Alan Rickman died on January 14 from pancreatic cancer, but the legacy left behind far exceeds a lengthy career.
Alan Rickman’s death affected millions worldwide. With a sudden diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and sharp decline, many close had no idea of the sickness. In response, fans, colleagues, family and friends opened up on why he mattered so much. As one of Britain’s theater and film leaders, he touched the lives of millions.
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Whether mentorship, friendship, or simply lending name status for a project he believed in, Alan Rickman did everything he could to make the world better.
Ian McKellen (Lord of the Rings, X-Men) spoke not of his friend’s work, but the “liberal philanthropy at the heart of his life,” which included mentorship long after success. And Brian Cox (Therese Raquin, Braveheart) believes Rickman “could have been a great teacher.” In fact, “he was empowering – if you had a problem and you told him it he would empower you to do what you did best.”
Evanna Lynch expressed how important mentorship lasts on her Facebook. She played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films and was initially a little intimidated by Rickman’s presence on set. A fan of the book series, the young actress spoke of one dinner where she learned a lot about his commitment to the industry. “At the time I was stressing about the pressure I felt to already be a successful actress and that I'd run out of time to make mistakes.”
And it was Rickman who made sure she didn’t feel pressure for perfection; advising to instead remember that ‘really, they're watching’ the heart on screen. Instead of brushing off the concerns, he spent the hour offering advice and really listening to what she was saying. “After that meeting I thought about him a lot and what a truly lovely, kind, generous person he was” because he stayed “completely present, kind, attentive and curious.”
Sometimes simply listening exceeds all expectations.
Rickman may have been a star, an established actor with an extensive credit list, but he wasn’t above taking risks. Kevin Smith, the director of Dogma (1999), cast the star to play the Metatron, the Voice of God. In a Facebook post on January 14, he talked about “his incredible dulcet tones guffawing at the rubber crotch makeup he was wearing: one of the greatest actors who ever lived, tickled by a cinematic lack of a dick.” Rickman made friends wherever he went.
“You were never Snape to me as much as you were the adult Harry Potter himself: a bonafide wizard who could conjure absolute magic using merely words. He was a HUGE cauldron of win, this man.”
‘Ineffable and Cynical Wit’
Oscar winner Kate Winslet described him as a “warm-hearted puppy dog, who would do anything for anyone if it made them happy.” At 19, she starred in Sense and Sensibility (1995) as Marianne, playing against Rickman’s Colonel Brandon. Slightly stiff, but a good guy, The Independent described the character as one of his best on film. An aura of magnetism seemed to emanate, enveloping those on screen, and inviting the viewer to walk into Jane Austen’s world.
In the same adaptation, Emma Thompson played the sensible Elinor. She spent five years adapting the book into a screenplay, which earned her an Oscar. Friends since the filming, the two were close for the rest of his life. As with most British stars, both appeared in Harry Potter at various times. As Sybil Trewlawney, the Divination teacher, Thompson worked alongside Rickman.
In a press statement, the Howard’s End actress stated, “Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye. What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom and kindness. His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word.”
Sometimes people need that “ineffable and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things” and the world is poorer for a losing a beacon in front of and behind the lens. But that inner look, that clarity and kindness, wasn’t limited to just friends. Lynch recalls when his friends’ children would join him on set, where he would sit in the canteen and be Alan while dressed as Snape.
Rickman didn’t just act on screen and was more than Hans Gruber or even Severus Snape. Director and stage actor, risks were the usual recipe for the diverse actor. Whether in New York or London, he performed in productions ranging from Les Liaisons Dangereuses to Seminar to a collection of Shakespeare’s most notable plays.
More than anything, Alan looked to transform the world. No matter if acting or directing, creativity beyond his graphic arts degree seemed to spring from his mind.
‘Honey or a Hidden Stiletto’
A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, his stage performances showcased a tremendous ability to transform each role into work of art. According to Huffington Post’s Katherine Brooks, “his voice, a divine gift most stage actors would kill for, filled the halls of playhouses from London to Dublin to New York, captivating a world offscreen long before -- and long after -- he ever donned black robes at Hogwarts.”
In a 2007 interview with NPR, Rickman shared that his voice coaches were none too thrilled with his “the back end of the drain pipe” voice. Strangely, it was that exact voice which made him recognizable. Watch Dogma and listen to the deep, melodic tone parroting satirical and sarcastic lines next to an exuberant Body of God (played by Alanis Morrisette).
Many women found that distinctive, deep voice alluring. Dame Helen Mirren (Red, The Queen) co-starred with him in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 1998. According to The Guardian, she alluded to a “voice that could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade” against a kind, caring partner on stage. And she’s not wrong about that voice getting attention.
When asked whether the voice is important to the work performed, a very dry “well, it’s what I’m stuck with” preceded admission to the fact that he didn’t “hear what anyone else hears.” Yet it’s hard to imagine the Sheriff of Nottingham’s rage verbalized by anyone else. Since his death, former costars have openly spoken about his ability to animate and invigorate every scene.
“Shakespeare was his language: nobody spoke that language as well as Alan,” according to Ruby Wax (Tara Road, Ruby Wax Meets). “He was the most charismatic, sexiest thing I’d ever seen.”
The ability to mimic and spin talent on its ear wasn’t new for the talented and respected Royal Shakespeare Company alum. Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) echoed Wax, saying, “He had a completely different energy – he could be very languid and then click into a ferociousness.”
While Alan Rickman may be known for roles like the war-weary Snape, Die Hard’s calculating villain Hans Gruber, or sensitive Colonel Brandon, his sardonic wit and rare comedy roles tilted expectations. Playing Alexander Dane, a snobbish actor unhappy with sci fi cult status in Galaxy Quest (1999), earned another character to rise to fan favorite.
Snape wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without the slow, measured beats. Thorough investigation of character motivation was a beautiful gift to directors and audience alike.
Speaking of Snape’s demise in an interview with HitFix in 2011, he corrected the general assumption he knew the entire story from the beginning. “She gave me one tiny, little, left of field piece of information that helped me think that he was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought.” Instead he complimented her ability as a “consummate storyteller that you let her lead you” and encouraged film fans to read, to explore the tale themselves. “The books are so full of all you need to know and so full of details.”
Alan Rickman only needed to change tone or express a thought to make people listen. The world lost a kind, compassionate leader who truly cared about every person he met. When fans lifted their wands for the actor at Universal Studios’ Harry Potter theme park, the rest of the rest of the world bowed their heads in silence. May his lessons for compassion continue through every person his actions touched.
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