For someone who didn't play villains, he did it very, very well.
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016) was an English actor and director, known for playing a variety of roles on stage and screen, often as a complex antagonist. After doing the standard English Man In Hollywood origin full of William Shakespeare, theatre and single-episode television spots, he managed to move over to the USA by serving his revenge cold as the Vicomte de Valmont (a very interesting man with some questionable morals) in Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway. He also starred in Truly, Madly, Deeply, a cultured version of Ghost (1990). Then his first big screen role was the lovable Magnificent Bastard Hans Gruber in Die Hard, who set up a Batman Gambit in order to steal 600 million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds. He had to kill a few people to get the money, which was certainly not very nice, but he did so with memorable Bond One-Liners, and personally ad-libbed the infamous, "Mr. Takagi did not see it that way ... so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life." To this day, Hans is still regarded as one of the greatest villains in movie history.
There is also the pantomime villain Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, who proved to be a better thief than that Costner fellow by stealing every scene he was in, not even considering the money he raked in taxes. Deliciously villainous and by far the most interesting character in the movie.
Also, while Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films is meant to be a Nominal Hero with a not-so-happy past, for some reason people kept feeling sorry for him, instead seeing Rickman's Snape as a normal guy who just needed a hug — as well as feeling a few other things.
He also played Eliot Marston in Quigley Down Under, as well as Judge Turpin in Tim Burton's 2007 film adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Regardless of these roles, there were plenty of clearly not villainous, still very interesting roles that he had performed.
He played, of all things, a painter named Ed in 1989's The January Man. He played the lead in Mesmer, the 1994 biopic about pioneering hypnotist Franz Anton Mesmer. He played Colonel Brandon in the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. He was the Metatron, the angel people are really speaking to when they claim to speak to God,note in 1999's Dogma (being on fire in his first on-screen appearance is certainly interesting), a role which he took after being a fan of Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy but with one strict condition: don't change anything in the script. In 1999 he starred in Galaxy Quest, where he played a Shakespearean actor slumming it in sci-fi. In 2003, he appeared in Love Actually playing a caring yet utterly deadpan office boss who may or may not have had an affair with his assistant. He was the voice of Marvin in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). He also played Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels' The Butler.
Further, Rickman recited poetry. Very interesting poetry. And he made tea in a very interesting way.
He and Katherine Viner, then editor of British newspaper The Guardian, compiled the one-woman play My Name Is Rachel Corrie out of the letters, emails, and journals of the title character; it was first staged in 2005. He directed two films, The Winter Guest (1997, adapted from the 1995 play) and A Little Chaos (2014).
A classic anecdote told by John Sessions on QI, as seen here described Alan's view on his roles.
The world expressed collective sorrow to learn of Rickman's passing from pancreatic cancer, at the age of 69, on January 14, 2016. That was only four days after the loss of another British icon, David Bowie.
Notable film credits:
- Die Hard (1988) — Hans Gruber
- The January Man (1989) — Ed
- Quigley Down Under (1990) — Elliot Marston
- Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) — Jamie
- Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) — The Sheriff of Nottingham
- Bob Roberts (1992) — Lukas Hart III
- Sense and Sensibility (1995) — Colonel Brandon
- Michael Collins (1996) — Éamon de Valera
- Judas Kiss (1998) — Detective David Friedman
- Dogma (1999) — Metatron
- Galaxy Quest (1999) — Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus
- Help! I'm a Fish (2000) — Joe (voice)
- Harry Potter — Professor Severus Snape
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)
- Love Actually (2003) — Harry
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (2005) — Marvin the Paranoid Android (voice)
- Snow Cake (2006) — Alex Hughes
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — Judge Turpin
- Alice in Wonderland (2010) — Absolem the Caterpillar (voice)
- The Butler — Ronald Reagan (2013)
When Alan saw the breadth of his article, he wept, for there were no more tropes to conquer:
- Accent Upon The Wrong Syllable: He tended to have an odd cadence with some of his lines, which only made him even more intimidating.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Rupert Grint once drew a less than flattering picture of him on set and was terrified when Alan found it. To his surprise, he loved it so much he asked Rupert to sign it and kept it afterwards.
