Alan Rickman / CR: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Alan Rickman, His Defining Movie Roles

Alan Rickman is dead. I am having difficulty believing it. He had cancer, and now he’s gone, far too soon, at age 69.

Legions of fans remember Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series of movies. But he had been making his mark in movies and on stage for decades before playing the duplicitous Hogwarts Headmaster.

Alan Rickman first gained worldwide fame as villain Hans Gruber, in Die Hard. He was gleeful, and sadistic. He became part of a pop culture milestone, playing opposite Bruce Willis’s good-guy, modern-day cowboy. I didn’t see Die Hard in the theater, however. In 1988, I wasn’t as interested in action films as I was weepy dramas and romantic comedies.


The next Alan Rickman movie that came into my line of sight was Truly, Madly, Deeply, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA, and won the Best Actor award from the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

But then came Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. When Robin Hood was released in 1991, it spoke to the romantic longing, and need for swooning, that my friends and I had. During conversations with women who are close to my age, if Robin Hood comes up, every one of us will mock-shout, “Raw-ben!” It still gives me chills. But what good is a protagonist if he doesn’t have a formidable foe? Alan Rickman, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, was deliciously creepy, and absolutely hilarious. He stole the show from star Kevin Costner (who, although handsome, was rather wooden in his acting). Each of Rickman’s scenes became Shakespeare-worthy soliloquies.

With Die Hard and Robin Hood, Alan Rickman had created a new kind of movie villain, scary and funny at the same time. He had also cemented a place for himself in pop culture as a great villain.

Fast forward four years, however, and Alan Rickman transformed himself into an entirely new role, one that was completely opposite of the scenery-chewing scoundrels for which he had become famous, in Sense and Sensibility.

I remember seeing Sense and Sensibility in the theater. Snow was piled along the streets and sidewalks in Cleveland, Ohio. My girlfriend and I had dinner nearby, then bundled up and raced into the little theater that showed “artsy” movies. We sunk into the old, springy, red velvet seats, along with a handful of women our age, and dozens of couples sporting gray hair. And then we watched. And cried. And laughed.


Sense and Sensibility remains one of my favorite movies of all-time. And while I rooted for Emma Thompson, as Elinor, and Hugh Grant, as Edward, I was enthralled with Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon. He was so gracious, so adoring, and so patient. My girlfriend and I were sighing about him, long after the credits rolled. He was nominated for a BAFTA and a Screen Actors Guild award.

He went on to play many, many memorable roles: Metatron, the voice of God, in Dogma; Alexander Dane, the arrogant stage actor, in Galaxy Quest; Harry, the cheating husband, in Love Actually; Dr. Alfred Blalock, the pioneering surgeon, in Something the Lord Made; Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels’ The Butler; and, most famously, Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies.

I am unreasonably sad that Alan Rickman is dead. I didn’t know him. But that is one of the fascinating aspects of fame, how we feel we know these people whom we admire for so long. And I did admire him. I studied acting, and he was one of the best. I was mesmerized by him.

Today, and, I’m guessing, for many years to come, people will be imitating the way he played Severus Snape, slow and deep and intense. But this is the line I will forever hear, when I think of Alan Rickman: “For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.”


Top photo credit: Flickr user Marie-Lan Nguyen


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  1. Ellen Zachos

    Very well said, Nancy.

  2. You forgot his creepiest villain … Eamon de Valera in “Michael Collins”.

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