RICKMAN, ALAN - SNOWCAKE
IN A WORTHWHILE CAUSE...
He usually avoids the media, but his new film, Snow Cake, “is worth celebrating”
so the versatile and charming Alan Rickman subjects himself (in the end happily)
to this interview with Nick Roddick in London.
“I don’t see any discernible theme in my work,” says Alan Rickman, with what
might be disdain but probably has more to do with his distinctive drawl - the
product, apparently, of a childhood speech impediment. There is also that habit
he has, both on screen and in real life, of twisting up the corner of his mouth
before speaking, as though expelling a silent laugh.
"A moment of action is worth a ton of theory"
Always polite, often charming, Rickman clearly does not enjoy that Other Side
of Acting which involves red carpets, sound bites and press junkets. In fact, I
later discover, he’s ‘done’ hardly any press for Snow Cake, which had its world
premiere in Berlin in February, was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival last
month (June 2007) and opens in cinemas this week (August 2, 2007). But it does,
he says, live up to at least one of his beliefs in life: Alex, the character he
plays, stops analysing the situation he is in and does something to change it.
“A moment of action is worth a ton of theory,” says Rickman, then gives one of
those little grimaces before adding. “I think I once read that in a Christmas
One thing you can certainly say about Rickman’s work is that it is all very
good. Not exactly a theme, to be sure; and true, a lot of its has been on the
stage, notably in the 2001 revival of Private Lives, which ran for five months
and which he wryly describes as “an assault-course on your stamina”.
But there has been a lot of very good work in the movies, too: for those of us
who endured an hour and a half of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood (not to mention
three endlessly repeated minutes of Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I Do’ for years
afterwards), Rickman’s gleefully evil, gloriously camp Sheriff of Nottingham all
but redeemed the experience.
He doesn’t, however, particularly like to be reminded of the role, since it
comes under the heading of ‘Hollywood bad guy’. In every interview, they
apparently ask him - as I have just done - whether he plays those roles to give
him the financial freedom to do the more interesting work like Snow Cake.
“I only played that bad-guy role two times,” insists the actor, who won a BAFTA
for Robin Hood, “but they keep coming back at me.” The first time, of course,
was when he appeared as Hans Gruber, the leader of the armed terrorist gang who
hijack Bruce Willis’s Christmas in the original Die Hard, finally being thrown
out of the window but getting his foot firmly in the Hollywood door in the
process. Then there was the Sheriff. And Rasputin in the TV miniseries. Come to
think of it, he wasn’t exactly Mr Nice Guy in Love Actually, once more spoiling
Christmas, this time for lovely Emma Thompson. And what about that Severus Snape..?
"about lonely people in a cold climate"
Snow Cake is a very different film: a UK-Canadian co-production about lonely
people in a cold climate - but giving him, says Rickman, “a character I could
live inside. It’s very rare for me to be sent a script, read it and say I’ll do
it. It’s a film about relationships, so inevitably it’s going to be complex:
otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? But it was also very camera-ready -
more than any other screenplay I can remember. A big change happens to Alex in
the course of the film, and there’s time in here to do it: it’s a very patient
script, and it says an awful lot about how we set our moral compasses.”
Having just seen the finished film for the first time, he is pleased with the
way director Marc Evans has moulded and trimmed the scripts and performances
into something greater than the sum of its parts “There’s a film that you read
and a film that you shoot.,” he insists. “Somewhere in between the film becomes
itself. It tells you: ‘Cut this scene. Free me from this film’.”
Alex starts outs as a glum, grim-faced loner driving across the frozen wastes of
Ontario in midwinter, nursing a secret that will not be revealed until the very
end of the film. Fifteen minutes in, he finds himself thrust into a situation
from which everyone is telling him to walk away. Perversely, however, he walks
right into it.
