It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post… I had planned on highlighting his career on his birthday later next month, as I had written this piece six years ago as a tribute. I have always loved British actors and Alan Rickman is certainly at the top of the list of those iconic Brits whose voice alone makes him so unforgettable. Few actors have such sheer screen presence as the London-born thespian, and his versatility makes him perfect for both villainous and heroic roles. Most people perhaps only know him for his bad guy roles. I don’t blame them as I first saw Rickman on screen as the bad guy. The first one was as the ruthless-but-elegant German terrorist Hans Gruber in the first (which remains the best of the franchise) Die Hard, followed by his role as the unhinged Sheriff of Nottingham. But after I watched more of his work, he shall always be Colonel Brandon, the role that made me fall in love with him and one I shall always treasure in my heart.
It’s also interesting that one of my first movies I saw when I came here to the US was Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990). In the same year Patrick Swayze became a ghost that haunted his loved one, Rickman also played one in the British indie drama with such sensitivity that proves he’s just as adept at playing a romantic hero. Over the years I read quotes from people who’ve worked with him saying that Mr. Rickman is a warm and gentle soul, known for his loyalty and kindness as much as his phenomenal talent in front and behind the camera.
As I say goodbye to one of my favorite actors, let me reminisce in the wonderful roles he’s played over the years…
Col Brandon – Sense & Sensibility (1995)
I have made a tribute dedicated to his indelible performance. He easily tops my list of favorite period drama heroes, and has become one of my favorite film characters ever. Col. Brandon is perhaps one of the kindest, most selfless Austen character and Rickman brought that sensibilities to life. The moment he beheld Marianne and fell instantly in love with her, I too was besotted with him.
I’ve seen Sense & Sensibility over a dozen times and I melted every time I saw this scene. As Brandon’s heart was broken when Marianne picked a much younger and decidedly more charming suitor, he didn’t become bitter. As Marianne fell ill, nobody was more tormented than Brandon and that agony was so palpable in Rickman’s eyes. Such a beautiful role tailor-made for such a beautiful soul.
Hans Gruber – Die Hard (1988)
One of the most quotable action villains in cinematic history, Hans Gruber is one of the most exhilaratingly entertaining bad guys. If he had been played by someone other than Rickman, I doubt that he’d be as hugely popular. The movie has some bad-ass dialog, but it’s not so much just the lines, it’s the delivery. Rickman’s decidedly slow, imperturbable diction has become legendary that he’s a popular subject for fellow actors to impersonate.
He can make the most mundane dialog so utterly fascinating. He definitely gave Bruce Willis a run for his money here, it proves that once again it’s so good to be bad.
Severus Snape – Harry Potter series
Apparently Rickman was hand-picked by author J.K. Rowling to play Snape. He was hesitant to accept the role until Rowling revealed the backstory of his character that wasn’t even revealed until the final novel. Those who’ve seen the film surely know that Snape was a multidimensional character who’s more than meets the eye.
In a franchise filled with British acting royalty, Rickman managed to be the most interesting and memorable of them all, as he keeps you guessing which side he’s on. Later on we find out that he’s actually one of the true heroes of the franchise. As with many roles he’s perfected though, I think the reason Snape was such an awesome character is because Alan Rickman played him.
Harry – Love, Actually
Now, even though Rickman’s played far more despicable characters in the past, somehow Harry, the unfaithful husband infuriates me the most. Here Rickman played husband and wife with his real-life friend Emma Thompson. This segment is definitely my favorite as it is the most poignant and heart-wrenching. The Harry/Karen proves to be one that fans of the movie are intrigued by, as revealed by the film’s script editor Emma Freud’s (who’s married to director Richard Curtis) big plot revelation last December.
Harry might be a flawed character, a scoundrel even, but Rickman made his character so human that I can’t absolutely abhor him. Of course being that it’s a rom-com, there’s that hilarious scene of him at the department store with Rowan Atkinson. His exasperated face never fails to crack me up!
Alexander Dane – Galaxy Quest
Rickman is one of those rare actors who can make a curmudgeon attitude so endearing (the only other actor I can think of is Harrison Ford). It’s yet another example of spot-on casting here. Rickman’s character is a Shakespearean-trained Alexander Dane who plays alien Dr. Lazarus in the space opera Galaxy Quest. It’s a hilarious spoof on Star Trek and I absolutely adore his character and his apparent disdain of being a part of the show is absolutely hysterical.
There were five curtain calls. I was an actor once, damn it. Now look at me. Look at me! I won’t go out there and say that stupid line one more time.
Of course Rickman’s got the best lines in the movie and rightly so. His alien makeup alone is a hoot, but again it’s Rickman’s indelible and inimitable delivery that made his character so fun to watch. I owned this movie on Blu-ray and it’s largely because Rickman’s in it.
Sheriff of Nottingham – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
I saw this movie with my brother years ago when it came out in the theaters. I remember how I thought Rickman absolutely stole every scene he’s in. At the time I had no idea who his name was, but he certainly was hard to forget. The Sheriff of Nottingham, with his lush, black mane, is such an unhinged and ridiculous character but oh so fun to watch!
Seriously, when Rickman plays the bad guy, he’s often more interesting than the hero and it’s the case here, especially against the vanilla Kevin Costner as Robin Hood! According to IMDb Trivia, Rickman turned down the role of the Sheriff twice before he was told he could more or less have carte blanche with his interpretation of the character. Glad that he did and he surely made the character iconic by doing so.
Steven Spurrier – Bottle Shock
I have to admit that Rickman was the reason I even rented this movie. Here he plays an English wine stewart from Paris who comes to Napa Valley to take the best he can find to Paris for a blind taste test against French wine. I LOVE that he also narrates the movie with that silky voice of his. It may not be a perfect movie, but Rickman is still worth a watch and in a way he manages to make British’s hoity–toity attitude without making him such a stupid caricature. Just the scene of him eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in his car alone is a hoot! Nice to see Rickman display his comedic chops once again, definitely a must-see for Rickman’s fans.
King Louis XIV – A Little Chaos
This is the last film I saw Mr. Rickman in, a movie he also directed. I have to admit I never thought of him as someone suitable to play King Louis XIV but I thought he acquit himself well in the role. He might be a little too gentle and kind as the historically perfectionist and demanding Sun King, but Rickman certainly has that elegant and regal quality.
Of course I love the fact that this movie reunited him with his Sense & Sensibility‘s co-star Kate Winslet. My favorite scene is the one where Kate’s character, a landscape artist working on one of the gardens at Versailles, first met the King who was in disguise.
I miss you dearly Mr. Rickman, but your astounding work shall live on.