Alan Rickman has appeared in many great films but for his latest effort, he is working hard both in front of and behind the camera. I spoke with Rickman about A Little Chaos were he serves as writer, director and actor. Here’s what he had to say…
Matt: I’ve seen a few photos of you since you’ve been here in Australia for the past few days. Have you had a chance to see some of the sights?
Alan: I’ve been busy during the day but yeah, in the evenings. I was at the Sydney Dance Company last night, I saw Suddenly Last Summer when I got here, and I’m going to go see As You Like It at the end of the week. That, and being endless surrounded by the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the art galleries… it’s almost like being on holiday.
Matt: You have one of the most distinctive voices that I know in the film world. I’ve always wanted to know if you get approached a lot about animated features or doing narration work for documentaries?
Alan: I’ve done a little bit of that and I think the second part of Alice In Wonderland will be out soon which again has me as a caterpillar.
Matt: You directed The Winter Guest about 17 years ago but had you always wanted to direct again?
Alan: I’ve always wanted to but along came Harry Potter and I didn’t know that I was going to be in more than 3 films when we started shooting because that’s all J.K. Rowling had written. It’s hard to direct a movie when you have to spend 7 weeks a year showing up for that. Once I had finished with Harry Potter then I could then kick start A Little Chaos.
Matt: Can you tell us a little about where this project came about? I believe there was a screenplay that you would have been originally sent. Why was this the project that you really wanted to see brought to the screen?
Alan: I’m credited as a writer but much more as the “interferer” than the “writer”. Alison Deegan wrote the original script and then Jeremy Brock and I came along and worked on it with her. It arrived in my letterbox unannounced and I loved the freshness of Alison’s writing. When you get attached to a project, it’s often because images start jumping around in your head and they won’t go away. That’s how I felt here and I knew I had to remain attached to it.
Matt: You’ve got Kate Winslet in this film and I can remember you two working together on Sense & Sensibility. I’m sure Kate is a very busy woman so was it easy for her to find the time to make this movie?
Alan: Fortunately, she’s a busy woman because she’s making movies and so you just need to make sure that you’re one of them. She read the script and loved it as much as I did and so then it just came down to time management. Kate thankfully had a period of time between other movies and also, what is also important to her, spending time with her family.
Matt: You didn’t have a major role in The Winter Guest but here you do. When you read the script for the first time, did you picture yourself in the role of King Louis?
Alan: Not at all. It was only because of pressure from the producers so as to make the numbers add up. By having the director also acted, it was one less person they had to worry about employing.
Matt: I was reading that while the film is set in France, most of it was shot in London. How easy was it finding the locations to make it look credible?
Alan: The nearest to London we shot was Ham House in Twickenham and then we built the actual fountain which is the climax to the film at Pinewood Studios. The rest of it was shot in England but no more than an hour or two from London. What’s surprising is that you find there are genuine 17th century French interiors in England. Waddesdon Manor was built in the 19th Century by the Rothschild family but they filled it with stuff from 17th Century France. Louis’s bedroom in the film is actually the dining room at Cliveden which has a similar story.
Matt: I’ve always wondered about films that are in the English language but they’re set in a non-English speaking country like France, how do you decide on what accents need to be used by the characters?
Alan: You say to yourself that we’re all French but that we’re all pretending to be English. The only problem is when you have to say words like monsieur and madam. You have to skate over those and get them done quite quickly.
Matt: I love the climax of the film which I guess we can describe as a dancing number. Did that in itself take a lot of rehearsal?
Alan: Absolutely. That was days of work and Jane Gibson, the choreographer, did a brilliant job. I think she’s very happy with it but of course it hurts in the editing room when you have to cut out quite a lot of stuff that people spent hours and hours learning. I guess you kind of know at the time that it’s not all going to be in the film. We spent 2 days shooting that sequence while also trying to get the water right in the background and also trying not to fall over while wearing heels.
Matt: I’m a lover of great movie music and I really like the music in this film but I had never before heard of the composer, Peter Gregson. I’m curious to know about his background and how you came across him?
Alan: You won’t be familiar with him because this is his very first movie score. I was at a very small ballet company in London with about 80 people in the audience because that’s all it could hold. The dancers were dancing in water and I was thinking to myself “this guy really knows how to turn water into music.” I eventually met him and asked him if he wanted to do a movie score.
It was a very moving moment for me to be sitting in Abbey Road with all the kids outside walking across the zebra crossing and photographing themselves… and we’re inside with a 26-year-old composer conducting a full orchestra so brilliantly and so confidently. I agree with you in that I think it’s a really special score.
Matt: Is the plan from here to direct more movies?
Alan: I hope so. I’d like to do more acting and directing on the stage. It’s all about presenting a moving target and trying to explore who you are.
Matt: So when are we going to see you on screen next? What do you have coming out?
Alan: You’ll see me next in a film called Eye In The Sky with Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul. It’s a contemporary film where I’m the head of the British Army and I’ve got my finger on the button to use a drone against terrorists. It’s about the huge dilemma that governments face about whether to push that button or not.
Matt: I’ll finish up by saying that you’ve won an Emmy, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. What have we got to do to get you an Oscar nomination?
Alan: Pay somebody (laughs).
Matt: It’d be great to see because you are such a fantastic actor.
Alan: Thanks very much.