me" -1 couldn't do that. But I enjoy being there. It's disgusting and wonderful. Like going to Dunkin' Donuts every day.'

Rickman's contradictory nature clearly saw the other side of the story with all its pitfalls: 'I like the phrase of David Hare's: "Show business thins the mind!" If you spend any time in Los Angeles, there's only one topic of conversation,' he told The Times magazine in 1994.

He calls himself "an archetypal Piscean, identifying with the symbol of the two fish who are swimming in different directions. That's another reason why he gets on well with women; few men, frankly, are prepared to discuss their horoscope. Indeed, one friend says that he has the intuition while Rima has the intellect. Rare, indeed, to find a man happy to settle into that role without feeling threatened. 'He really admires Rima's mind,' says another associate, Theresa Hickey. Perhaps because, through Rima, he can live a vicarious political life. Actors have multiple identities, not to mention multiple personalities.

'Alan's quite unique in the intensity of his internal life. He's a shifting, mercurial kind of person - and very, very mesmeric,' his Mesmer 'wife' Gillian Barge told The Times magazine in 1994.

Which is why, more than most people, he absolutely hates being taken for granted. 'I don't mind seducing as long as at the end of the seduction there's an idea or a shock; he told John Lahr 'You can lull the paying customers as long as they get slapped. 1 like introducing ambiguity. I like the fact that people get confused about my character.

'In every area of my life, complete opposites are at work all the time. I stagger myself sometimes. Who is this person? The "you" who can't organise picking up the laundry - and you know that "you" very well - watches the other one in a rehearsal situation and says "Who is this person who has all these ideas and all this invention?" There's a very, very instinctive person and a very, very practical person. It depends on what time of day it is, I think.'

Some women, of course, would say it depends on their time of the month. Only Alan Rickman would say that it depends on his time of day.

'Most of our lives we function with a huge divide between the head and the body,' he added. He finally felt the gap had closed when he first got to RADA, but he's still trying to be as free as Fred Astaire.

'1 like getting ambiguous responses from people. I'm not up there in a glass cage to be admired and for people to be enchanted by me. I like to mix it up. Audiences shouldn't be passive creatures. They come to work.

'I want bigger challenges. I want to touch that unknown part where you know you're not just a collection of other people's preconceptions.' Which is beginning to sound positively transcen­dental. As ever, Rickman is trying to rise above what he feels are his limitations. The typecasting is probably because of the way my face is put together,' he told Jeff Powell in the Daily Mail in 1991. 'Each character I play has different dimensions. When people try to stick a label on my life, I think, "It doesn't seem like that to me.'"

He became crossly eloquent on the subject in the 1994 Times magazine interview with David Nicholson: The reason I don't  like talking to most journalists is their desire to reduce everything to a one-page article and to make you compare things. You find yourself forced to answer the question, when really what you want to say is: "Nothing is like anything else and I'm not thinking of anything else I've done, just the job in hand." So a slight prison is




'I need time to go home and find out who 1 am,' he added revealingly. 'Most scripts are like junk food, things to keep the cinema full. Some things I'm offered in the States, I can't actually see why anyone's bothering except for the pay cheque. You read the script and think, "Why?" It's a law of diminishing returns because if I don't believe in it, then I won't be any good. You come to see yourself as a chemical component to be injected into something'

But even that can cause a bad chemical reaction; no wonder Rickman's permanently frustrated, forever chasing some Holy Grail of the perfect performance in the perfect production. He's like the little boy whose mother tells him that he thinks too much.

'You can think, "This is my moment of utter emotional honesty" and then the camera goes another foot lower down and shoots up your nostrils and that's emotional honesty out the window. Suddenly you're being incredibly devious.'

Only the director is in complete control, of course. Which is why Alan Rickman wants to be one as well as everything else.

It strikes me that he enjoyed his villainous parts - while not entirely approving of them, of course - because, fundamentally, they are such wonderful control-merchants.

For Alan Rickman really is the psychopath's psychopath; he would feature strongly in any Good Screen Psycho Guide. In the political satire Bob Roberts, the writer, director and star Tim Robbins chose Rickman as the sinister campaign manager Lukas Hart III because, as he told John Lahr in Woman's Journal: 'I don't like safe actors. Which is why I chose Alan, who has the courage to make bold choices and chew on the scenery a little bit. He's also got a whimsy to him when he plays evil that's very seductive. I'd like to play opposite him in a movie about competing psychopaths. I'd like to try to out-psychopath Alan Rickman.'

