2016 has been a rough year so far. There have already been so many folks in the entertainment business who have passed on to the next life. For me, perhaps the two most notable have been David Bowie and Alan Rickman. David Bowie, and his distinct individualism epitomizes what geek culture stands for, which is basically being yourself, and winning at life as a result. Perhaps no one played a villain better than Alan Rickman, who was such a lovely person in real life. The way he spoke, and the tone and sound of his voice, just leant itself to villainy, making many of his roles so memorable.
The Sheriff of Nottingham
The first role I remember of Mr. Rickman’s was the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I loved that movie as a kid, and a big reason why was Rickman’s Sheriff. He was just so well-played. He had the sarcasm and the wit down perfectly. I hated the sheriff, but I also decided that if I were to ever turn into a local government tyrant, I would want to be just like him. He was evil, but he was also very cool. Just perfect in every way. I feel like in a lot of ways, he carried that film.
The next role that always stood out to me was in Galaxy Quest, in which he played a legitimate actor who was only known by the masses for this one SciFi series. What made this character for me was the way he portrayed how much he hated himself and the world for his work on this show. It’s the small and subtle things, like his facial expression, and the sneer in his voice that only he could pull off. He was disgusted with the fans, and you could see it all over his character. It was fun and brilliant all at the same time.
The role, however, that I enjoyed the most, was Severus Snape from the Harry Potter films. The way he brought Snape to life was amazing. If it wasn’t so cheesy, I would even say it was magical, but that is cheesy, so I won’t say it. There were so many superb performances in these films, but his character has always stood out to me, from the very beginning. Even when the series took a few films (I’d say it didn’t start happening really until the third, and wasn’t totally set until the fifth) to finally get their footing and get everything pretty spot on, Snape was right from the very beginning, and a lot of that had, maybe all of it, had to do with Rickman.
One of the interesting stories about all of this that has resurfaced since his passing, was that JK Rowling called him and spoke with him about the part while he was considering whether he would take it or not. He never shared what she shared with him specifically, only that it was enough to win him over. He saw that this character wasn’t as black and white as he seemed, that there was some hidden depth there. He admits that she didn’t she the whole story of him being a double agent, risking his life to carry out Dumbledore’s plans. He said it was one piece of information, something out of left field, that won him over.
Rickman never revealed what was shared with him, but of course, Harry Potter fans always want to know all the secrets. Since his passing, JK Rowling revealed on Twitter what she revealed to him all those years ago. She let him know that Snape had been and still was in love with Harry’s mother. That was it. That was what made the difference to Rickman, and what influenced how he played the role. I think it was something that made all the difference.
Here’s the thing, by the time the first Harry Potter film had come out, only four of the books had been completed. At that time, I hated Snape. There was really nothing to like about him. In the book he is greasy and gross, he is dark and scary, and he obviously hates the main protagonist, who in turn hated him back. There wasn’t much to like about him. In fact, I typically feel so strongly about my characters, that I can rarely change my mind about them. I probably would have continued hating Snape, even with how the story turned. I would not have changed my mind about him at all.
Except I did change my mind. By the time I read The Deathly Hallows, I liked Snape on some level, and I felt bad for him, and I loathed him. There were so many emotions, but more than that, I could see myself in him. He was probably one of the most human characters in the whole story, for me, in the end, one of the most genuine and real. I credit a lot of that to Rickman’s portrayal of the character in the films.
When I saw his Snape in the first Harry Potter film, I began to warm to the character. There wasn’t anything more likable about the character, he was still dark and scary and overly mean to Harry Potter, and nice to Malfoy and all of that. But there was something else, too, something subtle, that honestly, I probably missed the first time I saw it. He was also protective of the boy, and almost loving in small ways to him. It is easy to miss, but now, when I go back to watch the early films, it is there. Rickman knew the secret, and even though we as an audience, or at least, I as an audience, had no idea, somehow he conveyed that to us, and that made all the difference.
I am grateful for the legacy of work that Rickman has left behind, and for the way he made us feel about his characters. My thoughts go out to his family and friends who lost so much more than just an actor from their favorite film. His work will live on, and he will be remembered fondly but so many fans throughout the world. Always.
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