With the release of Eye In The Sky featuring Alan Rickman’s final performance, here’s the third and final part of my tribute.
At the beginning of the year, British film icon Alan Rickman died at the age of 69, leaving a legacy of great performances that will ensure he is remembered for years to come. In the first part of my tribute, I wrote about one of my personal favourites (when he was perfectly cast as Marvin The Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) and in the second part, I dealt with two of the more unusual (or maybe unexpected) roles that he took, when he worked on Kevin Smith’s Dogma and Tim Burton’s musical version of Sweeney Todd, as well as his role in Galaxy Quest.
However, there are two roles that had a greater impact on popular culture than all the others combined. Probably more impact than most actors ever dream of. Of course, I am referring to Severus Snape and Hans Gruber. So, without further ado…
Professor Severus Snape
The Harry Potter film series, starting with Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone (Chris Columbus, 2001)
There are certain roles that just fit. As an actor (and according to the tributes paid to him, as a person) could there be a better fit for the character of Severus Snape? The man starts out almost as a pantomime villain, being the horrible teacher who has it in for Harry. In the latter films it is revealed that he has been nursing a broken heart and had been working as a double agent, protecting Potter throughout his life.
It takes a seriously skilled actor to manage to inspire hatred and yet still become beloved. Having multiple sequels gave Rickman more time to nuance the character – he was told a few secrets by JK Rowling to steer him in the right direction, some that not even the directors of the films knew. Of all the characters in the Harry Potter, in my opinion only Sirius Black and Bellatrix LeStrange come close to being as interesting as Snape, and all of those characters are played by fearsome actors given something to chew on.
In the same way that the Harry Potter films changed from being kid’s films to being something (slightly) more complex, Rickman as Snape changed from being a one-dimension “baddie” to being a conflicted, tragic hero. Rickman’s physical manner and vocal delivery has almost perfect throughout, a real tribute to his acting talent.
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
And I just had to save the best for last. Hans Gruber is the best bad guy in any action film. He is the template that every other actor has aimed for since.
From his entrance, slowly reading his prepared statement and then describing the Nakatomi CEO in detail,
Hans Gruber is cool, calm, and in control. The way he describes Takagi’s suit (“Rumor has it Arafat buys his there too”) and his admiration of Nakatomi’s latest development in Indonesia (“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept…for there were no more worlds to conquer. Benefits of a classical education.”) show a man of class, and he quickly admits to being more than a simple terrorist: he is there to steal the $640 million worth of bearer bonds in the buildings safe. And when Takagi won’t co-operate, after his classic “I will count to three. There will not be a four.”, Gruber shoots him in the head! As he later says to the hostages, ” I wanted this to be professional. Efficient, adult, cooperative, not a lot to ask. Alas your Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won’t be joining us for the rest of his life.” Just brilliant.
The thing I like most about Gruber is that his plan works. He is one step ahead of Mr Takagi, the police, the FBI – his proclamations as a terrorist are a front, even the helicopter he asks for is simply a diversion. Only the wildcard, badass New York cop John McClane, stops him by destroying most of the building himself. Even his last act, when he is literally clinging on for dear life, is to try and shoot McClane in the face. What a man. A truly great performance in a truly great film!
So, in conclusion, Alan Rickman will be hugely missed, both by the public who enjoyed his films and the people who worked alongside him. An incredible actor who brought a gravitas to every role, and had a great sense of humour as well. By all accounts, a real “actor’s actor” always ready to give genuine advice to younger actors. A true British acting legend.
RIP Alan Rickman, 21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.