I woke up this morning to the news that one of my favorite actors, Alan Rickman, had died of cancer. This is the second high-profile acting death from cancer this week (David Bowie passing a couple of days ago), and again a case of someone being taken far too young, at 69 years old.
While most of the news outlets are saying he’s most famous for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, for me, Rickman will always be Hans Gruber, the master thief and arch-villain to Bruce Willis’s John “Yippee-ki-yay” McClane in Die Hard. His odd German/English accent, his goatee, his slowly boiling-over frustration – he stole the show in what is one of my favorite Christmas films.
And then I saw him in Galaxy Quest as cynical British stage actor Alexander Dane, permanently cursed with being associated with one small (to him) role in an American science-fiction series, and his place as a personal go-to became firmly entrenched. Watching him ease a gentle soul to his final rest (“You shall be avenged”), and then turning, hair flying wildly from his prosthetic head piece, yelling and charging at the alien who had shot the fatal blast and bludgeoning it to death – I knew then that this was a rare actor indeed, with a tremendous range from quietly menacing, to full-on comedic mania within his repertoire. From then on, just knowing he was in a film made me want to watch it, which is something I can say about very few actors.
Besides Die Hard and Galaxy Quest, some other films which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Rickman in are Bottle Shock, Love Actually, and the oft-forgotten Quigley Down Under with Tom Selleck. Even in the truly bad films he was part of – Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – he was clearly the best thing about them, stealing every scene he was in. Another that didn’t do terribly well at the box office, but which I enjoyed, is Blow Dry, which plays off as a sort of modern-day Romeo and Juliet set in a British hairdressing competition, with Rickman and Bill Nighy facing off as the fathers of a pair of star-crossed lovers. Worth a watch if only for the Rickman/Nighy factor.
And of course there are the Harry Potter films. Severus Snape could simply not have been played by any other actor. Rickman combined the ability to make you both love and hate him at the same time, with a wonderfully charming screen presence that was impossible to ignore. A lesser actor would not have been able to pull of the big twist with this character and make it both believable and sympathetic. Loved him in that role.
But again, for me, Rickman will always be Hans Gruber. To quote: “This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” Rest in peace, Mr. Rickman.