Yesterday, Alan Rickman would have been 70. There was a audible gasp and general disbelief in the office when the sad news of his death broke back in January.
Since then it’s kind of been on a bit of a spin cycle in my head what to write. I didn’t know him or meet him but still felt rocked by his death.
Rickman dying, to paraphrase one of his great lines from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, was a bit like cutting our hearts out with a spoon. Why a spoon? Because it hurts more you twit!
To most Alan Rickman will be most fondly remembered for his ‘villainous’ turns in said Prince of Thieves (ironically robbing the film from the titular outlaw), Hans Gruber from Die Hard and he gained the respect of a whole new legion of fans with his masterful Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series.
We may not feel sorrow for The Sheriff or Gruber when they meet their maker but it will be more poingnant than ever next time we can face watching the death of Severus Snape, a hero all this time.
Little wonder then that Potter author JK Rowling sculpted Snape with Rickman in mind, he quite literally was Snape and commanded your attention whenever he was on the screen. They may have been fleeting appearances but they were so powerful and obviously ultimately held such importance. Little wonder then that the man with that voice and those measured and distinctive movements was given such a pivotal role.
Indeed as a Rickman once stated, he didn’t believe that he went out of his way to play bad guys, he just played interesting characters. And those characters only became all the more interesting with Alan Rickman in their shoes.
Those shoes were particularly well-heeled in Die Hard. A film is only as good as its villain, which is absolutely why Die Hard is the daddy of the series and still a standout in the action genre, not because of John McClane but because of how wonderfully great Rickman was as Gruber in what was his film debut.
Some debut, he was spotted for the role after winning plaudits for the equally dastardly Valmont in the Broadway production of Dangerous Liaison. He’s suave, ice cool and like a wily, suited fox. He’s also chillingly underplayed in everything from his classic shoot the glass line to the cold dispatch of Takagi, who won’t be joining his employees for the rest of his life.
And not to mention Gruber’s memorable death fall, although that’s no acting on Rickman’s face as he is dropped some 20 feet onto an air bag in front of a green screen. His surprise is real as he was expecting the stuntman holding him to drop him on three, but to get the desired reaction he let go on the count of two.
He’d have made a wonderful Bond villain, although in reality was something of a pussycat. According to IMDB the films director, John McTiernan, had to smash cut away from Hans Gruber’s face whenever he fired a gun, because of Rickman’s uncontrollable habit of flinching from the noise and flash
Less may have been more in Die Hard but more was definitely more when it came to Rickman’s high-spirited (it really is) and BAFTA award winning performance as The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Again we have menace and (also dashing) dastardly doings aplenty, especially in his atmospheric character introduction but there’s also a lighter comic side in his larger than life portrayl that could be described as more Panto of Thieves than Prince. It’s a fine line and he just stays the right side of it and dominates the film, certainly influencing the BBC TV show and arguably delivering one of the top two Sheriff turns along with Nickolas Grace (TVs Robin of Sherwood). Naturally I have Rickman’s action figure from the Kenner toy range, still mint on its card of course!
He also played the bad guy in Quigley Down Under, I won’t say underrated as everyone I know who has seen it loves it, let’s just say that Quigley is much under seen and if you fall into that category then shame on you/you don’t know what you are missing. Alan Rickman in a cowboy, seething in the Australian outback at Tom Selleck. What’s not to love.
Truly, Madly, Deeply is oft misguidingly dubbed ‘the British Ghost’ – yes it has a dead husband coming back to his wife but really is where the similarity ends.This is more of a character study and less about Hollywood sheen and more in the realm of snotty crying, but also with plenty of laughter. Rickman oozes charisma as Jamie. Romantic lead was something of a change of pace and it would be something he would return to with great aplomb for Sense and Sensibility, also starring good friend Emma Thompson.
And he would be back in the romance realm with Thompson in segments of the ensemble comedy, Love Actually. Rickman here taking on various attributes as villain of the piece-of-sorts having an affair, but also comic moments with Rowan Atkinson and still loving his wife. Again it was another interesting,rounded character.
We’d already seen Rickman’s comedic chops in the likes of Prince of Thieves with his (reportedly ad-libbed) cancelling of Christmas – we’d seen it even earlier as Kevin Kline’s artist flatmate in The January Man – and he certainly left his imprint in that genre with his turn in Dogma and with ‘that’ unmistakable voice as Marvin in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy.
But by Grabthar’s hammer, his lasting comedy gift to us though was in the greatest Star Trek film never made, Galaxy Quest, in his Nimoy/Patrick Stewart hybrid role as the award-winning Shakespearean actor, Alexander Dane, who is is typecast as alien Dr. Lazarus. His delivery is sublime.
Back to Truly, Madly, Deeply, Rickman ultimately shows us even in death there is life. And perhaps that is what he has left with his body of work, his life of others on the screen. They aren’t Rickman, but they are, we feel we know him, and feeling we know him and the interesting characters he inhabited, we miss him.
Like Jamie, the character he plays in Truly, we can always have him in our home. Released theatrically in the US it was shown as part of a Screen Two drama on BBC2, so it was somewhat fitting that it all kind of came full circle upon Rickman’s passing as good friend and Truly, Madly, Deeply co-star Juliet Stevenson was interviewed live in the Newsnight studio on BBC2.
With a giant black and white image of Rickman behind her she said: “He could make you roar with laughter with a couple of words, he could be searingly insightful with just a line. He was very instinctive and a very intuitive person.”
And that in a single sentence pretty much perfectly encapsulates all of the above and captures the very essence of the man and his performances.
Her beautiful tribute continued: “He treated everyone with the same degree of courtesy and that’s one of the reasons he’s very, very loved. He had absolutely no snobbery at all. He saw the possibilities in everybody.”
I wrote to Alan Rickman back in 2001, when he was in London on stage at the Albery Theatre in ‘Private Lives’. He showed that courtesy Stevenson spoke of to me and very kindly sent a signed black and white picture back, and that’s just one of the reasons he’s very, very loved and shall continue to be very, very missed.