Friday, 11 February 2011

Alan Rickman and Me

This past weekend I travelled to New York City to celebrate my birthday with some old friends. I was incredibly excited about this trip for many reasons. First, I had not been back to America in almost a year, and was actually starting to feel homesick for some unknown reason. Second, in the last year or so, most of my closest friends from high school and college all moved to the city so it was a great opportunity to see them. Finally, after (and I must emphasise this) my ticket was bought, I found out that Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw and Lindsay Duncan were performing John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

If you only met me at college or in Scotland (or from this website!), you may not understand the significance of this, other than the occasional off-hand (and usually off-colour) statement. As a teenager, I loved Alan Rickman. I loved him so much it hurt. There was no one else; there was never going to be anyone else. You could not see me without seeing him. I had pictures in my car, in my books, on my walls, in my locker. I just wanted to have him around me at all times.

I'm pretty sure I had this one in my car

Honestly, I could not tell you why he meant so much to me. I have always been an obsessive person. I do not just like something, I love things. It has been commented by friends (and relative strangers) that if you could bottle my emotions, they would make a very powerful and very, very illegal drug. As a kid, I would always turn to books, music and films to escape the world. I still can't tell you why I feel as strong emotions as I do, but it has just been something I've had to accept.

So where did it all start? I remember going to see Galaxy Quest when I was younger and loving the Spock-like character with his snotty attitude and bad-ass-ery, so he always stuck in my mind as an awesome actor. Of course, there was also Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which, combined with my love for bad boys, cemented my adoration of him.
I will cut your heart out, with a spoon!

Then, there was Severus Snape. Oh, Severus. My connection to this character from Harry Potter runs too deeply and emotionally for me to even feel comfortable talking about it here. I have such a personal attachment, though he may be fictional, to him and all the hard times he got me through. Again, I can't (and if I could, won't) explain it, but Snape was my rock. No one will understand. I don't expect anyone to. The only outlet I have for such things is my tattoos. I have reached a point where if someone says "I saw a picture of your Snape tattoo", I respond "Which one?".

Alan Rickman and Severus Snape were always two disparate people in my mind. I have never pictured Alan Rickman when I read the books, but he captured him. Completely. That is where the obsession started. He understood Snape as much as I did. He conveyed every emotion and attitude exactly the same way I saw it. For once, I felt that someone understood me and it must have been powerful, to come through a cinema screen.

***Harry Potter Spoilers!***

So that, truly, is as close as I can come to even trying to explain the depths of my adoration. It was the way he hid pain behind his anger and snarkiness; the way he walked with a grace, but a grace that was hiding years of abuse and loss. I spent the majority of my teenage years wrapped in the world of Severus Snape, trying to understand who he was. There was a connection, and I wanted it to fulfil what I had always felt. I knew him and I knew his motivations, though the rest of the world did not just yet.

After the sixth book came out, and the world (well, the Harry Potter world) turned against him, my heart broke. I knew. I knew he was good. He would not betray me like that. There was not even a doubt in my mind, at least for the character I had grown to love, that he was truly evil. So what did I do? I got his name tattooed on my back. Think about that. The risk, significance and loyalty that required. I was not being hormonal and stupid, I was standing by a symbol of my life.

When the final book came out, I had a massively cathartic release. I was right. I had been right about everything (okay, there was one minor detail I got wrong, but the rest was spot on) and my life was validated. That may seem like a hyperbole, but you have to understand that this character had metaphorically held my hand through highs and lows, telling me that it was okay, that he understood me. I don't know; if you have never experienced that connection to a book, film or song, you may not understand, but it is powerful. It honestly does feel like someone is holding your hand. In fact, there was an exact quote about that from History Boys:
"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
It is indeed a powerful thing, and that's what Severus Snape was to me. By the seventh book, I had mostly matured out of these, but it still validated my childhood which was something I was always looking for.

***end of (pretty tame) spoilers -- do people still get angry about these?***

So here I was, in New York as an adult, having made my own way in world, having fallen in love with "real" men by this point and been subsequently rejected; I had experienced real life and I was five feet away from the man himself. 

The man who had made me feel loved and understood. The man who conveyed masked heartbreak better than I ever could explain. The man who taught me that it was okay to feel the way I did and who did not make me feel lonely any more. I had never met him, and there he was. 
Alan Rickman as John Gabriel Borkman

When I was 14, I was out at lunch with classmates and asked if anyone would go see the Harry Potter film with me (I was, for the first time, starting to make real friends). One girl, who I barely knew, spoke up and said she would go, because she loved Alan Rickman. That was it. Best friends forever. It was next to this girl I sat to watch the play. She turned to me (as we realised we were only going to be five feet away from the action and two of the only six people the actors could see clearly, thanks to the stage lights) and said "Erin, our fourteen-year-old selves are giving each other MAJOR high-fives right now" and it was so true. 

The play commenced, along with two of my favourite actresses in the whole world, and I was there. When Lindsay Duncan confronted Alan Rickman about her heartbreak and what he had done to her, I was right with her, and it was a powerful experience, as going to the theatre should be. In truth, that is what it comes down to, right? Actors want to take you to a new world, to take you on an emotional ride, and that is always what he has done for me.

At the climax of the play, Alan Rickman stood on some "snow" mounds on my side of the stage and leaned against the wall, gazing out into the distance and it hit me. I did not want to jump his bones (as many people suspected I would actually do) but I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for everything he had done for my life; that he had been with me through the ups and downs. I wish I could thank him, I really do, but he is a symbol and no amount of storytelling could convey how much he did for my life. I did not need to meet him, as it would have detracted from the experience.

I walked away with a sense of completion. I had been near him, watched him perform with the utmost grace and sensitivity I always appreciated. The man has made me laugh, made me cry and made me love, and there will always be a special place in my heart for that.

Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan
Also, he was fucking amazing and hot as ever. I would also still totally jump Fiona Shaw's bones and I basically want to be Lindsay Duncan. What a presence, man! Just had to throw that out there... hey-oh!

When Alan Rickman was named People's "Surprisingly Sexy" Man of the Year