“Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater…can change the world.” Alan Rickman
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was born February 21, 1946 in Acton, London. His childhood was that of a normal working class family. Acting was not his first career. A talented artist, he and his friends opened a successful graphic design firm. He toyed with being an actor, but stayed with his business. After three years, he decided that it was now or never and plunged in wholeheartedly into acting. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) from 1972 – 1974 and supported himself by working as a dresser. His big break was playing Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. On a personal note Les Liaisons Dangereuses is one of my favorite plays, and I think I would have given an appendage to have seen Rickman as Valmont.
He was cast in one of his most iconic roles as Hans Gruber, the villain of Die Hard. This earned him the 46th spot on the AFI 100 Years of Heroes and Villains list. He followed this up with the scene stealing Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. His amazingly funny yet menacing performance was the bright spot in this movie, and personally made me wonder why Maid Marion didn’t dump dull as dishwater Robin Hood, played by Kevin Costner, and join up with the Sheriff and take over the kingdom. These were the only stock villain roles he played, yet he seemed to be type cast in the mind of Hollywood. Rickman was too versatile to let this stop him and insisted on playing a variety of nuanced characters.
I next saw him as Colonel Brandon, a quiet and well mannered gentlemen, in Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Again, I wondered what the hell was wrong with Marianne that she didn’t throw herself at his feet. He proved his comedic ability in the unbelievably funny Galaxy Quest (if you haven’t seen this, go now. I’ll wait.), Emma Thompson’s husband in Love Actually, and as Metatron, the voice of God in Dogma. His booming voice was always a signature and was the subject of many impressions. Rickman said that his drama teachers had said it sounded like he was speaking from the back of drainpipe. I would describe his voice as gravel wrapped in velvet. The role he is best remembered for is Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. He took a character that could have been a flat villain, and portrayed a complex and conflicted man. It was his performance in this role that has enshrined him in the hearts of so many, including my own.
Despite his casting as so many villains and dark characters, his fellow actors described him as intensely kind and wickedly funny. Daniel Radcliffe, his co-star in the Harry Potter series, said he was the first one on the set who treated the child star as an adult. Helen Mirren described being intimidated by him because he played very reserved formal characters, but found he was the opposite in practice. Many friends said that no matter what he was doing or where he was, if you called he would get back to you with in a day. Amazing for an actor with his schedule.
Alan Rickman passed away January 14, 2016 after a battle with cancer, and I can only say that this luminary left us too soon. His absence will leave a hole where years of more fine performances should have been. Hale and farewell. We will miss you. Always.