In a week already filled with sad news, we got more sad news today as we learned that Alan Rickman, star of stage and screen, had passed away at the age of 69 after a non-public battle with cancer. One of Hollywood’s most reliable character actors, and one of its most versatile, Rickman had fans from around the globe, and built up an impressive movie resume in the last 30 years. Everyone has their favorite Rickman performance, and here are five. They are perhaps not his best (some of them anyway), but there are among his most memorable. Whatever else these movies may be, there were made better because Alan Rickman was in them.
The Sheriff of Nottingham – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The 1991 Kevin Reynolds version of the Legend of Robin Hood is almost pure Hollywood cheese, Kevin Costner’s English accent is, at best, intermittent, and Peter Densham and John Watson’s script has a bizarre mish-mash of political correctness and near R-rated violence, but rising above it all was Alan Rickman portrayal of the Sheriff. He didn’t just chew the scenery, he inhaled it. All those scenes of Robin of Locksley pontificating on love, honor and the makings of a man are easier to sit through because you can’t wait to get back to the Sheriff and hear about how he’s going to tear out Robin Hood’s heart with a spoon. Why? Because it’ll hurt more! In a Nottingham filled with venal, duplicitous and disgusting characters, you were almost rooting for the Sheriff who was oh so blatant and comfortable with his own tyranny.
Metatron – Dogma
Obviously, Dogma had more on its mind than the average Kevin Smith movie, but in the midst of the typical group of Smith repertory players like Ben Affleck, Jason Mewes, and Jason Lee, it might be understandable if the medium makes you miss the message. That is until Rickman enters as God’s messanger Metaton. Not only did the man have a voice you believed God would use, his dry, sardonic delivery fit comfortably in Smith’s world even as Rickman’s style rode counterpoint to the louder, profanity-filled tirades of Mewes and Chris Rock. The highlight of Smith’s movies are the sharp tongues of his characters as they trade quips, but in a movie that needed it the most, Rickman gave Dogma something more, a sense of gravitas.
Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus – Galaxy Quest
The concept behind Galaxy Quest is simple: the actors from “Star Trek” are taken into space by aliens who think they’re the real thing. Rickman had the most difficult role, playing the pastiche of Leonard Nimoy, a serious actor feeling bound by his cult appeal and being typecast. “Five curtain calls…” he bemoans before another appearance in full alien make-up and uniform, but like Nimoy, Alexander discovers the meaning behind his famous role. Despite Alexander’s disdain for playing Dr. Lazarus, the tedium he feels about his bombastic co-star Jason Nesmith (played by Tim Allen), and his short-fuse given the circumstances of being drafted to save a real alien race, his best moment is when he finally embraces the role of Dr. Lazarus. When Alexander tells a dying Quellek, an alien that took the inspiration of Dr. Lazarus to heart, “By Grabthar’s hammer, by the Suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged,” you practically tear up with his heartfelt delivery. And then he kicks some ass!
Professor Severus Snape – The Harry Potter series
Apparently J.K. Rowling had no other choice in mind to play Professor Snape, the less than beloved potions master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. On the face of it, Rickman was perhaps about 10 years too old to play Snape, but what he brought to the part far outweighed what he didn’t, and primarily, what he did was humanize Snape. In the books, Snape is somehow more stern and cold in the reading, but in the movies, Rickman imbued Snape with something interesting: humor. Rickman’s Snape was funny, not because he’s cracking jokes, but because Rickman made it feel at times that a lot of Snape’s sternness and detachment comes from a place where he’s trying to make people not like him. There’s something endearing about that, which is why it’s all the more powerful in The Death Hallows – Part 2 when we learn Snape’s origin, and his love and loss of Harry Potter’s mother. In the end, Rickman made us root for Snape, sometimes in spite of himself.
Hans Gruber – Die Hard
A lot has been said about Die Hard being the star-making turn for Bruce Willis, but two stars were born in Die Hard and the other was Alan Rickman. Hans Gruber was Rickman’s first movie role, getting the job afer producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan saw him in a performance of Dangerous Liaisons, and the two immediate knew they had a talent they needed to capitalize on. The scene where John McClane and Hans come face-to-face for the first time was put in the script after Rickman demonstrated his American accent. And like how Willis ushered in a new kind of action hero with McClane, Rickman played a very different villain in Hans. There’s something so casual about his villainy, at times Hans feels like a guy just going about a day at work though his work is being a criminal mastermind. A cop throws a monkey-wrench into his carefully planned heist? No problem, he can make use of him! For Hans, McClane wasn’t a pain, so much as a kindred spirit, two professionals just trying to do their job. There’s clearly a relish in Hans for the struggle that McClane puts him through, which is why they even share a laugh in the end. In fact, it’s almost a surprise to Hans when McClane gets that last upper-hand while he dangles from the roof of Nakatomi tower, not because McClane wins, but because the dance is over.