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Alan Rickman on Directing ‘A Little Chaos,’ Gardening and Kate Winslet’s Green Thumb

Alan Rickman, who picked up the Krzysztof Kieslowski Award at the Camerimage film festival on Saturday, is best known for playing scene-stealing villains in “Die Hard” and the Harry Potter movies, but the silver tongued charmer steps out of the spotlight and assumes the director’s chair for “A Little Chaos,” which screens at the festival.

It’s a period drama about a female landscape gardener who finds herself thrust into the court of Louis XIV, one that reunites Rickman with his “Sense and Sensibility” co-star Kate Winslet. She stars as the green-thumbed pioneer, along with Matthias Schoenaerts as Andre Le Notre, the mastermind behind the gardens at Versailles, and Rickman, doing double duty as King Louis XIV. The film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.

Rickman spoke with Variety about the challenges of making a period film on a tight budget, his own gardening skills and tossing a pregnant Winslet into freezing water.

You direct as well as act in the film. Was that difficult to juggle?

I think there should be a law against it, but other people manage somehow. Of course, you think about Orson Welles and think shut up and get on with it. It was an economic necessity for me to do it, and I was gifted with an incredibly supportive crew. Secondly, Louis doesn’t move very much. People come to him.

It’s been more than a decade since the last film you directed, “The Winter Guest,” came out. Why the delay?

A little thing called Harry Potter got in the way. That came along in 2000 and though it was just seven weeks out of the year, it made it impossible to direct a movie. I’ve spent a year and half of my life on this one. Once my throat was attacked by a snake, it freed me up to go and do this.

Kate’s character and her struggle to be taken seriously for her work seems so modern despite the period trappings. Was that part of the project’s appeal for you?

As a man in society, it’s always salutatory to be reminded of a time when women had to fight to have any proper function other than being decorative and not having a job or being controlled by men.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more or less fascinated by Louis XIV and the whole Versailles thing than anybody else. I would not have ever predicted I’d have made a movie about that period, let alone make a period piece. But the contemporary nature of the writing appealed to me and the highest compliment I’ve received is that people tell me they forget it’s a period movie because the relationship between Kate and Matthias is so strong and subtle.

Did Kate have any hesitancy about being knee deep in the mud and dirt for much of the movie?

She loves all that. She was 14 weeks pregnant by the time we threw her into the water at one o’clock in the morning. We only found out she was pregnant when filming started, but she said it was fine, because ‘I always have easy pregnancies.’

Was it difficult to bring the court of Louis XIV to life and all its opulence on a limited budget?

From my years in theater I know that limitations are sometimes good for the imagination.

Do you garden?

I’m a completely hopeless gardener, but I appreciate the skill. I am speaking to you from New York, where I’m about 200 meters from the High Line and what a huge gift that is to everyone. To get some sense of freedom and nature. It’s thrilling to see nature and man and woman getting together in, as the film says, ‘A little order and a little chaos.”

Does that maxim apply to more than gardening?

I hope so. It’s the point of the film, that each needs the other. I talk to young actors and say repeatedly that discipline and freedom are two sides of the same coin, they’re almost the same word and you cannot have one without the other.

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