Bye Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman always claimed you might get to know him by watching his work. And if that’s the case, then he was an artist, a lover, a comedian, and more. His work has unrivaled importance in my life, and in the lives of so many others.

He was more than just that droll voice that almost seemed to sneak out from between clenched teeth. His voice was so iconic, and he used it to express so many different emotions: love, hatred, snark, warmth, amusement, disgust, et cetera. But when he was at his best…his voice conveyed the deepest passion. And that extended outside of his roles. When he spoke of acting, he always spoke of it as art, and he insisted upon it with the sort of passion that makes you acutely aware of the fact that there is a live, beating organ inside of your chest.

His characters have always had so much depth, layer upon layer upon layer. He gave life to even the most despicable villains, like Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988) who was twisted at best…and yet, he was the type of bad guy that made you rub your hands together in glee. Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) was one of the greatest performances ever. The heat of his hatred of Robin Hood was completely beautiful and delicious, but nothing was more beautiful and delicious than his blasé attitude towards causing others pain and suffering. It was as funny as it was dark. I’ll go so far as to say he deserved an Oscar. “I’m gonna cut your heart out with a spoon!” is still one of the best moments in anything ever. Ever.

And then of course, there is Severus Snape. Even before fans of J.K. Rowling’s legendary Harry Potter book series learned Snape’s real story, Alan Rickman portrayed the Slytherin professor’s dislike of Harry Potter with a strain of something deeper. There was always an underlying pain there, like Rickman knew there was more to Severus Snape’s story even before he read about it in the book. Snape wasn’t simply a tragic figure when Rickman played him. It wasn’t just sympathy he incited. If you go back and watch the films from the beginning, you can see how hard he battles himself – in every look, in every word. When I think of Rickman’s performance in all eight of the Harry Potter films, the one scene that stands out the most is his very last scene. He’s insisting to Voldemort that the wand he wields has the power to kill the very same boy he’s been secretly protecting all these years. After years of fearlessness in the face of the Dark Lord, for once, we see Severus Snape afraid. The anger and evil he’s always shown in his face when meeting with Voldemort flickers, and in a slight twitch of his mouth, you see real fear…fear of Voldemort’s intentions, and finally fear of his own death. The brutality of Snape’s murder juxtaposed with his final words to Harry – none of this would have had any of the impact without Rickman’s performance.

But unlike so many other actors who immortalized themselves in their villainous roles, Alan Rickman was still so very believable as a hero, as a comedian, and even as a lover. In Sense and Sensibility, Rickman plays Colonel Brandon with a quiet kindness and intelligence. When he insists he’ll never be good enough for Marianne, the much younger and very beautiful object of his affection, he puts the blame totally on himself, not on her. There’s never an ounce of self-pity, however. Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is the best portrayal of Jane Austen’s creation onscreen to date because of how effortless it is. There is no reason why Marianne shouldn’t realize she loves him at the end of the film. It isn’t just that he saves her life. It’s every last facet of his strong, reliable, admirable, passionate character.

And then there was Dogma (1999). “I am…the Metatron.” His comedic timing was just flawless. The lines Metatron was given could’ve easily fallen flat with any other actor. It was a flurry of quips, catchphrases, and witty clichés. But with Alan Rickman at the helm, those lines were undeniably brilliant.

My personal favorite was his role as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest (1999). Or, as Dane’s fans knew him, Dr. Lazarus. It’s easy to write Galaxy Quest off if you aren’t a huge nerd. After all, Rickman was an award-winning, serious, Shakespearean actor. But Rickman’s turn as a disgruntled science fiction television actor who’s painfully aware of his career’s decline is probably the biggest reason why the film has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. His self-disgust in the beginning of the film is dripping from every single word he says. He hates his life, he hates Dr. Lazarus, and he hates the fans. He hates everything. Galaxy Quest has such a massive audience because it’s a satire on nerd culture, made by people whose own nerdiness and affection for nerd-dom comes through in every last facet of the film. No other character exemplifies this better than Alexander Dane, who comes to truly understand the massive impact Dr. Lazarus and the show had on its fans, as silly as the show was. His character swings from the indignity in his voice when he promotes furniture dealers in perfect Alan Rickman drone, “By Grabthar’s hammer…what a savings,” to passionately using the same corny catchphrase with pride towards the end of the film in order to comfort Quellek in his last moments.

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Alan Rickman’s art knew no bounds. He was a very serious actor, who treated every last role with respect, whether it was in a comedy, a romance, a period piece, an outright drama, or a Shakespearean role on the stage. But there was warmth to him, and approachability. In spite of his obvious intelligence and elegance, he was endearing, admirable, and funny. And he was certainly aware of the anomaly of his voice. He was amused by the way people took to it and attempted to impersonate him.

It’s impossible to truly describe his loss. We didn’t just lose a good actor. He was an artist. He was an exceptionally good man. He was the type of celebrity who was, to his fans, both enigmatic and personal. There will never be another Alan Rickman. His artistry and his humanity have marked my existence, just as it has marked the existence of so many others. Millions of people throughout the decades his career spanned were touched by his performances. Moved by his voice.

He was a gift to the industry. And he was a gift to his fans.

By Grabthar’s hammer, Alan Rickman, you shall be remembered.


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