LYNN NEARY, HOST:
As an actor, Alan Rickman has moved seamlessly from playing villains and cads to shy, sensitive lovers and lots in between. But he will probably be best remembered for creating the unlikable and unlikely hero of the Harry Potter series - Severus Snape.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2")
ALAN RICKMAN: (As Severus Snape) It's come to my attention that earlier this evening, Harry Potter was sighted in Hogsmeade. Now, should anyone, student or staff, attempt to aid Mr. Potter, they will be punished.
NEARY: Now, for the first time in nearly two decades, Rickman is back behind the camera as director of the film "A Little Chaos." I spoke with him for a piece that originally aired on Morning Edition. He told me his years of acting have taught him one very valuable lesson about the art of directing.
RICKMAN: One of the most, in a weird way, encouraging things a director can say to an actor - I know this as an actor - is when you ask them a question, they say, I don't know - 'cause it means there's some space there for you to find out. And it means that there's going to be a process. It's not all going to be about the result.
NEARY: Before he took up acting, Rickman trained as a graphic designer and artist, talents he put to use in directing "A Little Chaos." The film is all about the design and creation of an outdoor ballroom set amidst the Gardens of Versailles. You watch as the ballroom gradually takes shape, beginning with a detailed set of plans through unexpected setbacks.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A LITTLE CHAOS")
KATE WINSLET: (As Sabine De Barra) The sluice gate must be open.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) We need more hands.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Then pray.
WINSLET: (As Sabine De Barra) To hell with that.
NEARY: Finally, a fully landscaped dance space emerges from the mud. Filmed in England, Rickman says it was all done in reverse.
RICKMAN: It was made beautiful. And we shot the final dance number first and then gradually destroyed it. And English weather came along and helped us to create a mud pit. So, you know, that bit's real. That's real mud that Kate is wallowing in.
NEARY: Kate is Kate Winslet, the actress who portrays Sabine De Barra, a widowed landscaper who wins the job of creating the outdoor ballroom at Versailles and then falls in love with the designer who oversees the gardens. Rickman and Winslet's history goes back 20 years, to "Sense And Sensibility."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY")
WINSLET: (As Marianne Dashwood) Shall we continue tomorrow?
RICKMAN: (As Colonel Brandon) No, for I must away.
WINSLET: (As Marianne Dashwood) Away? Where?
RICKMAN: (As Colonel Brandon) That I cannot tell you. It is a secret.
WINSLET: (As Marianne Dashwood) You will not stay away long.
NEARY: In that film, Rickman plays Colonel Brandon, a lonely man who quietly pines away for a much younger woman, played by Winslet. He helps her recover after her heart is broken by someone else, and she learns to love him back. Rickman says he formed a close bond with Winslet while making the film.
RICKMAN: When you've got that sort of relationship to play on film, there's a - there's definitely a closeness that's established. And it was one of her first films, and she was only 19 so I felt very protective of her. I still feel protective of her, but she's also much more in charge of her own destiny.
NEARY: Rickman says he needed an actress with an independent spirit to play Sabine because she's a woman with a career in an era when that was unheard of. In fact, Rickman says, Sabine could never have existed in the time of Louis XIV, which is what attracted him to the story.
RICKMAN: There were no women with a profession like that at that time. And at that level of society, they would all have been in the court, standing around looking beautiful. And so it's a very modern story decorated, in a way, as if it were only taking place in the past.
NEARY: Rickman not only directs "A Little Chaos," he also acts in it, portraying Louis XIV. And as the king, he has the chance to act with Winslet once again.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A LITTLE CHAOS")
RICKMAN: (As King Louis XIV) There is someone you love?
WINSLET: (As Sabine De Barra) I cannot say.
RICKMAN: (As King Louis XIV) Why?
WINSLET: (As Sabine De Barra) Because - because of something private.
RICKMAN: (As King Louis XIV) What is so private that it cannot be shared in love?
NEARY: As a director, Rickman says he doesn't spend much time on his own scenes. Watching the takes makes him feel self-conscious and so many other things require a director's attention, like that moment of panic that Rickman says always comes during the making of a film.
RICKMAN: You know, we're not going to get it finished. We haven't got time to do this scene. You know, the directors always got producers breathing in their ear. So, you know, you've always got one eye on the clock, another eye on the sky and the clouds and they've got an eye on the budget. And there's some hideous mixture of the three.
NEARY: When that happens, Rickman says, the difference between being an actor and a director is simple. The director has to hide his panic; the actor doesn't. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.