Alan Rickman may best known as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, but try asking him about Potter and you get a polite, no comment from the British actor. “I don’t talk about Harry Potter,” Rickman says, unapologetically. “I try to protect little children’s innocence about being able to hang on to their Harry Potter thing.”
Rickman will finish shooting the seventh and final film in the franchise next year, and does that admit that his involvement in the franchise has helped him to work on lower-budget Indie fare, such as Bottle Shock. “Whatever freedoms you have are offset by the fact that most films are going to be about young people these days, so there are freedoms and there are strictures everywhere.” Bottle Shock casts Rickman as a snobbish wine seller in Paris, determined to beat the French at a major blind wine tasting, and decides to do so by travelling to Northern California’s Napa Valley in search of some untested Californian wines during the mid-seventies.
Bottle Shock reunited Rickman with the director of the as yet unreleased Nobel Son, so it was the overall project that appealed to the acor. “I so enjoyed doing Nobel Son with Randy [Miller] and Jody [Savin] that it was just the idea of working with them again, because you know that there is the improvisatory nature of the atmosphere and the day to day workings, and anything would be possible, anyway. But there’s always, if you’ve got an idea of an upper-class Englishman in a suit and tie in the middle of the Napa Valley, and then you’re saying, OK.”
Rickman loved the idea of doing a film that, in part, explored the British class system. “The producers are upper class Englishmen,” Rickman says, laughingly. Shot on location in Napa, the actor agrees that geography helps one enhance character, “because very much in my case, you’re playing an alien who has landed, so you need to see the alien–there he is, in a suit and a tie, and where has he landed, in incredibly beautiful sunlit place, so sunlit that it’s over 100 degrees a lot of the time and there is a kind of weird insanity about the two things together.”
Based on fact and a real character, Rickman did some research on the actual events depicted in Bottle Shock. “I read about it. It’s a fairly straightforward set of circumstances and piece of information, so it doesn’t take long. I also spoke to Steven Spurrier on the phone. Both of us aware that this was never going to be an impersonation of him, so I was just kind of borrowing his name and the circumstances. I don’t know if he’s seen it, but I hope he feels that, in as much as everybody else calls him a snob from England, at the same time he’s also not without courage and vision.”
A successful actor of stage and screen for over two decades, Rickman has divided his time between mainstream Hollywood blockbusters and this more Indie world in which he is clearly more comfortable. He says he triers to be as selective as possible “but I’m always looking for open minds, fresh thinking and good writing,” all of which is hard to find, he adds. “You know, it’s harder and harder to get independent movies off the ground. Randy and Jody have seemed to, now that I’ve done two films with them, they seem to have constructed their own way of doing it, and all power to them.”
Before shooting the two parts of Deathly Hallows next year, Rickman will find himself returning to the theatre – as a director, Creditors by Strindberg. “It’s fairly new to me. I did it 10, 12 years ago, and then I did it again two and a half years ago, and now this one. So I’m still finding out about it, but that’s a good place to be.” And over a decade since his film directorial debut, The Winter Guest, Rickman says he is also ready to return to the movie set’s director’s chair. “I have a movie that I’m attached to, which Hilary Shaw is producing, called The House in Paris, from a book by Elizabeth Bowen, and when I know what my available dates are, this year and next year, then hopefully that’s when it’ll get fitted in. But we have to figure out a climate, daylight hours and stuff like that, but it’s a beautiful script of a beautiful book.”