By now you’ve probably already heard the news that legendary actor Sir Alan Rickman has died age 69 following a battle with cancer. It follows the painfully similar news that David Bowie also died this week from cancer at the same age. The world has lost two giants of entertainment.
Despite never being nominated for an Oscar (shame on you, Academy!) Rickman was one of the truly great British acting talents to emerge in the last few decades. He started out doing theatre, and would return to the stage time and time against as both actor and director, but to celebrate the intensely charismatic actor’s work we’re taking a look at some of his most memorable film roles over the years.
Note: Some of the clips are NSFW.
Hans Gruber – Die Hard
Believe it or not his first ever film role came in 1988 playing the supremely villainous German hostage taker Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Opposite Bruce Willis’ John McClane he played the role with all the understated yet memorable menace of an actor in the business far longer than he had been at that point, finding ways to bring comedy and even warmth into such a despicable, money-hungry character. Right from the moment he appears on-screen you feel his commanding presence and the fact that his character is not to be trifled with. It’s an example of an actor starting as he means to go on with a brilliantly unforgettable performance right out of the gate.
Jamie – Truly, Madly, Deeply
A couple of years after Die Hard, Rickman gave a terrific performance in Anthony Minghella’s BAFTA winning 1990 fantasy music drama Truly, Madly, Deeply. It’s an unusual role, as he was so often drawn to, as the character appears as a playful cellist ghost to his beloved girlfriend (played by Juliet Stevenson) as she grieves for him. It’s enjoyably light and frothy, but also moving and poignant. Brilliantly, it also never makes it clear whether Rickman’s reappearance into his wife’s life is real or not. The actor is a large part of why the film works so well.
Sheriff of Nottingham – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The second of Rickman’s contributions to all-time great villainy came in the form of the formidable Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, opposite Kevin Costner. Let’s be honest: that film would be a much lesser retelling of the Robin Hood legend if Rickman had not played that role. Chances are he’s the first actor you think of whenever anyone mentions the character at all, am I right? He steals every scene he’s in with his great theatricality and incomparable delivery.
Severus Snape – Harry Potter franchise
For a whole generation Rickman was Professor Severus Snape, the is-he-bad-or-isn’t-he teacher at Hogwarts in the long-running Harry Potter franchise. Rickman absolutely owned that role. So much so that it’s just impossible to imagine anyone else playing it. Again, Rickman brought his stage theatricality into play as Snape, with the elongated speech delivery and exaggerated movements that made him such a firm favourite among fans. And, as those who stuck with the series until the end will know, he brought great pathos to it, too.
Metatron – Dogma
In the late ‘90s Rickman entered Kevin Smith’s big-screen comedy universe in the angel-themed Dogma. He plays the role of Metatron AKA the voice of God, because God’s real voice would kill any human who hears it (obviously). The character might have got drowned into the background of Smith’s foul-mouthed dialogue and outlandish plotting, but Rickman makes sure you remember him, whether it’s his annoyance at not being able to swallow alcohol or complaint that for human beings, “if there isn’t a movie about it, it’s not worth knowing about.”
Colonel Brandon – Sense and Sensibility
In 1995 Alan Rickman took the small but crucial role of Colonel Brandon in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic book, written by Emma Thompson and directed by Ang Lee. He’d made himself a force to be reckoned with in the film world with villain roles, but he gives a warm and nicely restrained turn here as the noble Colonel who woos and wins Kate Winslet’s Marianne. He makes an impact with silent longing glances as much he does impassioned words, one of the marks of a very talented actor, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Alexander Dane – Galaxy Quest
Rickman was nothing if not diverse in his talents, and he showed he could do zany comedy as well as any of the greats in his role as Alexander Dane in the underrated ‘90s sci-fi send-up Galaxy Quest: a film about a bunch of actors (played by the likes of Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Sam Rockwell) from a successful sci-fi TV who show encounter real aliens. Rickman played up the cliché of an indignant British thespian who reckons that all this science fiction malarkey is utterly beneath him, to brilliant comedic effect.
Marvin – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Proving that he didn’t need to be seen to be heard loud and clear, Rickman played the role of Marvin the robot in the 2005 film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. What sets it apart from other portrayals of robots on film is that he’s utterly depressed whenever anyone speaks to him, constantly hanging his oversized head in dejection. Rickman voices the character perfectly, imbuing him with that perfect sense of loveable, downtrodden glumness about the state of life, the universe and everything.
Harry – Love Actually
Love it or hate it, Richard Curtis’ cheesy festive romance contains a cavalcade of British stars from Hugh Grant to Gregor Fisher to Emma Thompson. And, of course, there’s Rickman playing Thompson’s philandering husband who, in one of the film’s more touching scenes, has a gift for his potential mistress rather than his loving wife. In the hands of a lesser actor the role would have been one-dimensional, but Rickman makes sure it feels genuine and rightfully objectionable.
Judge Turpin – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Was there no end to Rickman’s talents as an actor? Evidently not. In 2007 he took on the quite daunting role of Judge Turpin in Tim Burton’s flamboyant and very violent film musical adaptation Sweeney Todd. The role required him to sing in that incorporable and no doubt difficult Stephen Sondheim style, but Rickman makes it seem easy. Like in Love Actually, it’s a potentially shallow role but Rickman does the amazing job of making us understand Turpin’s misguided obsession with keeping Sweeney’s daughter locked away, even if we don’t agree with it.
Alan Rickman was one of the greatest actors of his generation and he will be sadly missed.