'The grapevine had it wrong. Alan Rickman exuded dry wit and a surprising conviviality'
Published 15/01/2016 | 02:30
I was braced for a chilly reception last year as I was ushered into a hotel room to interview Alan Rickman, who died yesterday aged 69.
The actor was known to have struggled over the decades with the transition from jobbing thesp to international star, and stories abounded of him treating overly-inquisitive journalists with Severus Snape-levels of disdain.
He once cancelled a tete-a-tete with a UK newspaper, feeling nothing he might say could possibly be of interest to anyone.
The grapevine had it wrong, as it happened. Rickman was thoroughly down to earth, exuding dry wit and a surprising conviviality. Conspicuously absent was the frosty hauteur he had so convincingly emanated as Harry Potter anti-hero Snape.
Rickman's good humour endured even as I peppered him with questions about Die Hard, the film to which he owed the overnight fame he gained in 1988 at the age of 42.
"Die Hard was a huge event in my life," he told me. "I walked into a screening in New York anonymous and walked out not anonymous. It was the first film I ever made - I was very ignorant."
He was also forthcoming about his difficult childhood. Rickman's father died when the future actor was a child, leaving his mother to raise the family alone.
"That was my reality from when I was eight. You don't have the power of analysis. You think, 'this is shit', and get on with it."
Besides Harry Potter and Die Hard, it was his portrayal of Eamon de Valera in Neil Jordan's 1996 film 'Michael Collins' for which he will be remembered here.
"With de Valera, I knew what Neil's opinion was," he told me, "And I knew it was a country divided. I couldn't play either of those. I had to do the homework and play the person and hope Neil would cut it so it would remain there for people to make up their minds. I'm not sure that is what happened - but that is what I was playing."
During his last appearance in Ireland, last March, Rickman told of his love for the country.
"To a very large extent, it feels like I'm coming home," he said.
"I had an Irish grandmother that I never knew and Welsh parentage on the other side, so it's just Celt meeting Celt. It's good to walk the streets here and smell the oxygen. It feels like stuff to do with where I came from."