The mythology of punk music's evolution can be traced back, more or less, to one singular staple: CBGB. Opened in 1973 in downtown Manhattan's East Village, the nightclub that originally intended to house country, bluegrass and blues music (hint its acronym) quickly became a breeding ground for bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads and The Police, among countless others.
The legacy of the club, which closed in 2006 over a rent dispute, is on display in a new movie that stars Alan Rickman as bemused owner Hilly Kristal. It's a bit of a departure for anyone more accustomed to seeing Rickman, 67, play sinister Severus Snape in "Harry Potter" or Judge Turpin in "Sweeney Todd." The movie also afforded him the opportunity to reunite with fellow Hogwarts alum Rupert Grint, who portrays one-third of derriere-bearing punk band The Dead Boys, alongside Justin Bartha and Bronson Adams. They're joined by a revolving door of notable faces, including Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry, Taylor Hawkins as Iggy Pop, Johnny Galecki as Terry Ork and Ashley Greene as Hilly's daughter Lisa.
HuffPost Entertainment snagged some phone time with Rickman and Grint, who were candid about their unfamiliarity with CBGB's legacy but effusive about the excitement that came with reconvening for the project. Plus, Grint talks about his own punk phase and Rickman explains what Halloween used to mean for him.
What are you up to today?
Rickman: I'm in New York. I'm just here for three or four days for "CBGB" in New York and then back to work in England.
Grint: I'm rehearsing a play that will start [in London] in a couple of weeks. Yeah, so that's it.
Are you enjoying the theater work? Are you more of a theater guy or a film guy?
Grint: I don’t know, really. This is my first theater experience, and it’s very different. I wanted to just try it; it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Just the thought of it scares me. I’ve kind of put it off for a long time, and I just thought it was a good time to do it. And it’s a great play and a really great cast with a great director, and it was just, yeah, I’m enjoying it.
Were you familiar with the legacy of CBGB as a breeding ground for the punk-rock scene prior to taking your roles in the movie?
Rickman: I wasn’t familiar with CBGB at all. I didn’t know about it and didn’t know its history. I hadn’t even really heard those four letters put together because at that time I was very much in England as a drama student and an art student, so it’s all been a new discovery to me. Obviously I was aware of some of the bands, but not that they’d all started in a club on the Bowery.
Grint: I didn't actually know a lot about it. I'd obviously heard of the name and the logo and seen it on T-shirts and stuff like that, but I didn’t really know how prolific it was in discovering some of my favorite bands. I love Talking Heads, and the whole punk thing was something I really loved. So, yeah, it was quite an education learning about it. And also Dead Boys, I wasn’t really familiar with them, and kind of listening and watching them on YouTube was amazing. They just had so much energy, and they were just disgusting. It was incredible.
Did you grow up listening to the music depicted in the movie?
Rickman: Obviously I was aware of the huge rise of The Police in England, and as an art student I was very much a fan of Talking Heads. And then Blondie, but I wasn’t a hard punk-rock fan at the time. But of course I was also very much around the height of The Beatles and The Stones, so it was like that was the lone star and everything spun off from there. And [Bob] Dylan, very much so. ... England in the ‘60s and the ‘70s was everything that history has said; it was phenomenally exciting, musically. One was very shaped by that.
Grint: It was that whole era that I liked. I like, obviously, The Sex Pistols and The Clash, Blondie as well, and The Ramones. Some amazing people performed on that stage. ... I went through a real punk phase not that long ago, and yeah, it was probably the reason why I decided to do it, because I have such a love for that.
Did you dress similarly to the character that you play at any point?
Grint: [Laughs] No, not at all. The dog collar was a new experience for me.
Not knowing much of the mythology of CBGB, how did you come to learn about your characters?
Rickman: What I really enjoyed and what made it interesting to play was the fact that he happened in direct contrast to the world of the club and what its history became. Because there was this big quiet, contained man who made a club for country music and it never ever played there. Along came punk, and he became like that deus ex machina, I suppose. I watched old interviews and DVDs. I listened to him talking to his mother and his daughter and journalists, so there was a lot of material for me.
Grint: Yeah, there wasn’t really a whole lot to go on. There are a few videos of him playing live at CBGB and a few interviews I watched. Yeah, and having [Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome] on set was quite a different thing. I had kind of a little bit of pressure because he was kind of watching every scene, and you’re trying to portray him and do him justice, and it’s quite a challenge.
So he was on set the whole time?
