Memorials are so difficult. I bring that up almost every time I write them. How do you even start? Where do the words come from, and how can they distill amorphous sorrow into something concrete and cogent? They can’t even begin to, and that’s the problem I’m having. I’ve been mad about Alan Rickman since I became aware of his existence, when I was still in high school and he was Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Such was Rickman’s talent that he had me enamored of his evil character from almost his very first appearance. Gruber was Rickman’s breakout role, and the first of many characters he would go on to bring to life.
It’s safe to say that film geeks of every stripe have a favorite Rickman role in their fandom. He began his acting career later than most, originally having studied graphic design, but he amassed a large number of fine performances on stage and especially on screen. He was a memorably romantic Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, provided the perfectly glum voice of Marvin the Robot in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and a hilarious Metatron to Alanis Morisette’s delightfully loopy God in Kevin Smith’s comedy Dogma. He was known for his menacing portrayals of villains, such as Sweeney Todd’s Judge Turpin, the titular mad monk Rasputin, and the best part of Kevin Costner’s vanity piece Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the Sheriff of Nottingham, as well as a standout in a huge cast as the philandering husband who breaks Emma Thompson’s heart in perennial Christmas chestnut Love Actually, but his signature role was arguably that of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series.
Snape was a character written by author JK Rowling with Rickman in mind from the beginning, and he was aware of Snape’s full backstory before his costars, directors, and even readers of the original books, as Rowling told him Snape’s full arc, which she had not finished writing, when he accepted the role. An ambiguous figure in both the books and movies, Snape was not revealed to be a tragic hero until nearly the end of the final novel. Motivated by his lost love for Harry’s dead mother Lily, he had been acting to protect her son at all costs, even if it entailed entering Voldemort’s inner circle, committing murder, and never divulging the truth until after his own death. Rickman brought Snape to vivid, nuanced, heartbreaking life in a complex performance spanning eight movies, laced with sinister coldness and occasional dry wit made all the more sad once his true nature was known. Without him, the films wouldn’t have been the same. No one else could have played Snape so remarkably, and Jo Rowling knew it, and the character became a crowning achievement for both author and actor.
It’s really hard to say goodbye to people you don’t even know, but who have affected you deeply, and this has been a rough week for that. Losing my favorite singer and my favorite actor within days of each other has made writing both of their tributes particularly trying, both taking approximately two days to finish; since I’ve written fairly little of late anyway, the words don’t come as easily as they might. All I know is, Alan Rickman is going to be missed on an epic level by a lot of people, and mine is but one small eulogy among many. But just as Severus Snape never forgot his love for Lily Evans Potter, we fans will never forget him:
“After all this time?”