Yesterday we learned of the sad passing of one of Britain’s most revered screen and stage actors, Alan Rickman.
Rickman was perhaps best known as one of the finest portrayers of villains this country has ever produced, with much-loved ‘baddie’ turns as Die Hard antagonist Hans Gruber, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves‘ Sheriff of Nottingham, and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies establishing his reputation.
But it wasn’t just all villainy for the native of Acton, London. When the role called for it Rickman was able to bring out his comedic chops, playing understated, sarcastic characters that fit his trademark gruff drawl as much as any bad guy. And there were some highly sensitive portrayals too.
Here are nine unmissable Rickman roles. Some of which prove him to be the ultimate movie villain, but others that remind us of his ability to not take things too seriously, and to make us all laugh when the time was right.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Rickman was once quoted as saying “I do take my work seriously and the way to do that is not to take yourself too seriously.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than in his inspired turn as Sir Alexander Dane, a respected actor fallen on to hard times and forced to play on his ‘past glories’ as a prosthetically made-up alien in the campy, titular TV series. Still appearing at sci-fi conventions for legions of nerd fans against his better judgement, Dane (who played Dr. Lazarus in the show complete with cringey “Grabthar’s Hammer” catchphrase) is hilariously reslient against the innocent fanboys who flock to his autograph table.
Rickman was really able to play on his “serious actor” reputation with this role, and used it to hilarious effect.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010/11)
To be honest we could’ve put any number of Rickman’s appearances as the unwavering Severus Snape in here. All eight of his performances are truly memorable in the minds of Potter fans and skeptics alike.
But it’s his final two outings as the Professor in the Potter stories final installment (broken in to two parts for cinema and the best of the bunch in our opinion) that really hit home the hardest, as the once cold Snape undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts to aid in our heroes’ finale. A character of great complexity, concealing deep emotional anguish behind a coldly sarcastic and controlled exterior, and a role that Rickman truly made his own.
Die Hard (1988)
One of the finest action movie villains to ever grace the big screen, stepping in to Hans Gruber’s shoes really put Rickman on the cinematic map, and helped to establish the villainous onscreen persona that the actor would become known for.
Sure, he meets a stomach churning death as he plummets from the film’s iconic skyscraper setting (spoiler alert), but until then we’re treated to some of the finest bastardry ever put to film. “Benefits of a classical education.”
The Butler (2013)
It takes a certain kind of screen presence for an actor to portray a real life President of the United States of America and do a good job of it, but thankfully Rickman was always one such actor.
Stepping into the shoes of Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels’ challenging drama would be a daunting task for most actors, but Rickman stepped up to the plate with confidence, portraying the late President with an almost uncanny familiarity.
Bob Roberts (1992)
This mockumentary from Tim Robbins (sort of like a more politically satirical This Is Spinal Tap) saw Rickman co-starring as Lukas Hart III, campaign chairman to Robbins’ laughable effort in a United States Senate election.
Gleefully satirising the kind of absurd far-right politics of some of America’s more polarising satirical figures (Donald Trump could learn a thing or two), Bob Roberts proved Rickman could swing for straight comedy and knock it out of the park. All while delivering an impressive US accent.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pray.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
By the time Tim Burton’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd musical rolled in to cinemas, the world was already aware of Rickman’s stage and screen abilities. What they were unsure of, was the London born actor’s singing abilities.
But the then 60-year old sure did have a set of lungs on him, and showed that distinguishable voice could lend itself excellently to more tuneful pursuits. Fantastic.
After a string of villainous roles in which Rickman gleefully channeled his inner bastard to great effect, it wasn’t long before he began to be a little bit type-cast.
Thankfully, he had a few curveballs up his sleeve towards the end of the nineties, one of the best being his brief appearance in Kevin Smith’s religious satire.
Honestly, Rickman cropping up as ‘Metatron’ – an angel and the Voice of God – complete with a perfectly smooth crotch for minimum sinning, which gets gleefully flashed about – is not something many film fans could’ve predicted. But the whole silliness of the whole thing is the reason it worked so well. He absolutely nailed it.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
This period drama based on Jane Austen’s literary classic swept the board at every awards ceremony it visited back in 1995, but one criminally overlooked part of Ang Lee’s puzzle was Rickman’s dazzling role as Colonel Brandon.
Rickman put in a stunning shift, calling on his previously callous roles to portray a gentlemen considered an old bachelor, incapable of feeling love or inspiring it in another. But ultimately of course, that was far from true.
Eye in the Sky (2016)
This film – a suspenseful Aaron Paul and Helen Mirren starring military thriller – isn’t even out yet, and won’t see a theatrical release until April 8 over here. But from the drips and drabs of reviews that have come through so far, we’re in for a good one.
Plus, with this being Rickman’s last ever onscreen role (playing the imposing Lieutenant General Frank Benson), it’ll be a fitting way to see out one of British acting’s greats.