Acclaimed British actor Alan Rickman burst on the scene as the evil nemesis, Hans Gruber, in the 1989 Die Hard and has not stopped since. His upcoming film, Nobel Son, has the versatile actor playing a brilliant but selfish scientist who is about to win the $2M Nobel Prize, only to have his estranged son kidnapped and held for $2M ransom. Alan Rickman sits down with Buzzine and talks about the movie, as well as some inside scoop on his upcoming film, Alice in Wonderland.
Izumi Hasegawa: You’re much nicer in person!
AR: He’s sweet in the movie [Nobel Son].
IH: Compared to whom?
AR: Most other men, probably.
IH: Did you have fun playing an egocentric?
AR: Well, it’s always good to let rip in areas that you’re normally supposed to be more polite in and self-effacing. So yeah.
IH: Did you walk around with your head a little higher?
AR: [Laughs] No, at this point in my life, I think I know where the acting stops and the life hopefully begins. There’s a cutoff point — when they say “cut.”
IH: What jumped out about the script?
AR: What I love about Randy [Miller] and Jody [Savin]‘s work is that you can’t pin any labels on it at all. So it’s going to be there to discover as you shoot it. It’s funny. Yes, it’s sort of who did what, when and how, and it’s got kind of classic thriller elements to it, but it’s all of that stuff. That’s not a bad thing. It pulls the rug out from people’s preconceptions, so you have to be sat down and told a story.
IH: Is this your second or third time working with them?
AR: Second. That’s it. Those two [Nobel Son and Bottle Shock].
IH: This [Nobel Son] was second?
AR: No, the other way around. We did this one [Nobel Son] first.
IH: How was working with Bill Pullman again?
AR: I didn’t have that much to do with Bill in Nobel Son, if anything. I’m trying to remember now. Very little. I’m a huge admirer of Bill’s as a stage actor and film actor, so that was a treat to know that he was involved. Then, of course, we had a lot closer involvement in Bottle Shock, so he’s a good friend, I hope.
IH: Was that your first fart joke?
AR: I think that would be a first. [Laughs]
IH: How did it feel to go scatological?
AR: Well, he’s Mr. Basic Needs, isn’t he? I eat. I take my pants off. I loosen my stays. I am man.
IH: Is he just going back to his old ways at the end?
AR: Exactly, it may have gone down to an ember, but the flame — the phoenix will rise.
IH: Do you think he would?
AR: Yeah, because those kind of guys may be down, but they’re never out.
IH: So he didn’t learn anything from what happened?
AR: He will learn nothing. [Laughs] It’s not his aim to learn anything because he knows everything.
IH: Did you study any chemistry?
AR: It would’ve been a waste of time because I think I vaguely remember getting 4% for physics at school. It was not an area of expertise for me — anything to do with science.
IH: Was it hard to memorize the technical terms?
AR: No, because you often have to memorize things you don’t understand in other roles. At least I didn’t have to demonstrate any detailed knowledge or experiments or anything.
IH: Did you know anyone in academia you took inspiration from?
AR: Nobody specifically. It was made very clear to me that this was, in some ways, a portrait of Randy’s father, who I don’t know.
IH: What about playing Mary Steenburgen’s husband and being a shit in scenes with Ted [Danson] later?
AR: Well actually, it wasn’t about Ted being there but it was more you had to kind of figure out why the hell is she still with this man. There’s got to be some reason that they got together. Thank God for the scene in the back of the car. I think really, when you just think well, there is some knowledge, some affection, some sense of the past… I guess like a lot of marriages, people cling to a memory, maybe for too long as the reality [laughs] eats the flesh from the bones and you lose the power of choice or something. But I think a lot of the time, you’re just grateful to be working with someone like Mary, where no acting is required because you’re just listening and answering. There are no judgments being made of characters. You just play the situation that you’re in.
IH: How was working with Randall?
AR: He’s a kind of force of nature really. He appears to require no sleep in life. He’ll shoot all day and then go home and edit all night, and then show up the next morning. He’s very open to actors’ suggestions. He knows what he wants and he knows what he likes, but there is a good deal of improvisation in the air.
IH: Nobel Son is based on his father?
AR: Yeah, you better ask him about that because I never met his father, but clearly his father was difficult.
IH: Do you look for the same things in scripts now as years ago?
AR: I’m looking for older characters. [Laughs] I’m never really looking for anything. I’m looking to be surprised and to have one’s instincts engaged with a piece of writing rather than anything planned. I think if you make decisions before you read something, then you’re not free. I’d much rather just turn page one and start to get a flavor of a character. That’s what an actor is, I think. You’re a bundle of instincts that you fling at something called training, and you hope training orders it a bit for you so that you can make choices, but ultimately you’re dependent on your instincts and your imagination, and that’s something you can’t pin down.
IH: What is the process to get a script to you? Do you want to read everything?
AR: I do, yeah. I’m sure it’s different for everybody, and there are a lot of independent movies out there trying to get funded. There’s a big pileup of scripts. I’m not talking about me in front of actors. Sometimes you can’t think because there’s too much stuff to read, so therefore agents and managers and all of that try to make your life a bit simpler, but sometimes it can create a block. Somewhere in there is a Nobel Son – a script that’s really beautifully written and is fighting to be read by somebody who will help it get made. So I don’t know quite what you do, except what I do is say I need to know about everything. I think you can sometimes tell from a synopsis. I mean, you can’t tell everything, but you can tell from where maybe the filmmakers have come from and what their history is, whether it’s going to be something somebody should take a look at.
