He may be best known for playing menacing wizard Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” films, but British actor Alan Rickman wasn’t afraid to explore new territories (or rock a curly wig) for his latest flick, “CBGB.”
Rickman portrays real life music icon Hilly Kristal, the late owner of former New York City music club CBGB, a space that is often credited with launching the careers of internationally renowned punk bands such as The Ramones.
Rickman admits that he wasn’t a huge punk fan before signing on for the movie, which is now available with XFINITY On Demand.
“I wasn’t really aware that punk really included people like The Talking Heads and Blondie,” the actor told me during a recent interview. “I always thought it was just people with too much gel in their hair screaming. I grew to love it.”
Kristal opened CBGB, officially named CBGB & OMFUG (Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers), in 1973 in the rundown Bowery section of Manhattan. The New York native originally intended only to play the music genres listed on the bar’s namesake, but ended up offering CBGB’s stage to groundbreaking groups like Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Television in their early days.
“The kind of sweet irony of Hilly’s life is that he called his place CBGB, Country Bluegrass Blues, but he never, ever played it,” Rickman said. “It was never a country music club, because along came punk and he was open enough to these groups to say, ‘Yes, you can come and play here.'”
The film follows Hilly’s struggle to keep CBGB, which was known among musicians for its gritty atmosphere and notorious for its disgusting bathrooms, afloat financially. Donal Logue, Ashley Greene, Bradley Whitford and Stana Katic round out the main cast.
The movie also features cameos by several of Hollywood’s young talents. Malin Akerman is a dead ringer for Debbie Harry, while former Alanis Morisette drummer Taylor Hawins plays a disturbingly good Iggy Pop. Newcomer Keene McRae portrays a young Sting in the flick next to the singer’s real life daughter Mickey Sumner, who portrays an emotional Patti Smith.
“I mean it’s a little freaky to see three young kids come in and be The Police because I know Sting,” Rickman said. “And then to watch Mickey Sumner, Sting’s daughter, play Patti Smith. It was amazing.”
Rickman also teamed up with his former “Harry Potter” co-star Rupert Grint in the flick. Grint portrays crazed guitarist Cheetah Crome of The Dead Boys, one of the many punk bands to play at CBGB.
“The thing about Rupert is that he’s a really talented actor,” Rickman said. “He’s a chameleon, he can play anything. I look forward to anything he does in the future.”
The majority of the movie was shot in Savannah, Georgia, but real furniture from the club, including Kristal’s desk, were brought in for filming. Rickman revealed that phone numbers and names scratched into the desk by Hilly many years prior were still legible on its surface.
Filmmakers also brought in a scruffy canine to play Hilly’s infamously dirty dog Jonathan, known among the CBGB family for going to the bathroom on the club’s floor. The pooch became Rickman’s constant companion on set.
“The poor dog! The thing about filming in Savannah is the heat… we were filming in 90-100 degree heat,” Rickman said. “That dog learned very quickly that if he was being asked once too often to walk on those sidewalks that were burning the pads of his feet, he would flip his head out of that leash with amazing skill. I love dogs. That dog was adorable, not the sharpest brain on the block though.”
“CBGB” is now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to begin ordering the film at home.
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