There’s a moment in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ when Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham threatens to cut out Robin Hood’s “heart with a spoon”.
That, as well as his order to “call off Christmas” was probably one of the most terrifying prospects I, as a child, was faced with. How was it even possible!? How much would something like that hurt!?
Despite being so dastardly evil, that line – Rickman’s Sheriff in general – was also somehow gloriously funny. He was lecherous, creepy and inarguably malevolent, and yet he was somehow still my favourite character in the film.
Over his long and illustrious career, Rickman played scene-stealing villains that we as an audience loved to hate, but also just loved. What other actor could have played so beautifully a character as complex as Severus Snape? The only person besides J.K. Rowling who knew from the start that Snape was inherently good, Rickman made it believable for us as an audience that the evil potions master we had hated for so long, could have been motivated by something so basic as love.
Long before he portrayed Snape, Rickman had started his career as a television actor. With only a few credits to his name, he was one day approached and asked to play the villain in an upcoming Hollywood film. He almost immediately decided to decline. He had no interest in LA, he knew nothing about the film business and he didn’t want to make an action film.
Reading the script, however, he reconsidered. As, years later, Rickman would tell Bafta, he admired the progressive nature of the story:
“Every single black character in that film is positive and highly intelligent… 28 years ago, that’s quite revolutionary.”
The film was Die Hard. And – another villain we love to hate – Rickman’s cunning, clever and wonderfully intimidating Hans Gruber remains one of his greatest, most-loved film roles to date.
Although we might know and love Rickman’s villains, it’s worth remembering that the seasoned actor didn’t always play ‘the bad guy’. In 1999’s Galaxy Quest, Rickman was spectacularly funny, playing a dissatisfied actor sick of saying over and over the same lines..
He stole our hearts as Colonel Brandon in friend and long-time collaborator Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, before breaking them as the unfaithful Harry in Richard Curtis’ Love Actually.
So rare that an actor can be equally brilliant in a comedy, as in an action, as in a period drama; so rare that one man can play a villain as convincingly as he can a hilariously bitter caricature.
A member of The Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman was inarguably a great actor, but it should also be remembered that he was a great man. Loved and respected by all those who worked with him, rarely did we hear a bad word or a bad review.
Since Rickman played The Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991, numerous actors have taken on the role. No other has been so funny, so wicked, or so wonderfully vile. Probably, no other can.
RIP Alan Rickman.