IH: Have you started Alice in Wonderland yet?
AR: I have, yeah. I was here yesterday because it’s just in the next sound studio.
IH: Is it warmer there?
AR: Yeah, although not a lot, actually.
IH: You are doing a voice for a character?
AR: I’m a voice, but I have been filmed because it’s my face who will be on the end of something that will be the caterpillar. So it’s the first time that they’ve mixed three disciplines, I suppose — live action, animation, and stop motion. I think I’m part of the animation bit, and I saw Helena [Bonham-Carter] and Crispin Glover yesterday. They’re a mixture of the two, actually, because there’s Helena in a costume and in makeup but her head is going to be made three times bigger than it actually is on top of the costume.
IH: Since we’ve read the book and seen the Disney version, how is Tim Burton’s caterpillar different?
AR: I don’t know yet because I don’t know what it looks like, so I’ve only done the first stage of it, which is them recording me saying these lines quite badly. Then, somewhere down the line, they’ll have animated it and I’ll redo it.
IH: Are you working with Mia [Wasikowska]?
AR: They’re shooting with her and Helena, although Helena finished yesterday. I don’t really know what they’re doing, to be honest. I just visited yesterday. I think they’re all just blinded by the color green. It must be quite something to be surrounded by that much violent green all day long, but the costumes — one or two I saw — are incredible. I’m sure it’ll be visual genius again.
IH: Will there be less indie films in these economic times?
AR: I don’t know the answer to that. I suppose the truth of the matter is that the two things that are probably not going to be hurt so much will be movies and takeaway pizza parlors. [Laughs] You know, everybody can rent a movie and eat the pizza. Maybe there’ll be more made because the budgets are lower and they can be shot quicker.
IH: Are you based here [in Hollywood]?
IH: Considering the economy, what sort of Christmas gifts will you be giving this year?
AR: [Laughs] They’ll be late, whatever they are, because I’m actually spending Christmas in the States. People in England will be getting a wave.
IH: What do you think of the future of the UK film industry?
AR: It’s very dependent on the future of the U.S. film industry. We’re like the 51st state in every way, I think. We can make indigenous products like Atonement, I guess, but they can’t be made without American money and American green lights. It’s all very linked, but the film industry is a reflection of the society you live in, isn’t it? It’s a question of what stories do people want to be told. How much do you honor that human need, or how much do movies just become the thing that’s going on while you’re ramming popcorn in your face and spending a couple of hours that you may never get back? You could do that in an interesting way or you could do it in a mindless way, I suppose, and that depends on the way the world goes and what it thinks movies are for. Good luck, Obama, that’s what I say.
IH: Do you read theater projects just as often?
AR: Yeah, I’ve just directed a play in London at the Donmar Warehouse, and that was very much about Michael Grandage saying, “Would you like to direct this play?” and me reading it and saying, “Yes, I would, and I am free for these eight weeks.” If it’s ever possible to jump quickly with a piece of theater or see a space, then of course I will and always will.
IH: Any plans to turn the plays you directed into movies?
AR: Not the last two, no, but I am attached to direct a movie which is sort of linking British and American film industry – The House in Paris, which is a beautiful book by Elizabeth Bowen. With a bit of luck, we might even shoot it this year.
IH: Will you act in it?
AR: No, I’ll just direct.
IH: Do you make more PR effort for the smaller films?
AR: Yeah, I don’t know how to make the answer longer, but I guess publicity is part of the life of a movie, and you have to accept that. People have to be persuaded to go and see it, and if you like the project, which I do, then one’s happy to do it. Some of the bigger budget things don’t need so much help.
IH: People know about Harry Potter already.
AR: Well, exactly. And as is probably well known by now, I don’t like talking about it because it’s a complicated story that I am part of, so I don’t like giving anything away to kids who haven’t got that far yet.
IH: Any thoughts on doing the last book as two movies?
AR: Well, because they have to get me and Ralph Fiennes together, it means I don’t start shooting it until the end of next year, which means I get room now in this coming year, so it’s going to be long. I was talking to Helena yesterday. I think she starts in June and she goes on for a long time. Well, it’ll be a big finish, won’t it? That’s true…and appropriately. Yeah, you can feel it now, the size of the undertaking. Watching Daniel [Radcliffe], I didn’t see him but I saw a trailer for him being on Inside the Actor’s Studio and you think, “Wait a minute — he’s 12! Oh. Perhaps he isn’t.”
IH: Have you ever done a movie just for the money?
AR: No. That doesn’t mean to say I haven’t appeared in some sh*t, but it’s not always controllable. I wouldn’t know how to open my mouth if I didn’t think there’s a reason to be here. I mean, I’m sure you could throw something at me that’s on a CD and say, “You must have done that for the money,” but no. No, I wouldn’t know how to do that.
IH: Signing Dogma – was that one of them?
AR: For the money? You’ve got to be joking. That was for love of Kevin Smith.
IH: Thank you.
AR: Good luck staying warm.
Freestyle Releasing's 'Nobel Son' was released theatrically on December 5, 2008 and is now avaialbel on DVD via 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.