You may find a 1991 interview with Alan Rickman online on YouTube. His roles as Hans Gruber, the master criminal, in Die Hard and the tyrannical Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves made him a household name.
An American reporter approaches him and asks, “Do you like portraying villains?” The actor’s lip begins to quiver. In all honesty, I enjoyed myself. He gently explains that he has also engaged in other activities.
But the reporter presses on: “You don’t intend to keep portraying these bombastic Hollywood villains?” Rickman, probably cursing himself, says, “Probably not,” meaning he doesn’t see a future for himself as an actor.
The conversation improves after reading his diaries, which were released today and span his life and work from 1993 until his death in 2016.
Rickman was easily angered, but nothing annoyed him more than a reporter’s stupid questions. Maybe Time magazine was Gruber’s guilty pleasure all by himself.
However, the villainous reputation did remain. To what extent were you harmed by whichever of Rickman’s villains? Of course, I’m referring to the scheming spouse who bought a Joni Mitchell CD in Love Actually.
It’s somewhat strange that Rickman is best known for his role as the sneering Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series, given how eager he looked to get away from it. Or maybe it’s just right. Snape, who spoke lazily of “bewitching the mind and ensnare the senses,” was actually cold, disdainful, enigmatic, and not who he seemed.
He was a bad guy who pretended to be kind. Rickman was known for his distinctive lugubrious voice and penetrating eye, yet after his passing, tales of his benevolence surfaced.
Donating to acting students, he showed clear emotion as On Newsnight, Juliet Stevenson, who co-starred with Tom Hanks in Truly, Madly, Deeply, lamented that the acting community had “lost the steering wheel in our car.”
According to the foreword by Emma Thompson, who co-starred with him in Sense & Sensibility and Love Actually and whom he directed in The Winter Guest, “There was something of the sage about him – and had he more confidence and been at all corruptible, he could probably have started his own religion.”
Rickman’s aloof demeanor was well-known and much-loved. The odd, hard-won smile hinted at a hidden, carefully restrained sense of mischief, and this trait managed not to turn people off but rather to draw us deeper in.
His sudden and unexpected death from pancreatic cancer hit the community like a ton of bricks. Even though he was 69, his death felt premature.
There was still a lot of information we needed. His journals provide a fascinating look into the mentality of a performer who specialized in playing stiff upper lip types.
His crankiness is well-documented, but these diaries also reveal a surprisingly gregarious individual. The likes of Ruby Wax, Neil Kinnock, Edna O’Brien, and Thompson were among his many pals. His wife, the author of the afterword, Rima Horton, and he frequently had dinner parties that lasted until 4 a.m. He likes to talk about his experiences buying presents for individuals at upscale department stores. It’s clear he was an excellent companion.
I wish he were mine, but I’m a journalist, so he’d have despised me. Some of his judgments are very harsh, while others are purely delightfully surprising. Some people thought Mamma Mia! was entertaining, while others thought it had the potential to be amazing.
An actual choreography… would be useful. As far as we can tell, he spent his final months in bed, glued to the couch with a marathon of Don’t Tell the Bride and Say Yes to the Dress.
His journals were full of energy and emotion, but they left me feeling down. According to appearances, Rickman has a deep-seated fear of being fully understood. He was very dedicated to his work, yet he could get irritated when others weren’t.
I can’t tell you who’s right and who’s wrong. He adds, “I am difficult, temperamental, uncommunicative; others are emotive, effect-driven, undisciplined. We shot Mesmer in 1993.
He strived for excellence but appeared to overthink it at times, as seen by his many mentions of declining opportunities in his writing.
The yeses, the nos, and the maybes of the past year leave me bewildered. He writes, “I only have my instincts, and it’s awful how much they get watered down and diverted when I start second-guessing other people’s ideas.”
In 1994, a petition urging readers to “write to Brian Friel – say no to his play” gained traction. And then, a few days later, in words that chilled my blood, “Eventually reading scripts of Persuasion and Madness of George. To both! Can you picture the film with Alan Rickman in the lead role?
In most cases, his chosen ventures fell short of the mark. Emmy-winning actor who had frequent disagreements with the film’s director, Uli Edel, for the character of Rasputin in Dark Servant of Destiny. Subtlety isn’t everything, he said sheepishly in his Bafta acceptance speech for Robin Hood. He refused to give an inch when he could have given a little more.
Popular films including “Harry Potter,” “Love Actually,” “Sweeney Todd,” and “Sense & Sensibility” all featured Rickman in supporting roles. Considering his reputation, it’s astonishing that he never won an Oscar and participated in so many critically panned productions including the National Theatre’s Antony and Cleopatra, Gambit, The Butler, and A Little Chaos, which he also directed. But he never landed the role he was meant to play; he missed out on The King’s Speech, The Darkest Hour, and Paddington 2. Can you picture Paddington 2 with Alan Rickman in it?
It appears that for Rickman, nothing was more important than the pursuit of artistic excellence. He was really serious about his acting career.
Are actors “always to be thus patronized,” he asks at one point. His reputation will be remembered for his seriousness, even if he had a greater career and appeared in better films. Also, there’s the matter of Hans Gruber.