In talking about his film “A Little Chaos” (opening Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center), Alan Rickman, who directed the movie as well as tackled the role of King Louis XIV, said he wasn’t sure making the picture had any effects on his thoughts about the legendary “Sun King” of France.
“Our film is so deliberate with its inaccuracies,” said Rickman, familiar to audiences as “Die Hard” villain Hans Gruber and “Harry Potter” teacher Severus Snape. “It is an example of what movies can do. You take a piece of history, and they inject a writer’s fancy into it.”
For Rickman, who co-wrote the screenplay with newcomers Jeremy Brock and Alison Deegan, the project began with a question.“What if,” he said, “we put in a woman who couldn’t have existed then? What if we surmise what Louis XIV was as a human being? Because nobody probably really knew because he spent so much time alone and aloof and possibly lonely.”
That “woman who couldn’t have existed” is the character of Sabine de Barra, a widowed landscape designer in late 17th Century France, portrayed by Kate Winslet in the film. As Rickman noted, the role of women more than 300 years ago “in every country in the world prevented them from ever possibly being considered for a position at Versailles as Sabine is in our film.”
As for King Louis, the actor and filmmaker paused a bit. “That’s the Louis you see in this film. He’s a creation of much imagination, overlaid on historical fact. I guess you become a bit aware of the immense power he wielded — and maybe just a sense of what he might have been as a person.”
While all of “A Little Chaos” was filmed in England, due to budgetary considerations, Rickman went to Versailles along with Winslet, a couple of producers and the film’s cinematographer, Ellen Kuras, and had a very revealing moment in the famous Hall of Mirrors in the palace.
“It was quite the field trip for us,” said Rickman, phoning from New York. “I hadn’t been there since I was an art student, obviously many years beforehand. … It was truly magical to have the Hall of Mirrors all to ourselves, and then to be told by the Louis XIV expert who was on hand that in Louis’ time they lit 10,000 candles every single night. Just to imagine the enormous staff needed for that single process was almost overwhelming. It gave us all a reason to pause and ponder what that represented.”
Despite “A Little Chaos” being a period, costume drama, Rickman said that wasn’t his drawto direct the movie.
“I think it’s a totally modern film in many ways and has a lot of contemporary sensibilities. After all, it’s a film where Kate’s character can say, ‘What about us?’ And the main male character can say — at the end of the movie — ‘We’ll shape each other.’
“This is meant to reach out to a modern audience. It’s about a strong woman reaching out to tackle a job previously only done by men. Plus it’s about a strong man, who admits to his vulnerabilities.”
Since gardening and garden design are key to this film, I had to ask Rickman if he had a “green thumb.”
He laughed and admitted, “I wish I could say yes. But I’m a completely hopeless gardener. But I do love gardens. My wife is much better at than I am. We have a little garden in London, and we have a little garden in an even smaller house we have in Italy — and we’re very proud of them.
“But at the end of the day, I’d say we’re a bit like a couple of Louis XIVs — we stand and point, and say, ‘Do that!’ ”