I don’t know whether it was his performance as the mad terrorist Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard, or his Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves; or possibly his bookish and kind Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility; but by the time Alan Rickman announced he was going to appear onstage in New York in the 2002 production of Noel Cowards Private Lives, we were already fans and made the trek to see him up close. Rickman did not disappoint in his portrayal of Elyot Chase the honeymooning newlywed who discovers his ex and her new husband are occupying adjacent rooms at a resort. Most of the play is typical Noel Coward, droll, witty and ironic. Rickman was at his best delivering his lines with that curled lip and chewing on every syllable with that magnificent voice. But then the play shifts gears in Act 3 and there is a scene where the two couples meet and engage in a knock-down brawl, and it is here that one could see Rickman’s gift for physical comedy as well. Since his death last month, an entire generation of youngsters and teens around the world have staged “wand-raising” events in honour of Rickman’s portrayal of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies. When Rickman returned to Broadway to play the lead in Seminar—a story about a jaded burned out novelist who has lost his muse and now tutors young writers, we caught one of his final performances in the role. Again he was mesmerizing and hilarious, delivering the caustic critiques of the work of his young charges—again that voice—a voice that Dame Helen Mirren said “could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade.” Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe wrote: “Alan Rickman is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with. He is also, one of the loyalest and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry. He was so encouraging of me both on set and in the years post-Potter”. Sir Ian McKellen said Rickman was always on his dream list as a dinner guest. “Alan would by turns be hilarious and indignant and gossipy and generous. All this delivered sotto, in that convoluted voice, as distinctive as Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield, Alec Guinness, Alastair Sim or Bowie, company beyond compare.” Comedian and writer Stephen Fry tweeted: “What desperately sad news about Alan Rickman. A man of such talent, wicked charm & stunning screen & stage presence. He’ll be sorely missed.” Ben Stiller said: “What a wonderful actor Alan Rickman was. He literally created his own genre of character.” From Charlie Sheen “We lost a genius today, Alan Rickman. This gentleman redefined the big screen villain, forever.”
One of his most interesting parts was in the movie Snow Cake that was shot in Wawa Ontario of all places, with Rickman playing an ex-con drifter who befriends an autistic woman played by Sigourney Weaver. The movie was a box office flop, but It allowed Rickman to escape his over-the-top villainous roles as he portrayed a thoughtful, quiet and introspective man with a past. It has been a true privilege to follow Alan Rickman’s career in film and even more to share the same oxygen with him in the theatre.
Written by: John Best