Today marks the passing of a truly iconic British import film actor and familiar personality. Alan Rickman died at the age of 69 in his native London. Rickman turned his humble beginnings in a blue collar household and the early death of his father into beginning his career with his own graphic design company. However, his longtime desire to perform led to his acceptance in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Following years of acclaim in the theatre, he made his big screen debut in the 1988 groundbreaking classic action movie “Die Hard.”
That unforgettable career defining start instantly made him the go-to guy for villainy. Other noteworthy bad guy turns include playing Tom Selleck’s nemesis in the 1990 western “Quigley Down Under” and his scenery chewing BAFTA winning Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s otherwise deplorable “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” He then found a legion of fans as Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” franchise. But he also had a softer, multi-layered and very human side that is perhaps best represented in 2003’s “Love Actually.” Pair it with “Die Hard” and you’ll have a full representation of what he brought to the art of movie acting.
Few actors have literally defined a character type and far less, if any, have done it their first time out of the box. Yet, as the impeccably dressed, highly polished and highly financed Hans Gruber in “Die Hard,” he set a new standard for villainy that has yet to be redefined. His endlessly calm and creepily polite demeanor at first masks his unflinchingly lethal psyche. We’d seen ice cold killers before, but never quite like this. It represents the best of Bond-style international supervillainy but with a realistic edge and horror that is still great fun to watch. He also packs an amazing amount of humor into this original, one-of-a-kind performance that has since often been imitated but never equaled.
“Love Actually” is a total sea change. This classic Christmas movie and equally classic anytime romance boasts a huge cast of heavy hitters and Rickman holds his own with every one of them. In one of numerous storylines, he plays an office manager named Harry who loses his way with wife Emma Thompson and makes an unfortunate mistake. Yet he doesn’t go as far as she fears and there is plenty of room and time left for redemption and rediscovery of what really makes his life have meaning. He masterfully mixes in a sort of cranky, dry humor with a tired, emotionally stagnated individual who’s clueless as to how compassionless and dead he has become to those closest to him. He also displays his own inimitable style and personality with moments such as the brilliantly nuanced way he answers questions with the word “no” three times in succession. It’s brilliantly nuanced, quietly natural and just right in every aspect.