Alan Rickman, an extraordinary talent of film, television and theatre, was a legend in his ow lifetime. Rickman didn’t need anyone to teach him how “bottle fame” because he was full capable of achieving this feat on his own.
Despite having garnered significant audience appeal for his film performances of Hans Gruber in the 1988 John McTiernan directed action thriller Die Hard, the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1991 Kevin Reynolds directed action adventure drama Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter (2001-11) film series, Rickman was an important member of the British theatre community.
A renowned member of the famed RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), Rickman is known to have trained with London’s RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art).
Having quickly established himself as being a dominant figure within the British repertory and experimental theatre community, inclusive of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, Snoo Wilson’s The Grass Widow and Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, Rickman’s resume of staged productions is one of the best developed.
Although having appeared in the 1978 Alvin Rakoff directed television film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet as Tybalt, Rickman’s breakthrough performance came seven years later when he was seen portraying Vicomte de Valmont in a staged production of Christopher Hampton’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The production, staged at Stratford-upon-Avon’s The Other Place theatre, opened on Tuesday, 24 Sept. 1985.
With Howard Davies in the directorial chair, the play featured a cast inclusive of Lindsay Duncan, Juliet Stevenson, Lesley Manville and Sean Baker as the Marquise de Merteuil, Madame de Tourvel, Cécile de Volanges and the Chevalier Danceny, respectively.
Two years later, also directed by Howard, Hampton’s play opened at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre on Thursday, 30 April 1987. Not surprising, considering how the thespians had successfully made their characters their own, Rickman and Duncan were seen stepping back into the shoes of the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, respectively.
In 1987, Rickman was recognised by the Tony Awards with a nomination for the Best Actor in a Play. While he was unsuccessful in picking up this award, it should be understood the field of competition in this category was significant. Exemplifying this point, in addition to Rickman, the category included Richard Kiley, Philip Bosco and James Earl Jones for their performances of Joe Keller, Waiter and Troy Maxson in Miller’s All My Sons, George Bernard Shaw’s You Never Can Tell and August Wilson’s Fences.
With such a powerhouse of a performance delivered by Jones, Rickman’s chances of picking up the award was significantly diminished. As Maxson, pun intended, Jones hit it out of the park.
Born in Hammersmith, London on Thursday, 21 Feb. 1946, Rickman was the son of Bernard W. and Margaret Doreen Rose (née Bartlett) Rickman. With a father as a factory worker and a mother as a housewife, Rickman was raised in a working-class environment
Even though as a child he exhibited extraordinary abilities as a calligrapher and a watercolour painter, Rickman was always intended for greatness. As a pupil of the London’s Laymer Upper School, he became interested in the theatre.
“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king,” Shakespeare wrote as part of the second act of his now classic work “The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” and it was the theatre that gave Rickman significant purpose. After completing his studies at Latymer, the budding actor and thespian went on to attend courses at CCAD (Chelsea College of Art and Design). CCAD was a steppingstone to (RCA) Royal College of Art.
Despite having a clear understanding of being a classically trained thespian, the education he received from the RCA afforded him the opportunity to work as a graphic designer for the college’s in-house magazine ARK. Further, recognised outside the academic sphere, the management of the “Notting Hill Herald saw enormous potential in Rickman’s work. Consequently, Rickman gained employment with the London based newspaper. From the perspective of an 18-year-old Rickman, “Drama school wasn’t considered the sensible thing to do ….”
Rickman was every bit as much at home in front of the camera as he was with treading the boards of the theatrical world. For his performance as the duplicitous Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman picked up the 1991 BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Five years later, the actor was recognised by the Golden Globe Awards for his work on the Uli Edel directed television film Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny. Rickman walked away from the awards ceremony with the 1996 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film in hand. It should be noted the Golden Globe Award is not the only prize Rickman garnered for playing the title role in Edel’s film.
Rickman also saw success with the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie, the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie and the Satellite Award for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film.
As a member of the cast for both of the David Yates directed films Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) and the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), the casts saw success with the 2009 Scream Award for Best Ensemble and the 2011 People’s Choice Award for Favourite Ensemble Movie Cast. Further, as Snape in the last “Harry Potter” film, Rickman was recognised by the MTV Movie Awards with the MTV World Cup Award for Favourite Harry Potter Character Portrayal.
At the age of 69, Rickman died of pancreatic cancer on Thursday, 14 Jan. 2016.
The London premiere of the James Bobin directed Alice Through the Looking Glass came on Tuesday, 10 May 2016, some four months after the actor’s death. In the film, Rickman’s last big screen production, the actor gave voice to the caterpillar Absolem.
When it comes to writing of actors such as Rickman, one could quite easily pen numerous volumes. While much of his career has not been touched upon, this article was penned in a remembrance of Rickman’s birthday.