Helen Mirren on Alan Rickman: He Was "Very Twinkly and Kind and Gossipy and Generous"

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Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman

"Alan was also very sensitive and emotional," the actress tells THR. "That’s a side of him you don’t know see of him in his performances, because he was a brilliant technical actor."

I was quite intimidated when I first met Alan. He’s a quite imposing looking man. He was tall. He had this incredible large head with this incredible Roman emperor kind of visage and a wonderfully sardonic expression on his face. He was also very twinkly and kind and gossipy and generous. Alan loved to go to restaurants, to sit and chat, drink some wine and gossip about actors and acting, directors and plays. I know in America you mostly know him as a film actor, but in Great Britain, we are very aware of him as a consummate theater actor as well. He was adored by everyone who knew him.

My only experience with Alan onstage was in Antony and Cleopatra [in 1998 at Britain’s National Theater]. It was difficult because he stepped in at the last minute when the actor who was originally playing the role dropped out because of ill health. Alan literally stepped in a week before we began rehearsal. He came in and very courageously jumped in. Antony and Cleopatra is an extremely emotionally demanding play. It's also very physically demanding, especially for Antony. We were doing it in a big theater in a big production. It was very demanding on both of us. He was extremely generous onstage.

Alan was also very sensitive and emotional. That’s a side of him you don’t see in his performances, because he was a brilliant technical actor. The reality of Alan inside of that was quite a vulnerable, emotional person which made him all the more interesting and lovable. I remember that when Antony and Cleopatra ended he gave me a gift: It wasn’t anything new. It was a beautiful old antique bracelet, a little bit broken and just absolutely beautiful and it was so classically Alan. He was always great to the other actors during his work in theater; you know he was supportive of other actors always. He was very collegiate and collaborative and loved other actors and loved the whole art of acting.

There are certain actors who are going to be better when they are older than when they are younger, whether it's their physicality, or they have to grow into their looks or it's a look that's more difficult when you are young than when you are older. But when you become 40, 50 or 60 years old — that’s when your physicality starts working for you. Alan was one of those people who grew into it. He needed to get into his 30s really before the way he was, the weight of his personality, his particular kind of power, his particular kind of character worked better in maturity, I think.

Sadly, we never got to actually act together in Eye in the Sky, which I’m very, very upset about. But we were in different parts of the movie, so we never actually worked together or got to go to a restaurant together. My stuff was in South Africa and I think his stuff was shot in England, so we were literally not even in the same country.

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