And so the sun sets once more, against our most sincere wishes and despite our hopes that darkness may never find itself across our faces. Alas, the light strips away from our earthly gaze and caught along goes one of the greats, Alan Rickman: a man so genuinely talented that he forever changed the lives of millions. I, of course, refer to his portrayal as Severus Snape throughout the films of the Harry Potter franchise. And though we mourn for this visage of Rickman, a character buried so deeply into our generational psyche, I am more desperately saddened by the fact that we have lost one of the grandest screen villains of all time, Hans Gruber. All in all, Rickman’s time on earth (a brief and beautiful sixty-nine years) is an era to celebrate, his presence having been only brightening.
Rickman was born in West London in 1946. Despite a penchant for theater, he chose to follow his father’s path and study design. After leaving a brief but successful streak as a graphic designer, Rickman enrolled in and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, a prestigious drama school whose past alumni included Peter O’Toole, Ralph Fiennes and Anthony Hopkins. From there, Rickman began a prolific and steady career by performing in front of international audiences, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company, and eventually arriving on Broadway. There, he lead the production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and was nominated for a Tony award. The following year, Rickman was cast in his first legitimate movie role as the villain in Die Hard, Hans Gruber, becoming (perhaps) the grandest action antagonist of all time.
During the eighties, the action film had arrived into its prototypical form: ex-commandos, loose cannon cops, bleach blond psychopaths, scarred masterminds, submachine gun shootouts and American guts. There was hardly any theatrics to the spectacle, as villains died in explosions and vanished in smoke.
Rickman brought something different to the table: he was a classically trained thespian and a real Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespearean. And so we have Hans, suave and European exotic, suited in Savile Row’s finest, and with a taste for magazines and Beethoven. He is executive and thoughtful. In contrast to Bruce Willis’ cowboy charm, Rickman was a brilliant and dangerous being, and he remains the standard for what a villain should be. He made the perfect action movie what it was. From there, Rickman continued by validating any film he set his talent upon, finally arriving at his most recognized role: our beloved, tortured Severus Snape. As a collective culture, the Harry Potter books and films are simply part of who we believe ourselves to be, and Snape settles nicely into our childhood memories as the mysterious and morose potion master of Hogwarts. We know him, his story and his redemption.
Banded to the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early eighties, out of school and still shy of silver screen recognition, Rickman was cast in As You Like It as the melancholic and moody Jaques. It was Rickman, dressed in black, who would rise to center and remind us all that the world’s a stage and we are merely its players. Each of us has our own exits and, like that, in a sweep of velvet, we are gone, born only to disappear. He will be missed, and he will be remembered.