Friday, January 15, 2016

my dinner with alan

Alan Rickman is dead at 69.

To someone who just turned 67, the number in that last sentence is mind-focusing.  But my mortality is not something on which I dwell.  Even though the topic does show up here almost as often in a Bergman film.

Before I moved to Mexico, Laurie,
while she was still in Honduras, wrote a piece about the people with whom she would like to share a dinner.  Alan Rickman was on her list.

When I told her I had enjoyed dinner with him long ago, I promised to tell her the rest of the story.  This is probably as good a time as any to keep that promise.

After I failed in my run for a seat in the Oregon legislature, my law partnership broke up.  That left me looking for a law job.

Early in 1989, my friends from my days at Oxford, the Culbertsons, telephoned me to ask if I would be interested in working in London for a rock musician.  Entertainment law was not my specialty, but I was willing to give it a go.

We auditioned one another and concluded that only one of our egos could fit into any given space at one time.  Even though that job was not on, I had a great time in London with the Culbertsons.  They had done quite well for themselves by investing in the entertainment world.

Somehow we ended up at an opening night cocktail party in Mayfair.  I do not remember what the occasion was, but the room was filled with B and C list actors.  Janet squired me around the room introducing to the people she knew -- and that was most of the crowd.

Amongst them were Alan Rickman and his politician-partner Rima.  I knew him from the recently-released Die Hard where he played one of his most memorable roles as the sneering elitist Hans Gruber (labeled as "Eurotrash" by one of the other characters) pitted against the populist blue collar cop played by Bruce Willis. 

We exchanged only a few words.  Rima did most of the talking -- especially about my recent political loss.

We stayed for only about an hour.  As we were leaving, Alan and Rima (and two other couples) caught us at the door and asked if we were interested in having dinner at Langan's with them.  If the Culbertsons were not interested, I certainly was.  So, off we went.

I wish I could tell you all of the details of the dinner.  I don't even remember what I ordered.  But I do remember the conversation was laden with the types of entertainment anecdotes that always tantalize Americans.

Rima and I spent most of our conversation discussing politics.  Our philosophical differences.  The campaign structures of both countries.  Our shared interests as political animals.

During the 1990s I traveled to Britain almost every year.  Before their untimely deaths, the Culbertsons always came up with a fascinating guest list in London and Oxford.  But that dinner with Alan Rickman has always been one of the most memorable.

Well, that and dancing with one of the Rolly-Pollies in Blackpool -- a venue provided by Robert and Hilary Wells, instead of the Culbertsons.  But that really is a tale for another time.

Other roles would soon follow Hans Gruber's turn on the screen.  Saving Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with a sheriff of Nottingham that could be used as an actor's workshop for chewing scenery.  A treacherous Éamon de Valera in Michael Collins.  The Voice of God in the highly irreverent Dogma.  And, the ambiguously menacing Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise films.

I must confess to a guilty pleasure, though.  My favorite Rickman role is his portrayal of Sir Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest -- a Star Trek parody where the crew of the Protector, through a series of circumstances no more incredible than the show it mocks, end up on a star ship defending the universe against evil.

Rickman's character is a Shakespearean-trained actor who feels trapped opening shopping centers with the rest of the cast.  One of my favorite lines is his challenge of the Kirk-like character who is fighting a rock monster, with this line delivered in solemn thespian sincerity: "See, that's your problem, Jason. You were never serious about the craft."

Alan Rickman was serious about his craft -- even when acting in pieces of fluff like Robin Hood and Harry Potter.  And that is the sign of a true actor.

By the time I met him, he had abandoned the legitimate theater in favor of films -- with a dalliance back on stage occasionally.  I wish I could have seen him in live theater.

But I can see him on film.  Tonight, in honor of his career, I am setting aside my Friday night reading of The Economist to watch Galaxy Quest and Die Hard.

I suspect I will find it more enjoyable than churning up the dining table at Downton Abbey.

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