This has been a terrible week. First we lose the Starman himself, David Bowie, and now one of our finest film stars, Alan Rickman, has left us as well. I don’t know about you, but I feel like locking myself away for a few days with all the ice cream in the house and watching my favorite Rickman films in tribute.
If I were to plot my life by impactful theater and film moments, one of the most memorable would be watching Rickman steal the show from Kevin Costner in the oft-derided Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Right then and there, I understood what true acting genius was, and I’ve been a fan of Rickman’s ever since. In a career spanning decades, it’s impossible to mention every one of his nuanced roles with the passion he deserves, but here are some of the roles that most moved me, and the films I’ll be re-watching this week in his honor.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
I first saw Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and I immediately fell in love with him. He was so charismatic as the Sheriff of Nottingham that I was almost rooting for him to win just to hear him speak a few more excellent words. His voice, his intense stare and his incredible sense of timing turned a supporting character into the one I couldn’t wait to see more of. People walked out of that movie talking about two things: Costner’s refusal to do a British accent, and how Rickman absolutely stole the show.
Although Die Hard was Rickman’s first American film role, it was actually the second film I saw him in (probably because my parents didn’t think I was quite ready for terrorist takeovers at the age of 12). In any case, the film left an indelible impression on me, and to this day, I teach it in my screenwriting class as the ultimate ’80s action film. Rickman’s Hans Gruber is one of the best villains of all time — charismatic, charming and creepily sexy. The electricity he brings to the screen is palpable, and you can’t help but love him, even as you hope John McClane kicks his criminal butt.
Sense and Sensibility
If I had a bit of a crush on Rickman before Sense and Sensibility came out, this film cemented the deal. In the movie, he plays the honorable and patient Colonel Brandon — a man so admirable that I literally squirmed in my seat with impatience every time he came on screen. I was in high school when the movie came out, so notions of chivalry and honor felt like things that belonged in fairy tales. And yet, there was the incredibly silken-voiced Rickman wearing his heart on his sleeve in every frame, even if Marianne (played by Kate Winslet) couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it.
Galaxy Quest is one of my absolute favorite Rickman movies. It may be because at the time of its release, my family and I were in medical crisis mode after almost losing my father — and we desperately needed to laugh. We all piled in the car to see the film and then laughed ourselves silly, thanks in large part to Rickman’s hilarious performance. It was exactly what we needed, and I felt an immense sense of gratitude to him and the cast for bringing so much levity into our (at the time) heavy lives.
In the film, the normally straightlaced Brit lampoons his own seriousness to bring us the long-suffering Alexander Dane, a Shakespearean actor tired of the fame his overwhelmingly popular sci-fi persona, Dr. Lazarus, has brought him. He has some truly delicious one-liners, delivering them with such skill that you can’t help but cheer him on. Also, he still manages to look handsome in that ridiculous makeup.
Full disclosure: I am not a Love Actually fan. I saw the movie when it came out, with three of my overly gushing friends, and kind of hated it. The pat storylines, the cheesy dialogue — none of it worked for me. But Rickman’s character, Harry, broke my heart. He was absolutely the right balance of a cool, distant, workaholic husband and father.
So when Karen (Emma Thompson) opened Harry’s crappy Christmas gift on Christmas Eve, I wanted to reach through the screen and punch him! I bawled like a total idiot because Harry was so completely clueless as to the destruction he was raining down on Karen’s heart, and it just slayed me.
Rickman has played several memorable roles between, and since, playing Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, but his years-long role as one of the most misunderstood (and tortured) characters of the series is truly unforgettable. The stillness, severity and pain that Rickman brought to the role made Snape’s truth all the more moving when it was finally realized at the close of the franchise.
And just in case you haven’t already shed enough tears over our loss of this incredibly talented man, here is a well-crafted collection of clips showing Snape’s heroism, and Rickman’s incredible talent and humanity.
I could go on and on about his talents and how much I’ll miss seeing him perform, and I’ll always regret not getting to see him in one of his many award-winning live theater performances, but his work truly does speak for itself. In what often feels like a vast sea of entertainers, Rickman stood out as a serious talent, craftsman and role model, and he will definitely be remembered as such.