No chance. But Hannibal Lecter was the one great part that got away, of course, and it is tempting to speculate whether Rickman would have added more characteristically dry humour than is seemly to the story of a sophisticated cannibal. For there is a tendency to subvert the genre when he gets up there on the screen. Rickman can be a little too ironic, too knowing, to terrify us thus far.

Kevin Spacey, however, seems to have no scruples about playing completely creepy; neither does Hopkins, of course. 'I've only seen ten minutes of the Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal, and I thought it was cardboard villain stuff,' says Snoo Wilson. 'I could



see how an actor of Hopkins' ability would get bored with repeating himself. There's no development there - where do you go beyond cannibalism? What good does making Hannibal do to the planet? Or, indeed, I suspect, Hopkins himself? Apart from his bank balance. So 1 think Alan is probably very wise to diversify. He's not simply being an actor, a mask for hire; he has a lot of other things in his life.'

Rickman's irony comes down to the George Sanders/Claude Rains syndrome again, when he can't resist showing off his wit. The Independent on Sunday's Anthony Lane compared him to that select band of thespian brothers -James Mason, Robert Donat and Sanders - who are 'sensual, unhurried, turning everyone else into jitterbugs. Their villains are played like lovers and vice versa; you don't trust them for a minute, but they won't give you a minute to look away.'

Black comedy comes very easily to urbane British actors. Hans Gruber was only scary by flashes, mainly when he showed his teeth; mostly he was a major stylist and ad-lib man who seemed to have strayed in from a menswear catwalk. And the Sheriff, of course, was a wonderfully amusing cartoon who couldn't even claim to be a legend in his own torture-chamber; fine swordsman though he was, this was the kind of sad chump who would always stab himself in the foot.

The Vicomte de Valmont was the absolute heart of darkness for him; and even then, you felt a certain pity for this self-made monster, who had checkmated himself. There's a hint of the psychologist in his approach, though he prefers to think of himself as a pitiless pathologist. He is well aware of the Fascist impulse of which Sylvia Plath wrote. 'People allow the Valmonts of this world,' he told the Daily Mai! in 1991. 'It was fascinating to watch that kind of evil being so entertaining and erotic. But it was a cruel part to play for a long time. It would take a lot to get me to do that again. I wasn't very pleasant to live with during that period.'

Film allows him to make a quick getaway, from his character as well as the job. Alan Rickman is at heart a theatrical animal because he relishes the control, when the actors take over the play after the

director has finished rehearsals But it also means lingering night after night over every little nuance when it may be driving him mad.

That was why the Sheriff came as such a light relief. '1 thought it important that the Sheriff amused the audience as much as



anything else. People should come out of that movie, having had a good time. The characters were up for reinvention.

'With the Sheriff of Nottingham, it's probably okay to be manic and over the top. It was certainly tough shooting my final fight with Kevin Costner. We didn't have any rehearsal for it We just ran through it sequence by sequence as we put it together, so it had real danger in it.'

Success for him means keeping in touch with reality. 'Being reasonably successful doesn't, God forbid, mean losing touch with what ordinary people are going through. I still suffer because 1 live here and I step out of my front door and smell the quality of life. the waste, the lack of imagination, the appalling selfishness,' he told GQ magazine indignantly in 1992.

The one thing over which Rickman is never remotely flippant is politics. He will keep the light ironic tone when talking about himself or his perceived difficulties with a certain performance, but he takes his political beliefs seriously. There is also a feeling that he should always be seen to be on his best behaviour, that Rima's work makes the life of an actor seem petty and frivolous. Little wonder, then, that he's so painstakingly analytical, so academic about acting.

There is something of the lecturer manque about Alan Rickman, hence the seraglio, the networking, the feeling of a man on Mount Olympus. As his former schoolmaster Ted Stead says, 'He would have made a very good teacher himself.'

Jenny Topper is very perceptive on his appeal to women in particular. 'Women tend not to be very good at being absolute and sure about things,' she told GQ magazine in the same 1992 feature 'Alan has this hand-on-heart quality. He is always absolutely sure about his opinions, what is good writing and good theatre, and he has tremendous loyalty to those things.

