The bitter cold nipped at us as we huddled in the dark, London back-alley waiting for Sir Alan Rickman to arrive. Many people are speaking of his sneer, but I best remember his smile.
The first actor to emerge from the backstage door was Lindsay Duncan. She was surprised when I asked her to stop for an autograph. That’s what I was doing there. My college theatre class was spending a few weeks in London and Stratford – catching two performances each day – and I was taking the opportunity to go autograph hunting.
Ms. Duncan was not expecting the small crowd of tourists to ask to speak to her. I told her that I’d seen her in Traffik, the British miniseries, and she was surprised that any Americans had seen it. She’d recorded it almost a decade earlier, but she was still enthusiastic to talk about it. She asked questions about schools in America, and I asked about life in the London Theatre scene. I was an actor then – as much as a student can be anything but a student – and I had hopes to move to London some day.
As we spoke, the door creaked open again.
“You’re a dedicated lot,” a clean, kind voice rang out.
It had been almost an hour since the curtain closed on Private Lives at the Albery Theatre, and London’s characteristic rain had tried to hurry us along back to our hotels. The crowd behind the theatre had originally numbered at a dozen, but only four of us remained. Myself, Owen – a senior in my program – and Kathleen – our professor. There was someone else, but I honestly cannot remember who it was.
Sir Alan Rickman was taller than I expected, but he stood at a bit of a stoop. He looked exhausted, but he sounded fresh as dew-covered grass. He asked us who we were. He asked what possessed us to stand out in the rain. When he saw that I had a playbill to sign, he called me over and signed it so I could tuck it away from the rain.
I invited Ms. Duncan to talk some more. She joined us in a circle to all speak together. My group all spoke merrily about our trip to London and our program back home. We spoke about shows we had put on last season and what we planned for the next one.
Even as the rain grew insistent, we conversed as though we were wrapped in blankets by an open fire. The gathering was short. We spoke for only a quarter-hour or less, but it was a happy time. Ms. Duncan and Mr. Rickman smiled most the time and laughed for the rest of it. All gathered were too tired to remain guarded. When we parted ways, Mr. Rickman shook Owen’s hand when requested. It was a formal gesture, but it did not carry the awkward cold that formality can so often breed.
The only cold was in the air, and we did not feel it.