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Without Alan Rickman, ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves’ would’ve been a mediocre film. His deliciously hammy Sheriff of Nottingham however transforms it into one of the best ‘guilty pleasure’ movies of the 90s.
The British star, who has died aged 69 from cancer, apparently turned down the role in 'Prince Of Thieves’ twice. He changed his mind after he was allowed “carte blanche” with the character.
As a result, the actor revealed in a Q&A last year, he went ahead a re-wrote chunks of the “terrible” script with comedian Ruby Wax and playwright Peter Barnes so he could get some good lines.
He said he met Barnes in a branch of Pizza Express, where, according to The Times, he asked: “‘Will you have a look at this script because it’s terrible, and I need some good lines.’ So he did, and, you know, with kind of pizza and bacon and egg going all over the script.”
Barnes re-wrote a scene where the Sheriff was been running down a corridor, telling him: “You should have a wench in a doorway, and then you should say, ‘You. My room, 10.30,’ and then turn to the other wench and say, ‘You, 10.45’.”
He said Wax later added: “And bring a friend.”
Director Kevin Reynolds let them slip the lines into the scene. It became one of the classic and most quoted moments in the film.
“Nobody knew this was happening except him,” Rickman said. “And I knew it had worked because as I cleared the camera I saw about 80 members of the crew just go [mimed trying not to laugh].”
There are rumours that Robin Hood star Kevin Costner had some of Rickman’s scenes cut because he was concerned that the Sheriff was overshadowing him in the movie.
If that is true then it didn’t work - Rickman won plaudits from the critics and a BAFTA for his sensational performance in a movie that was, for the most part, critically derided.
For his negative two star review, Roger Ebert wrote: “Alan Rickman, in complete contrast, plays the Sheriff as if he were David Letterman: He’s a wicked, droll, sly, witty master of the put-down and one-liners, who rolls his eyes in exasperation when Robin comes bursting in to interrupt the rape. Rickman’s performance has nothing to do with anything else in the movie… but at least when Rickman appears on the screen we perk up, because we know we’ll be entertained, at whatever cost to the story.”
Empire wrote in their review: “Things do liven up immensely, however, whenever Alan Rickman hits the screen. This man is obviously having a lot of fun here with his Sheriff, a diabolically petulant bastard, played with gleeful pantomime-esque camp, and backed up brilliantly by his sidekick, the deeply unpleasant Guy of Gisborne.”
Rickman’s Sheriff is now seen as a classic, camp villainous performance… and it all started in Pizza Express.