'Also, in a totally admiring way, I wonder if there isn't a streak of femininity in him, a kind of sweetness that perhaps you expect more from other women than men.' It is still extraordinary in this day and age that a red-blooded man who enjoys the company of women has to justify himself; not that Alan Rickman does any such thing.

He is fortunate to live among that great big family called the British theatre, a substitute for the more traditional nuclear kind. His empathy with the female sex is accepted and respected.

The playful quality that Jules Wright admired, the playmate whom Saskia Reeves leases all come together in this tall and imposing figure who doesn't need to prove anything. As Elaine Paige once said, small people have to shout 'Look at me, I'm down here.' But showbusiness is full of ambitious midgets. The giants of this world have a more relaxed and almost passive attitude, which brings us back to Alan Rickman's passive aggression,

Friends and colleagues do feel tender about him; despite their criticisms, mostly constructive ones, he is regarded as a force for good. As with Latymer, he cocoons himself within an inner circle of supporters. And, as with all mavericks, he gravitates towards film roles that are sometimes glorified versions of cameos.

In his ideal world, designer, director, writer and actors would come to rehearsals with nothing decided and they would all have a great big glorious nit-picking session. He's taking the academic approach of a tutorial, influenced by his partner Rima.

The acting world knows it as the improvisation process that has been perfected by the idiosyncratic film-maker Mike Leigh. Actors, though they may curse the Method-acting process at times, low the challenge because they feel they have completely created their characters. No longer are they thought to be stupid, empty vessels into which tyrannical directors pour their fatuous fantasies.

There is a blurring between what 1 am asked to do as an actor, what 1 can do and what I'm actually like. It has very little to do with me as a person,' Rickman insisted in a Drama magazine interview.

He is a star by instinct on screen. Colonel Brandon was disappointing precisely because there was too little on which to work. Rickman still needs to bring something of himself, to project his own personality with that supreme gift of which his friend Stephen Davis speaks.

Alan Rickman is constantly at odds with himself. Given his eloquence and his status as an actor's adviser, he seems to be strangely inhibited about putting his thoughts down in permanent form. That one essay on Jaques. when he played the old poseur in Adrian Noble's As You tike It. is his only published work

There is another side to him that has never been fully developed: the enticing prospect of an all-singing, all-dancing Alan Rickman to recall his days in Guys And Girls in repertory theatre at Leicester. The longing to be as tree as Fred Astaire has not left him.



He won an award at the 1994 Montreal Film Festival for Mesmer, the Evening Standard Best Actor award in 1991 Best Supporting Actor at the 1992 BAFTAS and an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Rasputin. But if he's to be more than the Gossard Wonderbra of acting, Alan Rickman must take control of himself and emerge as a force in his own right - not a flashy foil.

It is relatively easy to hide behind the lead actor, to peer slyly out and be subversive and steal the show. What is harder is to carry the show on your own shoulders; and even he couldn't do that with Mesmer.

One returns to the question raised by Jules Wright, in some ways his fiercest but fondest critic. She saw in him the potential to be a leader, but she had to fight against prejudice from those who thought him merely reactive rather than proactive. For all his insistence on living in the real world and not forgetting his roots, there is something rarefied about Alan Rickman. He tries not to be precious, but there are times when he takes himself just a little too seriously. And friends saying 'He's too intellectual to be an actor' hardly help.

Certainly he feels self-conscious about being one of life's observers as opposed to participators; although he will bridle and insist, as he did with Michael Owen in the London Evening Standard in 1993, that he's always 'got stuck in'.

Well, you can't get stuck in if you don't bang on doors to ask people to vote for your girlfriend because you feel your face is too famous. Wear a pair of glasses or a wig.

Deep down, it's not that he's shallow as the joke goes but that he has an atavistic working-class distrust of anything that is not quite a proper job. One that doesn't leave you with chilblains or ink on your fingers or warts on the palm of your hand. As he once said, acting is 'mostly a great deal of fun'. Hence all the agonising as he endeavours to take everything seriously, tries to analyse what cannot be analysed, especially those strange instincts for perform­ing that take over the body and which cannot be fully articulated.

