I have bitten by the Rickman-bug, and have been watching his movies and interviews like a crazy person. And one thing that he constantly is talking about in all the interviews is the need for an actor to never judge the characters he is playing.
And what did I learn?
He talks of the script, the writers and the medium he is using to bring the characters alive. (I'll try to put up the links- but check out the interview with Charlie Rose). By doing this, he points out three things-
a. that the story is a work of art, a creative product- something a writer creates.
b. The characters have goals, and are going their separate ways to achieve them. They are not good or bad- they are people who want things, and decide to achieve them using varied means.
c. The actor and the character are always, always two different people. [That was a revelation for me, sometimes the actors are so good that you forget the actor and call them by the character's name- Jack Sparrow? (though for me he'll always be Edward with the scissorhands)]
What I learnt futhermore is that each person's personal vision of the story is different. I am planning to watch another version of Rasputin and Sense and Sensibility. Just so I know what he's done with the characters.
Because when you read his interviews on Rasputin, you understand his working style, and his interpretation of the man Rasputin. He says in one of the interviews, that Rasputin (in his movie) is shown as an alcoholic. He is portrayed as a man who does strange things, who drinks and is "virile". Interestingly, he also talks of his experience of researching on Rasputin- he says, (which I think is very insightful-) that the records on Rasputin are by other people. He wants us to remember that Rasputin was illiterate and therefore could never write; which implies that his version of his life is never available. And Rickman capitalises on this. Since everybody is providing a different version of history, Rickman secures the freedom of interpreting and imagining personality traits when playing Rasputin. And I must say, I loved the movie all the more with each watching session.
Now how is this helpful? To a student of Literature?
Well, see, he shatters the illusion of movie making and writing. By talking about the character and the writer, he makes us see the art behind the movie than just the finished product.
Which when applied to stories/narratives is simply fascinating. It gives a whole new vision and understanding. I was reading Atwood's Moral Disorder simultaneously. And the more I understood the illusion of story-writing, the better I appreciated the writer. It is the pleasure of immersing yourself in make-believe when you are aware of the element of magic that creates it.
The characters within the story are real.
One understands this by the use of dialogue, by character descriptions and what they and what they think about. Rickman's characters stand apart because he lives them. He breathes life into them, gives them a strong personality and stays true to the personality in all situations. P.L. O'Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure is a helpless romantic who loses the love of his life and the child he wants, and then ends up in a messy situation. He is an amazing actor and an arrogant young man. And Rickman makes O'Hara behave that way through out the movie- until the very end. O'Hara might have been a weak character if played by somebody who hadn't understood him.
It always helps to lose yourself in the story and make predictions.
This is something I am allowing myself to do to make the characters live after the final pages of the book. I am trying to think like them, place them in situations and try to imagine their response. Largely because of Rickman's interpretation of Eli in Nobel Son. Fascinating, because I would have judged him- right away.
But from what I have seen in Rickman- I have learnt to never, never judge a character. Never to say he is good or bad (initially) but see him for what he is. Maybe in the second or third reading we shall understand "why" somebody does something they are doing.