Best of Alan Rickman: From Early Roles to the Treachery of ‘Die Hard’

Alan Rickman in 'Die Hard'

After fans voted Alan Rickman the “Man of 2011″ in first Anglo Fan Favorites tournament, we asked readers to pay tribute to the star in their own words. And we received more than 200 impassioned replies. Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing some of those responses, along with some choice clips that illuminate the actor’s 40-year career in theater, film, and television.

After graduating from the RADA in the early ’70s, Rickman took to the stage, briefly hitting the Royal Shakespeare Company circuit before his camera-ready charisma (and deep, mellifluous voice) brought him TV parts. In 1978, sprightly and lean at age 32, he appeared as Tybalt in the BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

For a more lighthearted, buoyant Alan, check out this clip from 1982′s Smiley’s People, an adaptation John le Carré‘s novel. He has a brief scene with star Alec Guinness, and his facility with a throwaway line is a thing of beauty.

His breakout part came with the villainous Rev. Obadiah Slope in the 1982 adaptation of Anthony Trollope‘s The Barchester Chronicles. Here’s your glimpse of the Rickman archetype to come: fastidious yet sexy, with an intimidating, calm intelligence, and serpentine eyes that blink ever so slowly and methodically. And, as Rickman fan Gilly writes, “So slimy!” Fellow fan Devin adds, “He probably had the best exit line ever: ‘May you both live forever!’” Own it on DVD. Watch a clip below. (Warning: spoilers.)

In 1985, Rickman raised his international profile when he appeared as scheming Valmont in the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, opposite Lindsay Duncan as Merteuil. In 1987, the production moved from London to Broadway, and Rickman was nominated for a Tony for his performance. However, the actor was denied a role in the big-screen version. (John Malkovich nabbed the part in the motion picture.) Here’s some rare footage of Duncan, Rickman, and The Hour‘s Juliet Stevenson as Tourvel. Raise your hand if you’d pay good money to see this in full.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIkTue5N9WE

Despite the Dangerous Liaisons snub, Hollywood came calling, and it was Rickman’s role as German terrorist/bank robber Hans Gruber in the 1988 thriller Die Hard that secured his myth.

Rickman fan Kim writes, “Hans Gruber is one of the greatest antagonists of all time, and Alan Rickman is the one who made him so memorable. I so wanted Hans to get away with the money actually!”

Lee adds, “He’s just deliciously sinister throughout with his smirks and threats yet still maintains a certain charm. You’re not supposed to root for this guy but you can’t help being captivated by him, Rickman is the king of messing with the audience’s emotions.”

Lily394 writes, “How he didn’t get an Oscar nom for Die Hard I’ll never know. The way he said the line ‘Who cares?’ I said to myself, ‘Who IS this guy?’ I remember, and I’m not kidding here, wondering if he was really some ex-con maniac who had somehow gotten out of jail and was so charismatic [that] he worked his way to Hollywood, and no one said a word about his treacherous past…. I couldn’t believe this guy wasn’t REALLY a bad person. If that’s not acting, what is.”

Die Hard made $138 million at the box office and put Alan Rickman’s name on every studio’s list as a go-to baddie. But while Rickman certainly played his share of terrifying criminals – namely, the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991′s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which won him a BAFTA – he’s built a career of tremendous diversity.

As Sadira writes, “Each movie I’ve seen him in he’s just gotten better and better — he’s the handsome bad boy you just know you could fix, he’s the sensitive guy who’s overlooked, he’s the under-appreciated fellow you suddenly realize has been there all along, he’s the one you let get away. His voice, his face, his incredibly expressive eyes, his dancer’s carriage, all work together to make a completely original, delicious, delightful package named Alan Rickman.”

More on Rickman’s post-Die Hard career here…

I leave you with actor Benedict Cumberbatch doing a spot-on impression of Mr. Rickman singing “Candle in the Wind”:

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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