He can deal with ‘ A Lit­tle Chaos’

Alan Rick­man slips smoothly back into di­rec­tor’s chair for a pe­riod ro­mance.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Su­san King

Nearly 20 years ago, Bri­tish ac­tor Alan Rick­man ful­filled a dream shared by many in his pro­fes­sion — he di­rected a fea­ture f ilm. He helmed 1997’ s “The Win­ter Guest,” a crit­i­cally ac­claimed drama star­ring the real- life mother and daugh­ter Phyl­l­ida Law and Emma Thompson.

And then Harry Pot­ter cursed his am­bi­tions.

“I didn’t know there were go­ing to be all of those books and all of those movies,” said the 69- year- old ac­tor who for a decade was com­mit­ted to play­ing Pro­fes­sor Severus Snape, the boy wiz­ard’s neme­sis in the block­buster movie fran­chise.

A real charmer him­self, with a warm smile and a hearty laugh, Rick­man ap­pears to be fine with putting his Snape days be­hind him. Though he had per­formed in plays in Lon­don and New York, di­rected for theater and ap­peared in sev­eral movies dur­ing his Pot­ter years, he couldn’t even con­tem­plate di­rect­ing a sec­ond fea­ture un­til he could clear an 18- month win­dow in his sched­ule.

And then Ali­son Dee­gan’s script for “A Lit­tle Chaos,” which opens Fri­day, ar­rived at the opportune time.

Set in 1682 France, the ro­man­tic drama ( which opened ear­lier this year in Aus­tralia, Bri­tain and other

for­eign mar­kets to mixed re­views) stars Kate Winslet as Sabine, a strong- willed land­scape de­signer who is griev­ing the deaths of her hus­band and daugh­ter and who is hired by land­scape artist An­dré Le Notre ( Matthias Schoe­naerts) to build one of the gar­dens at Louis IV’s ( Rick­man) new Palace of Ver­sailles.

Rick­man was fas­ci­nated with the ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship that de­vel­ops be­tween Sabine and Le Notre, who is trapped in a love­less mar­riage. “And what it has to say about men and women, what peo­ple have to do to come to­gether and how they have to f ind equal paths. There are so many mo­ments in the writ­ing you re­al­ize how com­pletely mod­ern it is,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view in West Hol­ly­wood.

Though Le Notre was a real per­son, the char­ac­ter of Sabine is fic­tional. “There would be no woman with a pro­fes­sion at that time,” Rick­man noted, adding that he loved the idea of “putting a com­pletely fic­ti­tious char­ac­ter in the mid­dle of a known bit of history.”

Rick­man shot the f ilm in just 40 days at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in Eng­land, in­clud­ing Blenheim Palace, a World Her­itage Site — “We shot in the state apart­ments in Blenheim where no­body has shot be­fore” — and Wa­ter-

ston Manor. “There was a lot to shoot ev­ery day,” he said. “There was a car­riage crash and f lood­ing” — and English weather.

“A Lit­tle Chaos” marks a re­union for Rick­man and Winslet, who starred to­gether 20 years ago in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity.”

Winslet re­called re­ceiv­ing the script with a note from Rick­man that said, “‘ I hope you love this as much as I do.’ I did love it. I thought it was a beau­ti­fully writ­ten script. It was so gen­tle. I hadn’t been in a pe­riod film for a very long time.”

And she felt more con­fi­dent as a per­son and as an ac­tress than she had at the age of 19 in “Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity.”

“I felt bet­ter equipped to have opin­ions and form opin­ions and share them with Alan,” said Winslet. “It was a very col­lab­o­ra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In fact, near the end of the shoot, Winslet took Rick­man aside be­cause she had doubts about an up­com­ing scene in which Sabine de­stroys her own beloved gar­den af­ter com­ing to terms with the deaths of her loved ones.

“It was the only time in the shoot­ing when I looked at Kate and said, ‘ She’s tired,’ ” re­called Rick­man. “She was preg­nant all the way through the shoot­ing. She said, ‘ Why does she ruin her gar­den?’ I said, ‘ Well, at that point, she has a kind of self- loathing.’ ”

Still, Rick­man de­layed shoot­ing the scene. “I said, ‘ Let me go away and think about it,’ and I did,” he said. “I sat in a chair and found a lit­tle cor­ner. I thought, ‘ She is right to ask the ques­tion.’ ”

He scrapped the scene and on the spot came up with an even more pow­er­ful se­quence to ref lect Sabine’s grief.

“That was him,” Winslet said. “He changed it all. He changed the set to ac­com­mo­date the idea. He was amaz­ing like that.”

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

PRIOR TO “CHAOS,” open­ing on Fri­day and star­ring Kate Winslet, Alan Rick­man hadn’t di­rected a fea­ture f ilm since 1997’ s “The Win­ter Guest.”

Mur­ray Close Warner Bros. Pic­tures

ALAN RICK­MAN, Emma Wat­son, Ru­pert Grint, Daniel Rad­cliffe in Pot­ter se­ries’ “Pris­oner of Azk­a­ban”

Francine Orr Los An­ge­les Times

“HE WAS amaz­ing,” said Kate Winslet of Rick­man’s di­rec­tion.

Alex Bai­ley Fo­cus Fea­tures

ALAN RICK­MAN as France’s Henry XIV ac­com­pa­nies Kate Winslet as Sabine in “A Lit­tle Chaos.” “There are so many mo­ments in the writ­ing you re­al­ize how com­pletely mod­ern it is,” he said of the f ilm’s script.

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