The only time that Alan Rickman ever got his fingers filthy at work was when he took care to put dirt under his nails in order to play the Vicomte de Valmont. It was, as always with his artist's eye, an inspired detail. The man was, after all, nothing more than a filthy scoundrel, so he might as well look like the kind of rough trade that didn't wash properly.

Rickman is an endearing man, kindly and well intentioned, despite some spectacular sulks that make him seem like a bloody-minded, crotchety human being rather than some effete thespian godhead. Of the kind to be superstitiously touched in awe, as if he imparted some magic power. Alan Rickman made it when he was 42, so there's hope for the rest of us. If he sometimes sounds pompous, that goes with the territory in a looking-glass world.

There is no doubt that he felt damaged by the Riverside debacle, which thrust him centre-stage in an impossible situation. He may recover and see fit to run his own theatre one day, but it would probably be a tiny studio one such as the Bush, which saved him from the emotional fall-out from the RSC. Meanwhile, he will go on making bigger and bigger movies, always holding something back and luring you further and further into the heart of his darkness or whatever else is on offer. He's a seductive actor.

They rightly call him standoffish, since he's so good at staging stand-offs. But he's also good at seducing, mainly the audience. He's always one step removed, as with all the great stars who play to their fans.

The world awaits Alan Rickman's first real screen love scene: but it will be conducted with the utmost decorum and erotic power, probably with all his and her clothes on. The Japanese would understand such a concept; indeed, they're a Rickman-friendly people. They understand his haughty elegance and delicate sense of style.

There may come a day when Rickman realises that not everything Dennis Potter wrote was wonderful; he may even try to do better himself. And Mesmer will disappear into the mists of history, like the man himself.

Whither Alan Rickman? Well, clearly age doesn't wither him nor custom stale his infinite variety of cinematic and theatrical moods. He has produced an impressively diverse portfolio so far, even if the public - being a perverse lot - warm to the criminal element most of all.

'Alan used to get very cross with me at the Bush,' Jenny Topper told GQ magazine in 1992, 'when I would suggest an actor for a part and ask his opinion. "Of course he can do it," he would say. "He's  an actor, isn't he?" He honestly believes any actor should be able to play any role.' What Clifford Williams calls 'the fat Hamlet syndrome'.



On radio, he certainly did play many different roles: even the trademark voice has been different. On stage and television and film, he most emphatically has done so far. But always flavoured with that pungent aroma, Essence Of Rickman.

The difference between Claude Rains and Alan Rickman - both very feline, subtle actors of great finesse - is the latter's sexy electricity and physicality. There's an incandescence that a million light bulbs can't provide; an intensity, a magnetism that you can't fake. It's easier to simulate sincerity.

What he does with his power next could turn him into a greater star than Anthony Hopkins. It depends on how much Rickman really wants it.

The Faustian contract comes into the frame again as Alan broods about his next step, giving - as Peter Barnes puts it - the decision-making process the full Hamlet treatment. To be a star, or not to be a star? So long as he doesn't have to sell his soul to a damnable film. There have been very few flops in Rickman's movie career; but he's such a workaholic that he makes enough successes to cover up the failures.

If, however, he doesn't make time for more carefully-chosen, prestigious theatre work, then he will become the star turn in movies instead of the star. The man who is brought in to add a touch of class. It's a nice living, but it's a bit frivolous.

Alan Rickman has been the ultimate novelty act so far, a magician of the cinematic senses. There's still a hint of the dilettante about him; could he, like Anthony Hopkins, play Richard Nixon? Or do the crowds simply want him to provide the cabaret, to do one of his dazzling routines that brought the house down at Latymer Upper all those years ago?

Stephen Davis calls him an enigma, not least to his friends. He's also an enigma to himself, an honoured visiting alien in Hollywood who doesn't quite fit into the British theatrical scene either. But that's a problem facing all British actors who try to make it in America, given the embryonic nature of the film industry over here. They become strangers in their own land.

Alan Rickman has become best known for being the Autolycus of the acting trade, the picker and stealer, the grand larcenist par excellence.

Now he needs to make his indecision less final in order to march triumphantly on to the next stage.



THEATRE: Seasons in rep (from 1974-78) at Library Theatre Manchester (1974); Haymarket and Phoenix Theatre Leicester (1975); Crucible Theatre Sheffield (1976-77); Birmingham Rep Theatre and Bristol Old Vic (1976-78).