Grint: Yeah, he has a cameo. He plays the cab driver. He was lovely. He was such a nice guy. I was kind of surprised he was still alive.
Did he give you any notes while filming?
Grint: Not so much notes. It was just kind of watching him and being around him and listening to his stories and just listening, really, kind of absorbing a lot of that. And he was such a nice guy and we had a good time.
Was this movie your first instance of nudity on camera?
Grint: Yeah, I guess it was, yeah.
Were you comfortable with that? How did that go down?
Grint: Weirdly, yeah. It didn’t really feel that big a deal. It just kind of happened. I didn’t really think about it when I was getting ready for it, and yeah, it just kind of happened. I had some sort of sock, modesty thing, contraption. I don’t want to go into too much detail. And yeah, it was just sort of one of those things. There was quite a lot of that in the film. Especially from Justin [Bartha] as well. … There’s quite a lot of ass in the film.
You had to try out an American accent in this role. Is there an accent out there that you'd be intimidated to have to use on camera?
Rickman: I think every English actor is nervous of a Newcastle accent. That’s really difficult.
Grint: It’s quite fun just trying to work on it and get it right. I like that kind of challenge. A couple years ago, I did a film that required me to do a Liverpool accent. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that sound, but that was quite a hard one. It’s quite a harsh sound. But I enjoy that side of things.
Once you started exploring the role and got into The Dead Boys and their history, did you find yourself enjoying their music? What did you think of the band you were portraying?
Grint: I really love them. I listened to all their songs completely. Their songs are quite hard to play, not easy to listen to. But no, I really love then. I’ve always really wanted to be in a band, so this was kind of an opportunity to experience that. To go on stage and have the whole crowd there and the music.
Is music something you’d ever pursue?
Grint: I don’t know, probably not. I’ve tried to leverage it, but I just know it’s never going to happen.
Alan, you often play very dominant roles, very powerful people. What were your thoughts going into a character who was much more loose-goosey? Is it fun to shift gears and play that sort of character?
Rickman: I suppose, in my perspective, I’ve played as many of those as I have the other sort. It’s just some get more publicity or make more money at the box office or something. I’m perfectly happy to be Colonel Brandon in “Sense & Sensibility” as I am any of those powerful characters. It’s just part of an actor’s job, and you just alter the colors that you get out of the cupboard.
How was it to reunite? Had you seen each other since doing press for the eighth "Harry Potter" movie?
Rickman: No, because I think we’d both been so busy doing other things. But it was great to see him on the set, and it was great to watch all three of them. I saw Emma [Watson] the other night in London in a restaurant, and I saw Daniel [Radcliffe] recently in London because he was doing a play. It’s great to watch the three of them moving forward into the rest of their lives and being working actors and not trapped by one image.
Grint: Not really, no, actually. ... I love Alan. He’s always been one of my favorites. But yeah, it was quite weird seeing him in a whole new kind of environment because -- I’m trying to think back -- I don’t think I ever really saw him outside of that wig and cloak.
Which "Potter" co-star would you most like to reunite with?
Grint: There are so many. All of them. I’ve already loved working with them. I like Michael Gambon. He’s so cool; just a remarkable guy. I’ve worked with Julie Walters before as well. I love her, she’s great.
Now for something more fun. It's October. What's your favorite Halloween costume you've ever worn?
Rickman: [Laughs] The thing about Halloween is, to me, it just means -- because it’s so different in England –- we used to have something called Bonfire Night, and we’d have fireworks. That’s disappeared and I know Halloween’s taken over. Halloween to me as a child was, the family would fill a bowl of water and you’d have apple bobbing in it, and you’d get apples out of a bowl of water. To me it just means a soaking wet shirt.
Grint: I liked Halloween. It never used to be a big thing when I was kid. We never really did it. But I actually had a good costume not that long ago. The last one, I dressed as a Play-Doh can that I made. You know Play-Doh?
Grint: Well, literally, I actually made it. It was a yellow bin. I cut the bottom out and I just wore a yellow bin with a Play-Doh logo. With a yellow hat. It’s not very practical.
Do you have a favorite Halloween candy?
Rickman: I don’t even know what that means. The word "chocolate" would loom large.
Grint: A favorite Halloween candy? I don’t really know. I never trick-or-treated when I was younger because we lived on a block of houses that were all just kind of elderly people who were just scared to answer the door. But yeah, candy corn, that’s a big thing. I’ve tried that. That’s pretty great.
"CBGB" is out in limited release now.
Writer/director/producer Randall Miller
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