As in Love Actually (albeit it in a totally different way), he is torn between
two women: Sigourney Weaver, giving an (in all senses of the word) bravura
performance as the autistic Linda, whose house and habits Alex unwittingly
invades; and Maggie, played by Carrie-Anne Moss, who lives in the house behind
and with whom he has a half-passionate, half-comic affair.
The screenplay for Snow Cake is by Angela Pell, wife of Steve Coogan’s writing
partner, Henry Normal, whose previous writing has been mainly in the field of TV
sketch comedy. Here, though, she certainly tackles a lot of serious subjects -
loneliness, loss, bereavement and, above all, autism. “Angela and Henry have a
nine-year-old autistic son,” says Rickman, when I ask him if he did any research
into the condition, “so she certainly knows what she is writing about. But I
play someone who knows nothing about it. So, no, I didn’t. I’ve only got my
imagination. Sometimes, it’s interesting to give oneself a kind of blank
Blank isn’t the word for Wawa, the small Northern Ontario town with a population
of just over 4,000 plus a statue of a giant goose, where the film is set and was
shot, and where the kids get to stay home from school every time the temperature
dips below minus 10.
Rickman previously knew Canada “only in a nipping in and out sort of way”. And
he didn’t have to experience the extreme cold. “It took a little while for
everything to drop into place, and the start of the shoot was delayed until
April, by which time all the snow had more or less disappeared - which was a bit
alarming for the director. But the good, brave souls of Wawa got their
wheelbarrows out and we managed to get enough to cover a block.”
"The director, Marc Evans, didn’t make two horror
movies for nothing"
Exactly how Alex ends up in Wawa, tottering across its snow-covered terrain
in decidedly unsuitable shoes, I am reluctant to reveal, since it would spoil
one of the most truly shocking moments I can remember in any film. I’d read the
synopsis, so I knew it was coming and kept my eyes half-covered in case. Even
so, it caught me totally by surprise and jolted me out of my seat. The director,
Marc Evans, didn’t make two horror movies for nothing.
Despite the star-power, Snow Cake is a small film - a film that invites you to
take it on its own terms. Once you do so, it draws you deeper and deeper in. And
Rickman is, for once, ready to lend his presence to its launch. “This is
something worth celebrating,” he says of the film, “so bring out the red carpets
and the champagne and …” - a mock baleful glare in my direction - “the
interviews, if it helps.”
It is the kind of thing he does as little as possible. A 1996 biography by
former Daily Express theatre critic Maureen Paton, which is almost
hagiographical in tone, was nonetheless written without any access to - or
direct quotes from - Rickman himself, relying on clippings and ‘close friends’.
And his private life - he met his partner at the college in 1965; they have been
together ever since - remains off-limits, even if this has earned him the
reputation of being awkward.
But beware drawing any conclusions about Rickman, the private individual, from
the roles he plays on screen - like Eamonn de Valera in Neil Jordan’s Michael
Collins, a man whose passion is contained beneath the steely outward appearance
of repressed Catholic nationalism.
“You strike me as a rather private person,” I say at one stage. To my surprise
Rickman laughs. “I don’t think my friends would say I am a private person,” he
says, “but then they’re not sitting there in front of me with a tape recorder,
Published August 2, 2007
Email this article
SNOW CAKE, dir. Marc Evans
Australian release: July 18, 2007
Alex (Alan Rickman) is driving to Winnipeg for a special reunion when he
begrudgingly accepts feisty young Vivienne (Emily Hampshire), as a hitching
passenger on her way to her mum’s house. She tries to pierce his self-protective
silence, but just as she is starting to make headway, a truck smashes into their
car and Vivienne is killed. Guilt-ridden and wishing to offer his condolences
and apologies, Alex seeks out Vivienne’s mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), but
is taken aback to discover she is autistic. Her calm reaction to her daughter’s
death is not what Alex expected; nor does he expect any of what follows. Linda
persuades Alex to stay until after the funeral and during the few days he has,
he has a liberating affair with Linda’s neighbour, Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), a
passionate woman who discovers the demons that haunt Alex.