Actor of the Week: Alan Rickman
This week’s Actor of the Week is a rather emotional one, with the winner being someone close to my heart. It is none other than the legendary Alan Rickman. Rickman was one of so many iconic figures to be taken from us in an awfully infamous 2016. Like David Bowie, Rickman was a personal hero of mine and, with their deaths being a mere four days apart, it was a rough week for myself and so many others around the world.
Rickman had a rich stage background, prior to film, and this translated well to his on-screen career, playing a varying amount of roles with great ease. It was as Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard that he was introduced to the widest of audiences. Gruber was a calm and collected, yet world-renowned and feared German terrorist, who was the mastermind of a plaza heist disguised as a terrorist incident. Rickman delivered this persona to perfection, all in that iconic, silky-smooth-but-chilling-when-required voice of his. Gruber’s demise came when he failed to respect the tenacity and courage of Bruce Willis’ John McClane. A shame, because I’d have loved some more Gruber-McClane action. A favourite moment of mine, in terms of showing how ruthless yet calm Rickman comes across, is when Gruber is talking to the plaza boss, Joseph Takagi, attempting to gain information. When Takagi can’t provide Gruber with what he needs and states ‘You’ll just have to kill me’, Gruber simply replies ‘OK’ and coolly obliges. It’s calm, it’s cold, and it’s fascinating.
After Die Hard, Rickman landed many different roles, such as a tender ghost in Truly Madly Deeply, a more comical turn in Dogma, and showed off his signature voice in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Help! I’m a Fish. Perhaps most impressively was his turn in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, where he achieved what many have failed to, and that was to successfully execute a singing performance. There was no limit to this man’s capabilities.
Another role I very much enjoyed, possibly deserving of the ‘guilty pleasure’ label from a male perspective(!), was that of Harry in Love Actually. Harry is a successful man, married to Emma Thompson’s Karen, but he makes some bad choices throughout when his head is turned by his young, attractive secretary. Rickman brings a wonderfully inoffensive spin to the role of a man being unfaithful to his wife. While we all know it is wrong, rather than punish him for it, you pine for him to just drop it and go back to those that love him. There’s a wonderful scene that best emphasises this, where Rickman and Rowan Atkinson bounce off each other beautifully. Harry is trying to covertly buy his secretary a gift while his wife is somewhere in the same shopping centre, and Atkinson’s Rufus goes way over the top with the packaging of said gift, all the while adding time onto a nervous Harry’s purchase. You can check the scene out below.
Whilst Rickman’s role in Die Hard is a favourite of mine, I write about much of his early career in retrospect, as I am someone who was born in the same year that film was released - 1988. Therefore, my first proper dose of Rickman’s genius was as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. As we all know, they are adaptations of J. K. Rowling’s tremendous fantasy novels, and in my mind, probably the best adaptations of all time. This is heavily due to how unbelievably perfect each and every role was cast, and ultimately executed. Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape stands at the very top of this pile, as his delivery is one of the most complete I have ever seen, translating a written character to an on-screen one. Being one of the millions who adored these books, the movies were equally a big deal for me, and as Snape was my favourite character in the books, Rickman’s portrayal was fascinating. All of his skills were on show in this role. He brought a dark mystery that Snape so required. He brought a hatred that was plain to see when referring to Harry’s father, James. Alongside that hatred for James ran an empathy and love for Lily, Harry’s mother, that only became apparent in the later instalments. All of this delivery, as well as Rickman’s aforementioned unique voice was just flawless for Snape’s look and persona. This turn, and therefore Alan Rickman as a whole, meant the world to me, and my brother, and it is something we will treasure forever.
Other high profile roles for Rickman included the Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland and, alongside Emma Thompson again, as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility.
As I wrote this, the emotion of losing Rickman flooded back, and I have truly enjoyed revisiting his iconic back catalogue, and especially my favourite roles of his. He was, and is, a man who means the world to me and I feel privileged to have experienced his wonderful aura and undoubted talent. I miss you Alan. Thank you so very much.