Like many people my age and younger, I first encountered Alan Rickman late in 2001, at the cinema watching Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I would go on to learn that Rickman’s turn as the hateful Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series was the crowning glory in a long and distinguished career on stage and screen.
My realisation that Rickman was so much more than Professor Snape would come in 2006, when I first saw the original Die Hard. Rickman, in his first big screen role, brings an astonishing amount of nuance and cleverness to the role of Hans Gruber, German terrorist. His performance has become the stuff of legend, and is one of the most memorable villain roles ever put to screen. Indeed, it’s from Gruber that this post gets its title. If we’re being honest, pretty much all of Rickman’s villains are hugely memorable.
For me, however, it is Alan Rickman’s appearance as washed-up British actor Alexander Dane in 1999’s Galaxy Quest that encapsulates him for me. Dane’s character Dr Lazarus is a parody of Mr Spock, and Dane resents the fact that it is his most recognisable role, even 18 years after the show in which he appeared, 80s sci-fi drama Galaxy Quest, came to an end. Rickman is at his withering best with the sarcastic and self-pitying Dane, and he is the highlight of an excellent film.
In a way, Galaxy Quest could almost be a “what might have been” had Rickman been bad natured about audiences’ identification with him and Snape. In reality, he was delighted by his fans and his part in the Harry Potter phenomenon.
Once asked why he only played villains, he replied that he played not villains, but “very interesting people”. And this is remarkably true. He was the only actor in the BBC’s Barchester Chronicles to make his character remotely engaging. His duplicitous dad in Love Actually is hard to completely hate because Rickman infuses him with more depth than just “philandering jerk”. He worked closely with JK Rowling on Snape’s characterisation, and he knew the character’s fate very early on – for the whole series he was preparing for Snape’s end.
An actor’s actor, it’s clear he worked hard to listen and react to his co-stars, as opposed to just saying his lines. It seems that perhaps Rickman was more alike to his characters than one might think, although of course he wasn’t a villain. Scary on the surface but actually quite loveable underneath:
To lose David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the same week really hits hard. The two were so different, but both were masters of their art. Cancer is a dreadful thing, but that both men chose to battle it largely in private is something to be respected and celebrated. I’m going to miss looking out for Alan Rickman in British movies – more than just an old reliable, he leaves a huge space to be filled.