The book is out next week and absolutely packed with deliciously acerbic and indiscrete commentaries about the entire ten-year process of making the Harry Potter film franchise. Indeed, some of Professor Snape’s waspish wit seems to have bled into the actor’s personality or, more likely, vice versa. It makes for entertaining reading, especially if you imagine it delivered in the star’s trademark drawl. It also confirms that the Rickman wanted to get out of the franchise as early 2002, when he wrote on December 4 about meetings with his agent: “Talking to Paul Lyon-Maris about HP exit, which he thinks will happen. But here we are in the project-collision area again. Reiterating no more HP. They don’t want to hear it.”
In edited extracts from the diaries published in The Guardian, Rickman describes his very first chats with author JK Rowling and her “nervous” revelations about Snape that enabled the actor to understand his character and ultimately stopped him giving up on the entire franchise.
On October 6 and 7, 2000, Rickman wrote: “First conversation with Joanne Rowling. Her sister answers – ‘She’s not here – can I leave a message?’ cackling in the background … ‘Sorry about that! …’ (I tell her) There are things that only Snape & you know – I need to know…’ ‘You’re right – call me tomorrow; no one else knows these things.’
“Talk to Joanne Rowling again and she nervously lets me in on a few glimpses of Snape’s background. Talking to her is talking to someone who lives these stories, not invents them.”
It was only after the franchise finally finished that Rowling finally revealed that she had told him that Snape had always loved Harry’s mother, Lily.
Rickman’s main frustrations seem to have been the way an actor’s craft and the art of making a movie usually came second to the juggernaut pressures of making a blockbuster a year. During the 2004 Goblet of Fire shoot, he wrote: “I feel so shafted on this film.”
One of his very last Potter posts from January 14, 2010, while filming The Deathly Hallows Part 2 with director David Yates. Rickman says: “Finding it hard to remember any particular scenes over the years mainly because all the decisions are taken in committee rooms and not on the floor. We listen as DY tells us what we are thinking and why (and in some cases recounts the story…) and a small piece of something creative caves in.”
He also mentions a 2008 moment when a similarly despairing Maggie Smith (who played Professor McGonnagal) had retreated from the set: “Found Maggie in her trailer, vulnerable and f*** it all – all at once.”
Rickman had high praise for Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Voldemort and singled out Snape’s death scene as “the absolute example of what can happen when a couple of actors pick up a scene off the page and work with the story, the space and each other.”
He also shared the hilarious way the line “take out your wand” kept reducing Helena Bonham-Carter to giggles, and said Helen McRory: “says she’s terrified but fits like a glove with the mayhem.”
Co-stars Maggie Smith, Zoë Wanamaker, Ian Hart, Richard Harris are “in their ways sweet, funny souls,” but some of his comments about the lead cast were rather more blunt.
In May 2003, Rickman wrote of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe: “Serious and focused – but with a sense of fun. I still don’t think he’s really an actor but he will undoubtedly direct/produce.”
Two months later when tensions were high on The Prisoner of Azkaban set, he wrote: “these kids need directing. They don’t know their lines and Emma (Watson)’s diction is this side of Albania at times.”
Like many fans, it was one of Rickman’s favourites from the franchise and he wrote after the 2004 premiere: “Alfonso has done an extraordinary job. It is a very grown-up movie, so full of daring that it made me smile and smile. Every frame of it is the work of an artist and storyteller.”
Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries, will be published by Canongate on October 4.