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British Actor Rickman Swirls, Sweats, Succeeds in'Bottle Shock'

NEW YORK — The Washington Diplomat recently talked to British actor Alan Rickman to discuss his latest independent film, “Bottle Shock,” based on a true story about the ascent of Northern California’s wine country after an international competition in 1976.

That competition came to be known as the “Judgment of Paris,” a blind tasting in which a small California winery bested its esteemed French competitors, forever putting California wines on the map.

And roles in films ranging from “Harry Potter” to “Die Hard” to “Perfume” have put Rickman on the map as well. “One of the things I love about filmmaking is that it takes me to different parts of the world. [I] try to be aware that you’re somewhat special and with special people doing something special. It’s a luxury and a privilege,” he said.

At the same time, he concedes: “There were moments when it was hard work. What am I doing wearing a wool suit sitting by a roadside in 100 degrees of heat with a car that doesn’t have any suspension?,” he asks, describing one of the scenes shot on location in California for “Bottle Shock,” which was directed by Randall Miller and his co-writer/producer/wife Jody Savin.

“They really owe nothing to anybody in terms of the way they make their movies, the way they put them together, the way they sell them afterward, the way they edit them,” Rickman said of the creative duo. “You’re entering territory that nobody else inhabits. They’re driven by great stories and really interesting characters and collisions between those characters that really deny any easy labels. I like films where you can’t say it’s this or this.”

And “Bottle Shock” clearly fits that bill. “It’s about private passions and weird connections that exists between man, woman and nature and that mystical understanding that you have to arrive at,” Rickman mused.

Quoting Bo, a real-life subject portrayed in the film, Rickman said: “The thing about wine is that it’s somewhere between grape juice and vinegar. Somewhere in there there’s like 400 decisions that have to be taken that will alter it. Along the way you’re looking at the clouds, listening to the wind, in touch with the earth, praying for rain or sun.… You’re trying to control something uncontrollable. It’s very visually arresting to me to look at a vineyard, these leaves that are being really controlled. And now, everybody just sits and waits.”

Asked about his research for the film, Rickman responded: “I suppose you do research if you think where is the area of my ignorance which is going to become a gaping hole. I can’t show you what something tastes like. I have to train my hands in handling a bottle and a glass and smelling it and swilling it and spinning it so that it becomes a bit like being somebody at a circus. If you’ve got a good script, your body responds. Your body’s always ahead of your brain. Your brain’s already trying to catch up as an actor.”

He added: “The challenge is to introduce notes of ambiguity without being spotted — see if you can make it into the final cut.”

Asked for an example, he retorted: “You think I’m going to tell you?”

Rickman’s next films are “Nobel Son” (also by Miller and Savin) in October and the next “Harry Potter” installment in November.

Coixet Adapts Roth for ‘Elegy’

Spanish director Isabel Coixet (“My Life Without Me,” “The Secret Life of Words”) came to New York to talk about her new movie, “Elegy,” based on Philip Roth’s novella “The Dying Animal.” The Washington Diplomat chatted with Coixet about what it was like to put such an iconic author’s words onto the big screen.

“I’m a big fan of Philip Roth. I think he’s one of the great novelists of our time,” she said. “At the same time, I’m the one who always says, ‘If a novel is good, why do you have to adapt it? Why do you have to translate it to the screen?’

“I was scared. I thought it was a challenge. It was the first time I worked with a script I didn’t write. There is something here that’s calling me. There is something here that I know how to express,” she added.

So ultimately Coixet did translate the story of an older professor obsessed with his much-younger lover, who awakens his sense of sexual possessiveness. Asked about Roth’s reputation for being misogynistic, Coixet replied, “I don’t think ‘The Dying Animal’ is a misogynist novel.” She pauses. “You know, misogynism is everywhere.”

She elaborated: “I don’t have any problem with all the sexual scenes. I think they are more raw in the novel. The problem with me is not that they’re raw — they’re not relevant on a screen.

“I had four conversations with [Roth]. He was very clear about what he wanted and what he didn’t want,” Coixet continued. “He was very obsessed about little tiny details.”

Those details included dressing the women — especially the alluring female lead, Consuela, played by Spanish actress Penélope Cruz — in skirts and never in jeans.

“I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t worry, no jeans in the movie.’ And then Consuela, at the end, she’s wearing jeans,” Coixet said. “We had an agreement on the most important things. In the end, he liked the film.”

About the Author

Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999