Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, a snobby British wine connoisseur whose decision to sponsor a competition pitting the best wines of California against France's wines turned the tide for California's vintners, in the deliciously funny film Bottle Shock. Mostly based on a true story that took place in 1976, Bottle Shock follows Spurrier as he travels from Paris to Napa Valley to try and find wines deserving of a chance to take on France's best in a blind taste test.
At the Los Angeles press junket for Bottle Shock, Rickman admitted that after starring in the film he basically knows just as much about wine as he did before he took on the role. "A documentary of Chateau Montelena was shown before the premiere the other night and [Bo Barrett] said rather encouragingly for those of us feeling inferior, 'Well, it's not so complicated. Wine is somewhere between grape juice and vinegar,'" laughed Rickman.
The film takes place in France and Napa Valley, however the French portion of the story wasn't shot on location. Instead, Northern California substituted for France, a decision the filmmakers had no choice but to make due to the film's limited budget. "It's never that sunny in France," explained Rickman when asked about how well California did standing in for France. "But they did a good job. And I was there with a little European know how to say, 'Don't park the cars so neatly.'"
As Spurrier, Rickman is not only fluent in French but totally caught up in French culture. "Thank god for school," said Rickman. "I did French lessons in school so I was at least able to do that. And because I'm playing that kind of upper class Englishman, it's a matter of honor to speak French with a terrible accent. No concessions would be made at all. I don't know if you've ever heard the Queen speaking French. You still know she’s the Queen. And I did, accidentally it turns out, meet Steven Spurrier a few years ago in Italy but neither of us at the time knew what any future agenda was going to be. I spoke to him on the phone. But I'm so million miles away from being the right casting to play him that in a sense, you've just got to go, 'Well, it's okay. He's called Steven Spurrier and there are facts circulating around this story and we honor those and it is true but it is based on him.' So in a sense it isn't an impersonation of him apart from being English and a man in a suit and tie. And we tend not to take our suit and ties off even in 100 degrees."
Rickman wasn't joking about the suit and tie. While filming in Napa Valley, Rickman had to endure triple digit temperatures dressed in business attire. Despite that, Rickman did enjoy actually filming in Napa Valley. "It's beautiful and it feeds your imagination because you’re in the real thing. It's not like it's a film set. 'Oh, this really exists.' It's not so much fun wearing a wool suit and a tie and socks and shoes in 100 degrees but then again, you just have to make it part of his lunacy. There's no way his tie comes off because he's British," joked Rickman.
The movie features luscious wines but the cast stuck to grape juice while shooting Bottle Shock. Asked whether that was his choice or the director's, Rickman replied, "First of all, I should think it's the insurer's choice and I'm serious, I think it’s probably illegal to have alcohol. In fact, I'm absolutely certain of that, because the continuity people just said, 'We're not allowed. The insurers would just have our guts for garters.' And it's actually dangerous. You're in a fairly - literally - explosive environment, so I don’t think it can happen. And they do it in France, of course. They have big lunches, French movies, drink a lot of wine."