If you’re reading this then you already know that the brilliant and beloved Alan Rickman has passed away. Reports say that Rickman lost a battle to cancer and peacefully went to that big Nakatomi Plaza in the sky. For most people from my generation, Rickman will always be most fondly remembered as Severus Snape, the brooding and intimidating Hogwarts professor with a reluctant and unassuming heart of gold. For the people just above my generation he’ll always be Hans Gruber, the cunning and ruthless German terrorist who helped introduce us to the best blue-collar action hero the world has ever seen, John McClane. And since everywhere else you read about the wonderful life of Mr. Rickman will likely only focus on these two roles of his, I’d like to talk about a few of his other fantastic work.
The first time I remember seeing Alan Rickman was in the Kevin Costner Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves film. As a kid, I LOVED that movie. I used to watch it all the time. As an adult, I realize… Costner maybe isn’t the best Robin Hood. However, Rickman’s portrayal of the despicable but humorously exasperated Sheriff of Nottingham is still one of the standout performances in that film. The Sheriff is a jerk, but Rickman almost gets you on his side for brief moments, due to the way you almost relate to his frustrations.
The next time I was captivated by Rickman wasn’t until about 8 years later. The film was Dogma. Written and directed by Kevin Smith, the film is about a woman who discovers that she is the final bloodline relative of Jesus Christ and is the only person who can save the universe from being obliterated. That movie made a very big impact on me in terms of my understanding and perception of religion and belief, and Rickman’s role as the Metatron, the Voice of God, played a big part in that. At one point in the film, the main character Bethany breaks down and says that she’s not capable of taking on the responsibility that’s fallen on her. At that point, Rickman delivers this monologue as only he could’ve…
That’s what Jesus said. Yes, I had to tell him. And you can imagine how that hurt the Father – not to be able to tell the Son Himself because one word from His lips would destroy the boy’s frail human form? So I was forced to deliver the news to a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with other children. I had to tell this little boy that He was God’s only Son, and that it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people He came to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it back, as if I could. He begged me to make it all not true. And I’ll let you in on something, Bethany, this is something I’ve never told anyone before… If I had the power, I would have.
That fell very heavy on me, and I’m convinced that no other actor could have inserted the intensity and emotion into it that Rickman did. The man was a master of his craft.
Immediately following Dogma, Rickman joined the ensemble comedy, Galaxy Quest, which has become something of a cult-classic in nerd culture. His portrayal of Alexander Dane, a true thespian who’s resentful that his most notable work is as “Dr. Lazarus” on the cancelled sci-fi show for which the film is named. He again, doing as Rickman did best, plays a very hilariously frustrated character, who doesn’t want much. Just the respect that he feels he deserves.
The final film I’d like to mention, was a role for Rickman that was maybe his most down-to-earth performance ever. Love, Actually. I know, I know. It’s a “romantic comedy” and you very likely don’t even respect it’s existence. Well, you can go to hell becasue I actually love that movie. (See what I did there?)
Rickman plays Harry, the director of a design company who becomes gradually seduced by his secretary, as he drifts further and further away from his wife, played by Emma Thompson. Their interactions in the film become more and more difficult to watch as you see his whor… I mean… his “lady of the evening” secretary persuade him futher and further into an unseen, but clearly not imaginary, affair. He painfully captures the sincerity of someone who knows what they’re doing is wrong but keeps doing it anyway. The layers that exist in that character are, in my opinion, the most complex ones to be found in a film that, arguably, has more depth than you think it does. You can thank Alan Rickman for that.
Alan Rickman was a truly brilliant actor. He could be menacing in ways that would make your skin crawl, but he could also make you laugh out loud with his dry and slightly bitter sense of humor. He could seamlessly flow from drama, to action, to fantasy, to comedy, and even do all four at once if need be. No role was too small that he couldn’t make it the most captivating performance you’d see in that entire film, and no role was too big that you’d tire of him. His artful presence will be sorely missed.