In a week that saw the passing of David Bowie, one of the most talented musicians and song writers to ever live, Alan Rickman, the British actor whose career spanned across film, television and the stage, also passed away this week on January 14. After suffering a stroke in August 2015, he was later diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rickman died in a London hospital surrounded by his family and friends. He was 69-years-old.
Starting his career as a stage actor at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Court Theatre, Rickman participated in a number of productions including Snoo Wilson’s The Glass Widow, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While earning acclaim on stage, he wouldn’t start his career in film until the late 1980s when he was the offered the part of the main villain in Die Hard (1988).
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not playing the ‘villain,’ I’m just playing somebody who wants certain things in life, who’s made certain choices, and goes after them.”-Alan Rickman
There are countless reasons why Die Hard is regarded by many as the greatest action film ever made. Most are quick to cite Bruce Willis’ every-man action hero, an archetype that was rare to see in an era dominated my muscle-bound goliaths like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Despite Willis’ endearing performance as a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, a significant reason for the film’s success and popularity to this this day is because of Rickman’s performance as the crisply-dressed and enormously compelling villain of the piece, Hans Gruber.
Approached by Die Hard producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan after seeing him onstage in a production of Dangerous Liaisons, Rickman, who was 41-years-old at the time, had never before appeared in a theatrically-released film. A veteran theatre actor, he was at first skeptical about the part, and would later convince McTiernan and the film’s writers to change certain aspects of Gruber, including his personality and taste in clothes. With his agreement to play the master East-German thief/terrorist, audiences were treated to a new breed of bad guy. Rickman didn’t play the typical slimy, European super-villain that was so often seen in the blockbuster franchises of the time. He brought an elegance and likability to Gruber, and while he was most certainly doing terrible things throughout the film, he was so damn cool when he was doing them.
After Die Hard, Rickman would star in a number of films that would garner him critical acclaim and a passionate fanbase. In 1991, he starred opposite Kevin Costner as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Not only was the film a box office hit, becoming the second highest grossing film of that year, but it also earned Rickman a BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor. Rickman would also win laughs from audiences for his role in Galaxy Quest (1999), a sci-fi comedy that parodied Star Trek and other science-fiction films and shows. Playing the role of Alexander Dane, a Shakespearian trained British actor who had grown increasingly bitter for being typecast as his character, Dr. Lazarus of Tev’Meck, Rickman delivered one of the funniest performances in the movie.
Rickman would also garner admiration from critics and audiences for his performances in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), Love Actually (2003) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).
“People in general adore Snape. He is sarcastic, stubborn, etc, etc. But he is also fascinating. I have a lot of fun impersonating him.”-Alan Rickman
Despite playing dozens of characters on stage and in films, Rickman will be perhaps best remembered by younger generations for his portrayal of Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter. Arguably the most complex character in the entire franchise, Snape was gloriously brought to life by Rickman. From the impeccable annunciation and delivery of his lines to the emotional moments between him and a boy he hated but also loved, his performance is by far the standout in a series that was known to attract exceptionally talented actors.
For those who really want to know how much Rickman appreciated the character and his entire experience working on the Harry Potter franchise, they would do well to read his 2011 letter that he submitted to Empire Magazine, in which he expresses his enjoyment of playing Snape for over a decade, and seeing Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint grow-up during the making of the films.
His letter reads:
“I have just returned from the dubbing studio where I spoke into a microphone as Severus Snape for absolutely the last time. On the screen were some flashback shots of Daniel, Emma, and Rupert from ten years ago. They were 12. I have also recently returned from New York, and while I was there, I saw Daniel singing and dancing (brilliantly) on Broadway. A lifetime seems to have passed in minutes.
Three children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands.
It is an ancient need to be told in stories. But the story needs a great storyteller. Thanks for all of it, Jo.”
Looking back at a person’s career, especially someone’s as diverse as Rickman’s, you begin to understand and appreciate them in an even better light. He captivated us as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, made us laugh in Galaxy Quest, and brought tears to our eyes in The Deathly Hallows. To do those things not only takes extraordinary talent, but it also takes something much more than that. After reading the many thoughtful statements being made by his friends, past co-stars and fellow actors, it’s undeniable the effect he had on people not only as a performer, but also as a warm and loving person. It’s because of this and his enormous contributions to theatre and cinema that I and everyone on OneOfUs.net want to thank Alan Rickman, and wish his family and friends our deepest sympathies.
You’ll always be remembered, Alan. Always.