In "CBGB," Alan Rickman plays Hilly Kristal, the man who founded the legendary New York City punk bar whose stage helped launch The Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads. The film happens to co-star Rupert Grint (as a member of one of the lesser-known punk bands, The Dead Boys), proof that the "Harry Potter" universe is indeed all-encompassing.
We talked to Rickman about his own relationship to punk (distant), how close he stays to his former Hogswarts charges (fairly close), and just what kind of device he'd need for a "Galaxy Quest" sequel.
What made you want to take on this part?
I thought he was completely fascinating in the sense that he started a club that was supposed to honor country music ["CBGB" stands for "Country, Bluegrass and Blues"], and he never got to play any country music there. Along came punk and he was smart enough and open enough and generous enough to listen to what their point of view was. In fact, he became a kind of father figure to all these wild young things.
How did you get into character?
Lots of videos you can watch of Hilly and some private ones I was given. I was able to just watch him for hours, really, walking, talking, being. [The real Hilly died in 2007.]
Had you ever been to CBGB's?
I haven't, except in its new incarnation as John Varvatos.
Were you a fan of punk music?
Not really, because I was an art student and a drama student in London in the '70s. When you say "punk music," I never thought it included people like David Byrne, but now I know that it does. And also The Police. So I'd have been a bit more down that road than The Dead Boys or Television.
So of the punk bands, who's your favorite?
Well, I'd say Talking Heads, probably.
You had to listen to a lot of The Dead Boys, the band that Hilly produced. What do you think of them?
I really enjoyed their music when it was being played live. I think the truth of the matter is, you kind of have to be there in a club, in downtown with 150 other people to get it. It's probably not "sitting in an armchair" music.
What was the toughest part of the shoot?
To be honest, it was shooting it in Savannah in the summer and it was 90 to 100 degrees and Hilly Kristal always wore flannel shirts.
You get to sing briefly in this movie, which I don't think we've seen you do since "Sweeney Todd." Any plans for more singing roles?
I don't think you're going to see me headline in Las Vegas. But who knows?
Rupert Grint is in this too. And he even drops his pants at one point! How hard do you think it is for actors from the "Harry Potter" films to be seen in different roles?
It's as easy or difficult as people make it for them. They're all three of them [Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson] great people and all three of them very talented actors. If people have enough common sense, they'll let them have careers, because, why not?
Have you kept up with their films?
I look forward to seeing Daniel's new film about Ginsberg and I didn't see Emma's film, what was it called... "The Bling...?" I haven't seen that, but no I stay in touch with them. Rupert is rehearsing a play at the moment so he's going on stage for the first time. Daniel is ever adventurous and Emma's gone back to finishing her degree at Brown. So they're a great threesome.
Up next, you're directing your second film, "A Little Chaos," in which you also star as Louis XIV.
I've shot it. I'm in the editing room. I've run away from the editing to come and do press for this.
What's the tone of that one?
It's got its serious side and it's got its funny side. It's all there. It's about a woman landscape gardener, Kate Winslet plays her, who gets a job of designing one of the fountains at Versailles. At the same time, it's not really about history, it's about her and her options. And some it's very funny and some of it's not funny at all.
What's changed about movies since you directed your first film, "The Winter Guest," in 1997?
I guess moviegoing habits. It's a great deal harder to get a film like that financed because people, generally speaking, want to stay at home and watch movies... It's becoming harder and harder for movies to be anything other than a big action movie or a cartoon.
Would you like to do more "big" films like Harry Potter or do you prefer the smaller ones?
I don't mind what size they are. Is there some fun to be had, or entertainment to be given. or a good story to tell? I'm not really aware of the budget. It was a bit like that when we shot "Galaxy Quest." We were playing a bunch of little actors surrounded by all of this mayhem. And so, in a way, it's a sort of metaphor for the whole thing.
People have been hoping for years for a sequel to "Galaxy Quest." Any hope of that ever happening?
They'd need a few zimmer frames [Laughs]. [Ed's note: Zimmer frame is British for walkers]