As actor: The Devil Is An Ass and Measure For Measure (Birmingham, touring to Edinburgh Festival and National The­atre), 1976-77; The Tempest, Captain Swing, Love's Labours Lost and Antony And Cleopatra (RSC), 1978-79; Antonio (Nottingham Playhouse), 1979; Fears And Miseries Of The Third Reich (Glasgow Citizens' Theatre), 1979-80; The Summer Party (Crucible Shef­field), 1980; The Devil Himself (Lyric Studio Hammersmith), 1980; Commitments (Bush Theatre), 1980; Philadelphia Story (Oxford Playhouse), 1981; The Seagull (Royal Court), 1981; Brothers Karamazov (Edinburgh Festival and USSR), 1981; The Lost Elephant (Bush Theatre), 1981; Bod Language (Hampstead Theatre Club), 1983; The Gross Widow (Royal Court), 1983; The Lucky Chance (Royal Court), 1984; As You Like It, Troilus And Cressida, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Mephisto (RSC), 1985-86; Les Liaisons Dangereuses (West End and Broadway), 1986-87; Tango At The End Of Winter (Edinburgh and West End), 1991; Hamlet (Riverside Studios and British tour), 1992.

As director: Desperately Yours (New York), 1980; Other Worlds (assistant director, Royal Court), 1983; Live Wax (Edinburgh Festival), 1986; Wax Acts (West End and tour), 1992; The Winter Guest (West Yorkshire Playhouse and Almeida Theatre), 1995; Antony And Cleopatra (Royal National Theatre), 1998; Private Lives (West End and Broadway), 2001 and 2002.

TELEVISION: Romeo And Juliet (BBC), 1978; Therese Raoutn (BBC), 1979; Barchester Chronicles (BBC), 1982; Busted (BBC), 1982; Pity in History (BBC), 1984; Benefactors (BBC), 1989; Revolution­ary Witness (BBC), 1989; Spirit Of Man (BBC), 1989, Fallen




Angels, 1993; Rasputin (HBO), 1995; Victoria Wood With All The Trimmings (BBC), 2000; Play (Channel 4), 2000.

RADIO: The Dutch Courtesan, Actors, Polly, Rope, Manchester Enthusiasts, Gridlock, A Trick To Catch The Old One, Billy and Me, A Good Man In Africa, That Man Bracken, Blood Wedding, The Seagull, The Magic O/ My Youth.

FILMS: Die Hard, 1988; The January Man, 1989; Quigley Down Under, 1990; Truly Madly Deeply, 1991; Closetland, 1991; Close My Eyes, 1991; Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, 199-1; Bob Roberts, 1992; Fallen Angels, 1993; Mesmer, 1993; An Awfully Big Adventure, 1994; Sense And Sensibility, 1995; Michael Collins, 1995; Rasputin, 1995, The Winter Guest (as director), 1997; Lumiere And Company, 1995; Dark Harbor, 1997; Judas Kiss, 1997; Dogma, 1998; Galaxy Quest, 1999; Blow Dry, 1999; The Search For John Gissing, 2000; Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, 2001; Standing Room Only, 2002; Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, 2002.






PROLOGUE: VINEGAR IN THE SALAD                                                                                                      1

1. THE FAUSTIAN GIFT                                                                                                      19

2. THE SURROGATE FATHER                                                                                                      33

3 'HE'S VERY KEEP DEATH OFF THE ROADS                                                                                                      53

5. 'I WANT WOMEN’                                                                                                      87

8  VALMONT IN CURLERS                                                                                                      103

7. A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL                                                                                                      111

8. HOW THEY SHOT THE SHERIFF                                                                                                      137

9. IMMORTAL LONGINGS                                                                                                      157

10. THAT SINKING FEELING                                                                                                      173

11. ANIMAL MAGNETISM                                                                                                      195

12. 'GOD DIDN'T MEAN HIM TO PLAY SMALL ROLES                                                                                                      213

13. ROCKET TO THE MOON                                                                                                      233

14. THE BLEAK MID-WINTER                                                                                                      243

15. SHRIEKS ACROSS THE ATLANTIC                                                                                                      253

16. THE SLITHERY SLOPE TO SNAPE                                                                                                       265

CHRONOLOGY OF ALAN RICKMAN CAREER                                                                                                       283

