The Sheriff with a spoon
Updated: Nov 11
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman 21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016
Alan Rickman made a name for himself as a magnetic on screen villain who launched the template for well-spoken English Shakespearian actors to conquer Hollywood. He was born and raised in Acton, West London, second son of an Irish factory worker and a Welsh Methodist. He described his early life as poor but happy, until his father died of lung cancer when he was only 8. He showed a passion for art and studied at Chelsea College of Art and Design and the Royal College of Art. He met his life partner Rima Horton in 1965 in the amateur drama Group Court club. He funded his application to RADA at the age of 26 by taking design jobs and working as a set dresser.
Rickman joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978 but was not fond of the experience, describing it as a factory production line. He moved onto repertory theatre and working on BBC serials through the 1980s. His first big break came playing the role of Le Vicomte de Valmont in the adaptation of Les Liasons Dangereuses in 1985. Playwright Christopher Hampton (who had adapted the script from the original 18th century novel) had Rickman in mind from the outset. He played the notorious villain to much acclaim in both London and on Broadway and although when the play was adapted for the big screen the role went to John Malkovich, it was clear Hollywood wanted the tall Englishman to bring some of his hypnotic presence to the cinema.
He always insisted he got the role of Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard because he was cheap. “They were paying Willis 7million dollars so they had to find people they could pay nothing.” . The 1988 role launched him to international stardom and in 1991 he starred in three successful films, Close my Eyes, Truly Madly, Deeply and Robin Hood : Prince of Thieves. His impossibly arch performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the latter would solidify his image as a villain, which he disliked, but audiences adored. It was rumoured his role was extensively cut after test screenings found audiences warmed to him far more than the titular hero, but the presence and camp joy was irrepressible and his performance steals every moment he is on screen. Truly, Madly, Deeply had seen him play the ghost of Juliet Stevenson’s recently deceased partner in an achingly touching tale of grief, sentimentality and recovery that serves to remind audiences of his ability beyond the villainous scenery chewing turns he became so famous for.
After a well-received role in Sense and Sensibility (1995) he once again took the role of the villain in Rasputin: Dark servant of Destiny (1996) winning both a golden globe and an Emmy. In the same year he also starred alongside Liam Neeson in Michael Collins. He then wrote and directed his first feature, The Winter Guest (1997) and demonstrated his comedy talents in 1999 pair Dogma and Galaxy Quest. Both, dry, acerbic and knowing performances that lit up the screen.
Rickman was then destined to extend his fandom to a whole new generation, scooping the role of Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. Rickman was cautious on taking the role, insisting in conversation with author J.K Rowling that he could not play him if he didn’t know him. The writer had set her heart on him as Snape and gave Rickman detailed back story on the character that remained unknown to the rest of the world.
His work on stage was relentlessly impressive, even of the productions were not always so well received and he equally developed a talent and enthusiasm for writing and directing. His other noteworthy role in Love Actually (2003) still managed to to squeeze some of that villainous instinct out of him and he voiced Marvin the Paranoid Android in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy in 2005 with a nonchalant aplomb. An actor of imperious presence and talent, a voice of depth and strength that at the same time could mumble minutiae with meaning.
He married his partner Rima Horton in secret in 2012, gleefully recalling how peaceful it all was. They crossed the Brooklyn bridge and had lunch afterwards in isolated bliss. A man who will be remembered by audiences as a mendacious but electrifying villain, will be warmly remembered by those who knew him as a generous, affable soul who could carve out time for al those around him…but at least he didn’t use a spoon.