IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Alan Rickman Talks 'CBGB'

Tuesday, 08 October 2013 16:51 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Alan Rickman Talks 'CBGB'

Alan Rickman is considered by many to be one of the best actors of his generation and he has been entertaining audience on stage and screen for almost 35 years.

Rickman first gained attention in the United States for his iconic role as terrorist Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard. He would go on to star in such popular films as The January Man, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility, Michael Collins, Galaxy Quest, Bottle Shock, and Love Actually, but it was his role as Severus Snape in all eight of the Harry Potter films that made him a household name for a whole new generation of film goers. Recently Rickman took on another iconic role by playing beloved President Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniel’s The Butler. Now he can be seen once again portraying a real life person as seminal ‘70s club owner Hilly Kristal in the new film CBGB, which opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 11th. 

CBGB was directed by Randall Miller (Bottle Shock), and co-written by Miller and wife Jody Savin. The film takes a look at the New York City punk-rock scene of the ‘1970s through the eyes of CBGB club owner Hilly Kristal (Rickman). In addition to Rickman, the movie features an all-star cast that includes Ashley Greene (The Apparition), Donal Logue (Shark Night 3D), Johnny Galecki (TV's The Big Bang Theory), Stana Katic (TV's Castle), Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror), Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans), and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods), as well as Malin Akerman (Watchmen) as Debbie Harry, Rupert Grint (Harry Potter series) and Justin Bartha (The Hangover Part III) as The Dead Boys, Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street) as Lou Reed, Joel David Moore (Avatar) as Joey Ramone, and Mickey Summer (Frances Ha) as Patti Smith, Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) as Iggy Pop, and newcomer Keene McRae as Sting. 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with the legendary Alan Rickman about his work on CBGB. The iconic English actor discussed his new movie, its comedic tone, filmmakers Randall Miller and Jody Savin, his prior knowledge of CBGB, researching the life of Hilly Kristal, what Hilly saw in punk rock music, reuniting with his Harry Potter co-star Rupert Grint, Hilly’s relationship with daughter Lisa, working with Donal Logue, and how Miller tried to fool Rickman into believing that American born Keene McRae was really English. 


Here is what the great Alan Rickman had to say about CBGB:

IAR: To begin with, I enjoyed the comedic tone of CBGB, was that an element of what attracted you to the project?

Alan Rickman: Whatever the film is I always look for a way to make people laugh. Not just as gags or out of recognition or something, but I think it helps to make it human. Randy (Miller) has a big sense of humor, and so does Jody (Savin), so I think it’s inevitable with them. It’s their root to telling a story. Not deliberately but through humor to make you smile. 

You worked with director Randall Miller and screenwriter Jody Savin on Bottle Shock. What was it like reuniting with them on CBGB and what do you like about working with them as filmmakers?

Rickman: They are very collaborative and very open. They don’t mind watching me chew the script to pieces like some dog with a slipper, but not in a critical way but just because I’m trying to get to the center of it. I feel sort of weirdly free when I work with them, like anything is possible. 

Were you familiar with CBGB and the punk scene of the ‘1970s, and what kind of research did you do into the life of club owner Hilly Kristal in order to play him in the film?

Rickman: I was completely not familiar. I had never been to CBGB. In the ‘70s I was a student in London and punk rock was just a lot of noise to me, apart from people like David Bowie who was cool and arty. Then I knew Blondie, and Patti Smith, but I really wasn’t buying albums by The Romones or The Dead Boys or anything. I couldn’t afford them anyways. Research was made easier because there is so much material available on DVD now. So I watched Hilly, and I listened to him. It helped because there was so much irony in the fact that he started a club to be filled with country music and it never was, and that’s because he was quite brave about recognizing a moment in time. Also, given how much noise was involved in the music and in the club, he was essentially a very quiet man. He was rumored to have a terrible temper at times but mostly he had a still, calm center in the middle of it all. 


What do you think it was that Hilly Kristal saw in these bands?

Rickman: I think it is pretty much an accurate quote from the film when Hilly says, “These kids have something to say and we should listen.” So it wasn’t just the music it was the lyrics too and the fact that he only let them play original music and no covers or anything. So it was a moment in time for him and a moment in time for young people, and a particular kind of rebellion was going on. 

The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome is played by your Harry Potter series co-star Rupert Grint, who you’ve known since he was just a boy. Was it nice to reunite with him for this film and see how he has grown as an actor since the Potter films?

Rickman: Well you know it is a validation of the fact that people shouldn’t be trapped by one thing and God bless him there he was looking quite different. It’s great that the acting profession reinvents itself for people in that way and he moves on. 

Can you talk about the relationship Hilly had with his daughter Lisa and how she helped to keep the club together, as well as working with actress Ashley Greene to make their relationship the heart and soul of the movie?

Rickman: Well, we all had the benefit of Lisa Kristal being around a bit and having net her and talked to her. I suppose in a way at times the child has to become the parent in certain relationships and that would be true with her. She has to organize him, and she has to help him to function. So it is kind of an inverted relationship, and Ashley was great to work with. 


Actor Donal Logue plays Merv Ferguson who is Hilly’s best friend and kind of his right-hand man. Can you talk about working with Logue to create that onscreen friendship?

Rickman: Well, we had to become really close and fortunately that’s easy with Donal. He’s the perfect person. You don’t really feel the actor, but rather you feel the human being everyday. That was really true of everybody. That is one of the things that Randy gathers around him, so you are not really aware of acting but just storytelling. 

Finally, I recently heard director Randall Miller explain that he had to be very careful when casting an actor to play Sting in the movie because you are actually friends with Sting in real life. Miller went on to say that he ended up casting American actor Keene McRae but asked him to speak in an English accent throughout filming in order to fool you into thinking that he was really from England. Did that work and at what point did you figure out that he is actually an American?

Rickman: When he arrived he was speaking with a perfect English accent. So immediately I said, where are you from? Not meaning that I didn’t think he was English but I wanted to know what bit of England. Then of course it turns out he’s not and that he’s just worked hard. It shows in what he can do. I thought he was wonderful. But I immediately found out he was not from England. I’m like a detective, so Randy is not going to fool me!

CBGB opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on October 11th. 

To watch our exclusive clip from CBGB, please click here.



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