Alan Rickman, star of stage and screen, has died, like a certain other British icon this week, of cancer at age 69. I don’t really have anything to say about Bowie because regrettably I never got into his music, and to be totally honest, the first thing that came to my mind when he died was his cameo in Zoolander. So I am a Bowie heathen. But I watched Alan Rickman in plenty of films, and I can say something about that.
I suppose the Snape mention is inevitable. I never read the Harry Potter books, but I’ve seen all the films at least once, so to me Alan Rickman is Snape and Snape is Alan Rickman. A lot of actors could have gotten swallowed by a role like that—possibly even come to resent it. But Rickman’s heart was fully in it, and he had both the versatility and force of personality to transcend even a character larger than life, as Professor Severus Snape was.
My first awareness of Rickman was in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, where he played the Sheriff of Nottingham. My brother used to have a habit of watching a movie immediately after getting home from school, and Prince of Thieves was part of a rotation of about three or four films that he watched more times than either of us could count. I would not call Prince of Thieves a good movie, but Rickman’s performance is outstanding. He doesn’t just chew scenery in it; he swallows it whole. It is nigh impossible to imagine any actor making a character more slimy and vile and impotent than Alan Rickman made Sheriff George of Nottingham.
His breakout role of course was in the original Die Hard, as German terrorist Hans Gruber, that rarest of villains: the one you desperately hoped would get his just desserts, but also desperately wanted more juicy screen time with. Sadly, Mr. Rickman won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.
Elsewhere, it pleases me to have witnessed a healthy amount of love for his role in the eternally underrated Galaxy Quest as the utterly miserable Alexander Dane, who embodies every bit the dark side of the aforementioned actor-swallowing an iconic role is capable of. The same year, 1999, also brought us Rickman in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, where he played the seraphim Metatron, the Voice of God, 1999 evidently being the year he decided to show us he could be funny in a non-intimidating context. He also provided the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the 2005 film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the few elements of that movie that did justice to Douglas Adams’s novels.
I’m only hitting my personal highlights. I’ve also seen cursory nods to Sense & Sensibility, Love Actually, and the Tim Burton Sweeney Todd film. Whatever role Alan Rickman inhabited, he imbued it with his inimitable voice and personality. His is a talent that will be sorely missed.