“If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust”
We have been heartbroken and crushed twice in one week due to cancer for extraordinary British artists. Both taken from us at a ripe age too. Rickman burst through cinema’s doors in one of the best villain roles in the modern era with Die Hard‘s Hans Gruber and following that with a blockbusting other nefarious role with The Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He played a great villain but those two roles are really the only bona-fide bad guy roles (unless you want to bring up Quigley Down Under). Professor Severus Snape from the Harry Potter films will probably be his lasting legacy for generations to come and from what I read of the books and saw of the films (Sadly, I have yet to finish the saga of Hogwarts but for no reason other than finding the time) he was perfectly cast as the shady yet anti-heroic Snape.
But back to Hans Gruber. Part of why Die Hard is such an iconic and perfect action flick is because of its villain. You can tell Rickman had a blast playing this role, teetering on the brink between Shakespearean and mustache-twirling wickedness. One scene he shoots Nakatomi point blank in the head when he refuses to give him the info he demands and another scene he’s posing as a scared and cowardly hostage to try to fool McClane. And when he’s got the money at the end, he basically turns into a Bond villain with all the hubris he can muster. It’s a brilliant role and I will always remember him for that one. And not a bad introduction to such a great prolific actor. I was only 10 then Die Hard premiered and shortly afterward I was still the right age to enjoy his Sheriff of Nottingham. Just for Rickman’s performance alone I can’t dismiss that movie as the blockbuster that failed in so many ways. Sure, maybe if they had casted a real English actor to play Robin Hood that would help ten-fold but right now you’re also trying your damnedest not to have Bryan Adams’ power ballad stuck in your head. But if you watch it again you will truly enjoy Rickman’s ham-fisted and scenery-chewing scenes. Again, like Gruber he played The Sheriff dastardly but much more comically. There’s a scene where he is pissed at a defeat in bringing in Robin Hood and he just picks up a small knife and like a child with a temper tantrum quickly stabs at food and trays on the table a few times and then throws the knife down. He also informs his confidants to call off Christmas.
After these two high profile roles which made him a household name, he played a lot of smaller roles but decent ones until the Harry Potters came around. But to me he was one of the most reliable English actors. If I saw he was in a little known film like Blow Dry or Bottle Shock for instance I would want to watch it. He propelled the interest for me in even a mediocre-looking film. Looking at his filmography, I can honestly say that he didn’t make too many stinkers. He was the only good thing about Dogma and I can’t help but just hate Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I haven’t seen The Butler yet (nor really want to) but I’m curious to see his performance as Ronald Reagan. The one aspect of him that I always relished was his unique voice. Dame Helen Mirren said his voice “could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade.” Aptly put. I also liked how Rickman’s face always looked melancholy and he had one of the best grimaces in film history which is why he could play the shady characters best. He had a smile that was not warm all the time.
I also find it interesting that by the time Die Hard premiered he was 42 years old! Much older than you would think for such a long career and I wonder what types of roles he would’ve played had he started acting when he was much younger. But I’m also sad thinking that at only 69 what other great roles we’re robbed of him giving us. But I’m just glad for the scene 30 or so years that we had to enjoy Mr. Rickman’s great performances. Just thinking about him now makes me want to rewatch Robin Hood.