- Character Tic: In his villainous roles, he has a habit of lunging at people, usually planting his hands on the wall or chair behind them or the table in front of them and delivering a menacing one-liner with his face inches from whoever he's talking to.
- In Die Hard:
- "I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane, and since I'm moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite!"
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves:
- "Tell me where Hood is ... or we'll string you all up and find him anyway!"
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, altogether now:
- "Then I suggest you take extra care, Mr. Potter. Loss of limb will not excuse you. Page three hundred and ninety-four."
- And in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street:
- "Mark me boy, if I see your face on this street again, you'll rue the day you were born."
- In Die Hard:
- Chronically Killed Actor: A part of being a villain is that you're probably going to be dead by movie's end.
- Classically-Trained Extra: His character in Galaxy Quest. Averted in real life as he quite seemed to enjoy being action villains and snarky wizards and never saw them as less deserving of respect or effort than his stage roles.
- Cold Ham: He could chew scenery while barely raising his voice or changing his facial expression, particularly as Snape.
- Cool Old Guy: He was already in his forties when he made his first film appearance in Die Hard and his coolness only increased in time as he had many of his best roles in his fifties and sixties, most notably Snape.
- Deadpan Snarker: He was an absolute master at this trope, particularly when playing villains. Few actors could sell withering sarcasm and ill-tempered cynicism as well.
- His close friend Emma Thompson told a story about how she was once having a Christmas party and she was standing under the mistletoe when she saw Rickman "bearing down upon me". She lifted her face and puckered her lips for a kiss, but he stopped in front of her, his eyes glittered, and he reached up and pulled a long hair out of her chin. He then leaned down to her and whispered "That was an incipient beard," and walked off.
- Dramatic Pause: Was ... a ... big ... fan. To the point J. K. Rowling admitted writing Severus Snape's dialogue in the later Potter books with Rickman's ... cadence in mind.
- Exemplified in his portrayal of Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."E ... [Beat] ... qually ... guilty."
- Exemplified in his portrayal of Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
- The Dreaded: In an amusing and unintentional way, he was this for Jason Mewes during the filming of Dogma. When Kevin Smith told Mewes that he was going to have to be on point throughout the filming because this movie was going to have experienced and well-respected actors and Alan Rickman was one of them, Mewes took the filming so seriously that he not only memorized his lines, but everyone else's lines as well.Mewes: I don't want to piss off that Rickman dude.
- Evil Brit: Another reason he was often cast as a villain, he played this trope exceedingly well.
- Evil Is Hammy: When the situation called for it, his villains could really chew the scenery and gloriously so.
- Evil Sounds Deep: In many of his roles. Directors really loved making use of his magnificent, silky voice.
- Faux Affably Evil: His villainous characters had his incredible charisma and magnetism and a very dry wit and were pure evil underneath.
- Friend to All Children: He became very close to the younger actors while making Harry Potter, especially Daniel Radcliffe, offering advice and helping them deal with the pressure of their roles and creating a positive work environment for them.
- Happily Married: To Rima Horton. Although they only married in the last few years of his life, they had been together since 1965.
- Intergenerational Friendship: He formed a close rapport with his younger Harry Potter co-stars, especially Daniel Radcliffe who has often cited Rickman as a mentor.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: When he wasn't playing villains, he often played these types of roles, men whose snark, cynicism and general misanthropy hid a kind side that the audience got to see as the story went on.
- Large Ham: In addition to being very interesting people, his roles also frequently tended to be this.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Check the page quote on Brian Cox's assessment of him. It was a sentiment shared by many other actors he worked with.
- Odd Friendship: He had an interesting one with Kevin Smith, considering one is a British acting legend and the other is a stoner indie filmmaker from New Jersey, yet Rickman often kept in touch with Kevin and his family after filming Dogma.
- Secret-Keeper: Rickman was the only person whom J.K. Rowling entrusted with the truth about Severus Snape's motives, years before the fact that Snape loved Lily Potter was revealed in the books. Allegedly, other cast members would ask him why he looked wise to crucial Character Development scenes with Snape and he would say, "I know something you don't."