British actor Alan Rickman best known for his role in the “Harry Potter” films has died after a battle with cancer. He was 69. Susan King talked to him last year about his wide-ranging career on stage and in film.
Nearly 20 years ago, British actor Alan Rickman fulfilled a dream shared by many in his profession — he directed a feature film. He helmed 1997’s “The Winter Guest,” a critically acclaimed drama starring the real-life mother and daughter Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson.
And then Harry Potter cursed his ambitions.
“I didn’t know there were going to be all of those books and all of those movies,” said the 69-year-old actor who for a decade was committed to playing Professor Severus Snape, the boy wizard’s nemesis in the blockbuster movie franchise.
A real charmer himself, with a warm smile and a hearty laugh, Rickman appears to be fine with putting his Snape days behind him. Though he had performed in plays in London and New York, directed for theater and appeared in several movies during his Potter years, he couldn’t even contemplate directing a second feature until he could clear an 18-month window in his schedule.
And then Alison Deegan’s script for “A Little Chaos,” which opens Friday, arrived at the opportune time.
Set in 1682 France, the romantic drama (which opened earlier this year in Australia, England and other foreign markets to mixed reviews) stars Kate Winslet as Sabine, a strong-willed landscape designer who is grieving the deaths of her husband and daughter and who is hired by landscape artist André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts) to build one of the gardens at Louis XIV’s (Rickman) new Palace of Versailles.
Rickman was fascinated with the romantic relationship that develops between Sabine and Le Notre, who is trapped in a loveless marriage. “And what it has to say about men and women, what people have to do to come together and how they have to find equal paths. There are so many moments in the writing you realize how completely modern it is,” he said during an interview in West Hollywood.
Though Le Notre was a real person, the character of Sabine is fictional. “There would be no woman with a profession at that time,” Rickman noted, adding that he loved the idea of “putting a completely fictitious character in the middle of a known bit of history.”
Rickman shot the film in just 40 days at various locations in England including Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage Site — “We shot in the state apartments in Blenheim where nobody has shot before” — and Waterston Manor. “There was a lot to shoot every day,” he said. “There was a carriage crash and flooding — and English weather.
“A Little Chaos” marks a reunion for Rickman and Winslet, who starred together 20 years ago in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
Winslet recalled receiving the script with a note from Rickman that said, “ ‘I hope you love this as much as I do.’ I did love it. I thought it was a beautifully written script. It was so gentle. I hadn’t been in a period film for a very long time.”
And she felt more confident as a person and as an actress than she had at the age of 19 in “Sense and Sensibility.”
“I felt better equipped to have opinions and form opinions and share them with Alan,” said Winslet. “It was a very collaborative experience.”
In fact, near the end of the shoot, Winslet took Rickman aside because she had doubts about an upcoming scene in which Sabine destroys her own beloved garden after coming to terms with the deaths of her loved ones.
“It was the only time in the shooting when I looked at Kate and said, ‘She’s tired,’ ” recalled Rickman. “She was pregnant all the way through the shooting. She said, ‘Why does she ruin her garden?’ I said, ‘Well, at that point, she has a kind of self-loathing.’ ”
Still, Rickman delayed shooting the scene. “I said, ‘Let me go away and think about it,’ and I did,” he said. “I sat in a chair and found a little corner. I thought, ‘She is right to ask the question.’ ”
He scrapped the scene and on the spot came up with an even more powerful sequence to reflect Sabine’s grief.
“That was him,” Winslet said. “He changed it all. He changed the set to accommodate the idea. He was amazing like that.”