“An Exceptional Thief”: RIP Alan RickmanPosted: January 14, 2016
Because we didn’t lose enough definitive talents this week, Alan Rickman has passed away. While I might have only a passing knowledge of David Bowie with which to remember him, for Alan Rickman his greatest hits are indelibly burned into my brain. And how could they not be? The man was a brilliant actor with a wholly unique presence, a performer who was destined to be iconic. He played some of the all-time great pop culture characters of the last thirty years, and cinema is so much richer for it.
The biggest caveat I (and let’s face it, most of us) can offer about my remembrance of Alan Rickman is that I never got to see him perform on-stage. Rickman was at least as accomplished in the theatre, and I’ll lament never getting the chance to see him live. As I recall, Rickman won the role of Hans Gruber based on his work in a stage production of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and that alone seems like a show worth seeing. Unfortunately, that experience has been lost to time, only to be enjoyed by those lucky enough to have shared it. Thankfully for the rest of us, Rickman has been immortalized in film, and thank God for that.
Obviously in discussing Rickman, one has to start with Die Hard. Hans Gruber is one of the all-time great movie villains, a bad guy of singular charisma and charm who is appealing in his lack of political conviction instead of the presence of it. Rickman covers a lot of ground in his performance, being intimidating, slimy, and often very funny in quick succession. It’s (relatively) easy to play the heavy role heavily, but to mix in off-handed humor at the same time can be that much harder. Rickman nails it though, and from his fake-Midwestern accent when pretending to be a fellow hostage to his bullshit negotiations with the LAPD he is effortlessly charming as an absolute asshole character.
And his ability with humor served him well in straight-up comedies quite well also. He is the best parts of Dogma and Galaxy Quest by a good mile or three, often using his natural theatrical gravitas and hypnotic voice to great comedic effect. In Dogma he makes the exposition effortlessly engaging (angelic mockery of human sexuality tends to be an engaging topic) and in Galaxy Quest his delivery of “By Grabthar’s hammer…” is killer in every context. Watching Rickman in those films, it becomes clear that for all the inherent British classiness in his persona, Rickman had a great sense of fun and self-deprecation about him to go with his immense talent.
But of course, for many in my generation, Rickman is known most immediately as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. And unlike some acting greats who ended their careers doing work in shallow, subpar Hollywood blockbusters, Rickman being known for Snape is both a fitting and worthy accomplishment for such a great actor. Snape was a character perfectly suited for Rickman’s talents, a figure who could be hateful, humorous, heroic and human in equal measure. Ultimately, Snape’s tragic arc was a perfect role for Rickman, and he nailed the entirety of the character over the eight-film saga. In a franchise full of great performances for great characters, Rickman was undoubtedly the greatest.
The great curse of Alan Rickman’s particular sort of charisma is that it doomed him to a life of playing villains and supporting characters rather than playing a lead role (part of me wonders how Rickman would have looked playing James Bond in the ‘80s). But, even moreso than his debut character, Rickman was an astounding thief, and often left the biggest mark on his films regardless of the size of his role. Alan Rickman was the sort of talent that could often be taken for granted… and yet I don’t think he ever really was, because he was too damn good not to appreciate in the moment.