Alan Rickman on learning about punk to star in ‘CBGB’

Alan Rickman plays legendary club owner Hilly Kristal in the biopic "CBGB." Credit: Getty Images
Alan Rickman plays legendary club owner Hilly Kristal in the biopic “CBGB.”
Credit: Getty Images

Alan Rickman was in his 30s — and in England — when the punk and New Wave scene broke at the legendary downtown New York City club CBGB.

“I was very unaware of it, I’m afraid,” he says, with his patented dry drawl, where every word sounds like it’s working its way slowly through his mouth. “I was aware of the Sex Pistols. I wasn’t listening to it particularly. But you couldn’t actually avoid it. It was insisting on being heard.”

Regardless, he’s the star of “CBGB,” a biopic about the venue, in which the “Die Hard” and “Harry Potter” film stealer plays its owner, the also legendary Hilly Kristal.

“It’s all been an education to me,” he admits. Even before he shot the film, he wasn’t all that aware of the major acts — Television, the Ramones, Patti Smith — that first caught their break there. Even now he’s no major convert. “I’d be more on the Talking Heads side than the Dead Boys side,” he says, referring to the punk band that comes to dominate the film’s second half. “While we were shooting it, though, I could see the appeal.”

His ignorance, however, put him in an ideal position to play Kristal, who opened CBGB intending to book country, bluegrass and blues (those genres’ initials form the venue’s name). He slowly came around to other bands, soon becoming the first major benefactor to many of them.

He said he used the many books and documentaries on CBGB to prepare for Kristal, who died in 2007. “I observed somebody who seemed to have a very calm and strong inner life,” Rickman reveals. “He read a lot. There was a stillness about him, which to me was interesting given the amount of noise that was going on in the club.”

In the film, as in life, Kristal is the still, sometimes pissy center of a very loud storm. “The thing about him is he receives a lot of influences. He’s not pushing his energy out — he’s accepting energy from other people,” he says. “He was kind of a homing device to some fairly anguished experimental souls at the time. In footage you see him walking calmly through the club. It’s a strong still energy. It must have been reassuring, I’d think.

“There was a clarity to his thinking and a courage involved in encouraging all these young bands.”

He says it was odd shooting “CBGB” because at the time he was prepping for “The Butler,” in which he plays Ronald Reagan. “My head was a bit inhabited by Ronald Reagan. Bit strange,” he says, chuckling. He was also prepping his own directorial work, which also featured him playing Louis XIV. “I have no idea where those three people came from in the plan of things.”

He’s not crazy about directing himself. “You answer to nobody. You just basically hope for the best. You’re hoping there are enough cameras pointing in enough directions that you get away with something. And Louis XIV by definition doesn’t have to move very much. He stands there being Louis XIV.”

But he didn’t fire himself. “Some say the good thing about film is if you screw it up they’ll probably fire you after the first take anyway. You must be doing something right if you’ve still got the job on scene two.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Is #JusticeForAvaLynn a case of bullying?

On Saturday, the hashtag #JusticeForAvaLynn became one of the trending topics on Twitter. Users circulated the above photo of 5-year-old AvaLynn, posted by her mother…

International

Terrorism could spread to US and Europe in…

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East,…

National

Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…

International

China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…

Gossip

Joan Rivers on life support: Report

TMZ reports that comedian Joan Rivers has been placed on life support, "completely reliant on machines to stay alive." Rivers has been hospitalized since she…

Movies

What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Wellbeing

VIDEO: Still not wearing sunscreen? You will after…

Sunscreen is possibly the most often repeated - and ignored - piece of skincare advice. But Thomas Leveritt took a different tactic. With a short…

Food

Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.

Food

Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…