Alan Rickman: “You can’t judge the character you’re playing, ever”

Alan Rickman doesn’t appear on the New York stage very often, so when he does it’s a cause to pay attention.  One of the few great English actors who hasn’t gotten a well-deserved “Sir” in front of his name yet, Rickman has returned to the New York stage in Seminar, which also features Jerry O’Connell.

Though British, Rickman has a deep affinity for the Broadway stage than London’s West End.  He explains, “I love working in New York theater. … It is very demanding, but it’s good to be in a city where you feel that theater is actually part of the life of the city. You know, London is so sprawling, and you can sometimes forget that anybody else is on a stage anywhere else. But here, it’s, you know, your friends and neighbors.”

So what does Rickman, who has appeared in dozens of movies, enjoy so much about acting for the stage?  It’s all about the interplay between the actors, he says.

“I’m very aware that when one is acting in the theater, you do become kind of animal about it. And you’re reliant on instincts rather than tact a lot of the time. So the rehearsal room does become a bit of a marketplace, and new plays risk everybody’s sensibilities. That’s the whole point about them. But, you know, hopefully, ultimately, [Seminar playwright Theresa Rebeck is] happy because she knows we’re all there because we respect her writing so much.” 

He adds that casts he has worked with all want to help each other other create the best production possible though he suspects that isn’t the same with writers, pointing out, “Actors are actually very supportive of each other. … In my experience, [writers are] quite nervous of each other, and probably quite rightly when it’s such a solitary occupation. And, you know, months and years of work can be dashed by one bad review or a book that doesn’t sell or something. Actors usually have each other.”

But if there’s one thing Rickman is known for, it’s playing the villain.  Although he hasn’t always appeared in villainous roles in his career, some of his most famous — Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd — have been the bad guy.  Surprisingly, Rickman doesn’t think there’s much of a difference between playing a hero versus a villain.

He explains, “You can’t … say to yourself, ‘I am playing a villain.’ [The characters] don’t think they are anymore than heroes think that they’re heroes. They’re just who they are and this is what they want. It’s other people that put that label. So you can’t judge the character you’re playing ever.  And I suppose all I can say is as time has gone on, I’ve been fortunate to do things like Sense and Sensibility and Truly Madly Deeply. [In] Love Actually, [Rickman’s character, Harry] might have been naughty, but not exactly a villain. … [Playing a villain is] a very small part of whatever I’ve done. It’s like two or three parts, and they just happened to have big publicity budgets. But … it’s not the major area of my work.”

Being a villain isn’t “the major area of my work,” Rickman?  I’d believe that if you didn’t play one of the best movie villains of all time in Die Hard.

via NPR. Listen to the interview below

Alan Rickman appears in Seminar, which runs through March 4 at the John Goldman Theatre.

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