INDEX                                                                                                      285





Alan Rickman's school nativity play (C. Hulloh)

Alan Rickman in Guys and Dolls, 1975 (Haymarket Theatre)

Alan on tour with the rep in Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken (Gerald Murray)

First stint at the RSC with Glenda Jackson and Juliet Stevenson (Shakespeare Centre Library/Joe Cocks)

As Antonio in 1979 (Shakespeare Centre Library/Joe Cocks)

As Achilles in Troilus and Cressida (Shakespeare Centre Library/Joe Cocks)

The cast of Lucky Chance As Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (ShakespeareCentre Library)

First cinematic role in Die Hard (Peter Sorel) Truly Madly Deeply with Juliet Stevenson (ВВС/Film Four)

Close My Eyes with Saskia Reeves and Clive Owen (Kobal) As the psychotic Sheriff of Nottingham (Morgan Creek)

The ultimate challenge - as Hamlet in 1992 (Nottingham Playhouse/ Donald Cooper)

Taking the lead role in Dennis Potter's Mesmer (The Ronald Grant Archive)

As Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (Kobal)

With Rima Horton, his partner (Rex Features)

In Galaxy Quest (The Ronald Grant Archive)

As Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (The Ronald Grant Archive)

With Mel Smith at the Latymer Arts Centre (Latymer Upper)




In November 1994. 1 asked Alan Rickman via his agent whether he would be interested in co-operating with a biography to be published in the landmark year of his 50th birthday. In January 1995, .Alan wrote me a scrupulously polite refusal in what the denizens of Wayne's World would call 'most excellent" handwriting; the influence of his art-school training is immediately apparent in me calligraphy.

Mal Peachey. my editor at Virgin, was so persuasive, however, that I decided to go ahead with the book. I informed Alan of my intentions, jokily begging him not to reach for the elephant-gun or the smelling-salts. He sent me another handwritten letter. 'Looking backwards is a strange thing to do - I will do it, but not now. It would take the smelling-salts, the elephant-gun and a large dose of hindsight to change my mind . . .' Looking back is, indeed. a strange thing to do; but in this case, it has been a fascinating and worthwhile exercise to study this unique actor and director. And when Virgin asked me to update the biography six years after the first editions, the case for a second edition seemed overwhelming in view of Rickman's output since 1996.

I am particularly indebted to the following people for their help: Peter Barnes. Stephen Davis, Jenny Topper, Thelma Holt. Blanche Marvin, Jonathan. Powell, Catherine Bailey. Jules Wright, Jane Hackworth-Young, Stephanie Penneil. Gwenda Hughes. Michael Bogdanov. Clare Vcnables. Richard Wilson. Howard Davies. Ruby Wax, Christopher Hampton. Maggie Todd. Christopher Biggins. Dusty Hughes, Mike Newell, Feicr James. Stephen Poliakoff. Harriet Walter. Adrian Noble, Emma Hardy. Nigel Hawthorne. Simon McBumev. Man Whiitingdale. Roger Spouiswoode. Clif-ford Williams, Stephen Crossley. Johnny Perkins. Trevor Nunn. William Burdett-Coutts. Saskia Reeves. James Sluw of the Shake-speare Birthplace Trust, Dave Granger, PaddvWilson, Chris Taylor. David Rich of Channel 4. Nigel Orton and Chns Hammond of Latymer Upper School. Edward' Stead. Matthew Bond. Barry Burnett. Wendv Ducon of West Acton Primary School. Charlotte Tudor, Charles Prater of Silverdade. Theres, Hickey, Ian Francis.

and Jonathan Donald of the Kensington News. John Frebble. Robert Cushman. Robert Holman. Ang Lee. Susanna Homg. Simon Langton. June Winters and Judy Arthur of Home Box Office. Iain Coleman. Peter Savage, Martin Reddin, Sheridan Fitzgerald, Susie Figgis, James Shirras of Film Finances Services Ltd, Ian Herbert of Theatre Record, Max Stafford-Clark. Snoo Wilson, Philip Hedley. John Byer and others who wished to remain anonymous.

Finally. I would like to thank my editors Mai Peachey and Kirstie Addis and my agent Judith Chilcote tor their rigorous encourage­ment and advice, and my husband Liam Maguire for putting up with me.


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