In 1994 I, an 11-year-old idiot, walked into a rehearsal room in the Old Athenaeum in Glasgow and was welcomed by the fucking Sheriff of Nottingham in a voice which made the room tremble. We sat down and my audition started, reading straight off the page dialogue so unavoidably brilliant that all you needed to do was read it straight off the page.
I did not get the part.
I was too young.
I did, however, receive a long, hand-written letter from Joyce Nettles, the casting director, thanking me for auditioning and expressing regret that it hadn’t worked out. The only time this has ever happened. I think Alan may have had something to do with that.
Two years later he was back, looking to cast the same parts in the film version of the same play. Now I was not too young and in the Winter of 1996 I spent two months (off school!) in the beautiful East Neuk of Fife, making a goddamn movie directed by Alan Rickman, written by Sharman MacDonald starring Emma Thompson, shot by Seamus McGarvey etc etc etc, working with all manner of brilliant people, some of whom are close friends and occasionally colleagues to this day. Just sickeningly lucky.
When I left school and wanted to try and do this sort of thing for a living, Alan arranged a meeting with his agent.
The first audition that agent got me was for Harry Potter.
When I arrived at Leavesden Studios for the first time and met David Heyman for the first time, he told me he’d just had a call from Alan telling him how wonderful I was and that he’d be mad not to hire me. He hired me.
When we got on set, (That set. That fucking glorious world of Jo Rowling’s mind brought to life so that we could walk around in it and touch it and be part of showing it to the entire world.) Alan introduced me to practically every great British actor I’d ever heard of. Telling them, “this is my boy.”
When I told him how much I’d enjoyed the production of Private Lives he was in, he invited me and my best mate to New York to stay with him for a weekend and see it again. He booked shows for us to see every night, he took us on boat rides, he showed us the Big Apple.
When my friend Donny wrote a play that he wanted me to be in, I sent it to Alan, hoping for some advice on where we might get it put on. He received it when he was stepping on a plane. When he landed he emailed me back, having read the whole thing and loved it. Two days later we received a printed copy of the play with mountains of suggested edits, cuts and thoughts scrawled across it in his handwriting, and a two page letter with praise for Donny and advice on who to take it to.
He did the same for the next four drafts. This. Never. Stopped. In twenty years, all my experience of Alan was like this. He’d be on a mad press trip round the world, having just finished a broadway show and be about to start shooting a film - with several other projects as an actor, director, writer, board member, mentor bubbling away in the background - and if I needed anything he would immediately spend hours of his time helping me. AND, amazingly, I know of at least a dozen other people who had this same relationship with him. He was our fairy Godfather. He was the whisper in the right ear at the right time. He was the reassuring message when he sensed, always correctly, that we needed it most. He was new head shots or carpets or travel money when times were tough. How he found the time, let alone the will for all this is a mystery to me. He was the most generous, wise, supportive, talented, charismatic, empathetic person I think I’ve ever known.
The last time I saw Alan he had, unbeknownst to me, been in hospital for the previous ten days. He got out that morning…and kept our theatre date. In a strange way I’m glad of that frightening episode, as it made me realise that even he was a mortal of flesh and blood and a certain age and he might not always be there. That evening when we parted, I hugged him and told him I loved him and I’m very glad of that now.
On monday morning I will start rehearsals for a new play. It will be the first time since I was thirteen years old that I have engaged in such a project without being able to call on Alan for advice and support and I am utterly terrified. I can only hope that enough has rubbed off that I’ll be able to take it from here. I’m honestly not so sure…