Alan Rickman, who has died aged 69, was an actors’ actor. The rich voice, sardonic gaze and languid manner of Harry Potter’s Severus Snape made him seem the epitome of the English stage-trained ‘luvvie’. But his backstory was more complex.
Rickman started on the stage aged 26 after running a graphic design company. He was a card-carrying member of the Labour Party and a supporter of good causes all his life. A hit in Hollywood, Broadway and London, he had a stable life-long partner in Rima Horton, an economist, whom he met at art college.
Things took off for him in film when he started playing villains. His Hans Gruber, the German mastermind in Die Hard, and his Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves set a standard for bad guys.
These were of course clownish characters and Rickman had a great deal of fun with them. But he had range, and there was always a subtlety under the surface.
This became apparent as the Harry Potter series developed and the character of Severus Snape, the seemingly poisonous potions master, became more sympathetic. The part was made for him, literally: JK Rowling wrote it with him in mind.
The larger-than-life Snape, Hans Gruber and the Sheriff of Nottingham loom large in Rickman’s screen career. But he took both risks and less-cartoonish character parts in minor and mid-weight films (Gambit, Snow Flake; he was Ronald Reagan in The Butler).
He also wrote and directed, most recently A Little Chaos, and his duet with Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street showed a talent for musicals.
Rickman’s true home was the stage, which he worked in all his life. Two Tony awards, for the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and in Noel Coward’s Private Lives, bookended a major career.
He was highly liked and respected by other actors, and a great supporter of younger talent and his peers. Anthony Minghella’s Truly Madly Deeply, an enjoyable British ‘actor-ly’ take on Ghost, shows off his personal warmth to great effect.
Rickman’s last performance was as the voice of Absolem the Caterpillar in Alice Through The Looking Glass, which will be released posthumously.