Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Late Great Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman, the beloved actor who played Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995), and Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" movies, died today, January 14 2016 at the age of 69. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Alan Rickman was born on February 21 1946 in Action, London. His father died when he was only eight years old. His mother later remarried, but divorced young Mr. Rickman's stepfather only three years later. Alan Rickman won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith. While at Latymer Upper School he appeared in plays, although he was not yet seriously considering acting as a career. He studied graphic design at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and later the Royal College of Art. He worked as a graphic designer for the Notting Hill Herald. After graduation he and some friends opened their own graphic design studio.

After three years Alan Rickman finally decided to go into acting. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1972 to 1974. During that time he supported himself as a dresser for Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Sir Ralph Richardson. After graduating from RADA Mr. Rickman toured with various regional repertory companies. In 1976 he appeared in a production of Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass at the Edinburgh Fringe. In 1978 he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, but he left after one year. In 1978 he made his television debut, playing Tybalt in a BBC production of Romeo & Juliet. In 1980 he appeared in a BBC adaptation of Thérèse Raquin and the sitcom Shelley.

The Eighties saw Alan Rickman's career take off. He would make his film debut in one of his best known roles. He played Hans Gruber in the classic action film Die Hard (1988). Die Hard would be a hit at the box office, raking in $83,008,852 in the United States alone. Since then Hans Gruber has come to be regarded as one of the all time greatest villains of the screen. He also appeared in the films The January Man (1989). Quigley Down Under (1990), and Truly Madly Deeply (1990). He appeared on stage as Valmont in a stage adaptation of the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The production found its way to Broadway in 1987, marking Alan Rickman's Broadway debut. He played Obadiah Slope in the BBC mini-series The Barchester Chronicles opposite Donald Pleasence as the Reverend Septimus Harding. He also appeared in the TV shows Smiley's People, Summer Season, Girls on Top, Theatre Night, and Screenplay.

The Nineties would be a busy decade for Alan Rickman when it came to film. He played Colonel Brandon in the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He also appeared as Alexander Dane in the film Galaxy Quest (1999) and Metatron in the film Dogma (1999). He provided the voice of Joe in the animated film Help! I'm a Fish (2000). In the Nineties he also  appeared in the films Closet Land (1991), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Close My Eyes (1991), Bob Roberts (1992), Mesmer (1994), An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Michael Collins (1996), Judas Kiss (1998), and Dark Harbour (1998). He had a cameo in the film The Winter Guest (1997), which he also directed. He played  Grigori Rasputin the TV movie Rasputin. He guest starred on the TV show Fallen Angels.

The Naughts saw Alan Rickman play two of his best known roles. In 2001 he first played the role Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. He appeared in the role for the remaining six "Harry Potter" movies. In 2003 he appeared in the cult film Love Actually, playing a husband who was having a flirtation with his secretary. He also provided the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). In the Nineties he appeared in the films Blow Dry (2001), Play (2001), The Search for John Gissing (2001), Snow Cake (2006), Perfume (2006), Nobel Son (2007), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Bottle Shock (2008). He provided the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland (2010). On television he was a guest voice on the animated series King of the Hill and the animated series Back at the Barnyard. In 2002 he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Private Lives.

In the Teens Alan Rickman directed the film A Little Chaos (2014), in which he also appeared as King Louis XIV. He appeared in the films Gambit (2012), The Butler (2013), A Promise (2013), Dust (2013), and Eye in the Sky (2015). He once more provided the voice of the Blue Caterpillar, this time for Alice Through the Looking Glass (set to be released later this year). In 2011 he appeared on Broadway in Seminar.

There can be no doubt that Alan Rickman was one of the most phenomenally talented actors of our time. He is best known for the many villains he played over the years, but he also played a number of more sympathetic roles. Certainly among the best known of these is Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. Mr. Rickman captured Colonel Brandon as he was in the original novel--quiet, honourable, and sensitive, yet at the same time intensely romantic. It must also be pointed out that while Snape in the "Harry Potter" films was not always the most sympathetic character, in the end he was one of the good guys and had been all along. In Truly Madly Deeply  Alan Rickman played Jamie, a dead cellist who returns as a ghost to help his girlfriend cope with his death. He had a memorable turn as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest, playing a Shakespearean actor whose most famous role is that of an alien in a cult sci-fi TV show.

Of course, for all the more sympathetic roles there can be no denying that Alan Rickman was best known for playing villains. Indeed, he had an impact as Hans Gruber in his film debut Die Hard that few established film actors would have. To this day Gruber remains one of the best remembered villains in recent memory. He was also memorable as Judge Turpin, the corrupt judge in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Whether as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or Elliot Marston in Quigley Down Under, Alan Rickman had a talent for playing villains.

That having been said, some of his best roles were neither good guys nor bad guys, but characters who were a little of both. It is hard to sympathise with Harry in Love Actually and yet in the end one cannot help but feel a bit sorry for him. P.L. O'Hara in An Awfully Big Adventure is essentially a good man, but one who is so disillusioned and traumatised by his life that he is ultimately irreparably damaged. Such roles would be difficult for most actors to play, and yet Alan Rickman made it look easy.

Here it must be noted that Alan Rickman was not simply a talented actor, but he was also a very nice man. His co-stars over the years, from Dame Helen Mirren to Kate Winslet noted his warmth and generosity. Daniel Radcliffe noted Mr. Rickman's loyalty, stating on various social media sites, "I'm pretty sure he came and saw everything I ever did on stage both in London and New York." It must also be pointed out that Alan Rickman supported several charities over the years, including Amnesty International, Book Aid International, the ONE Campaign, and Save the Children, among many others. As is often the case, the actors who play the best villains are often the kindest and nicest people around.

Ultimately Alan Rickman was an enormous talent who played a wide variety of roles throughout his career. His talent was such that he could say more with his eyes than most actors could with words .A subtle gesture from Alan Rickman could convey volumes. What is more, among his friends and co-stars he was known for his kindness, warmth, and generosity. In the end, while Alan Rickman was best known for playing villains, he was in reality a hero.

1 comment:

Seleus said...

An excellent eulogy for such a wonderful and talented actor.
Like a shooting star :D