by Nicole Wolverton
“Human beings have neither the aural nor the psychological capacity to withstand the awesome power of God’s true voice. Were you to hear it, your mind would cave in and your heart would explode within your chest. We went through five Adams before we figured that one out.”
Thus began my huge crush on Alan Rickman. Really, it takes a special actor to carry off a line like that. It’s the sarcastic irony that does it for me, coupled with Rickman’s lovely British accent.
True, Dogma was not Rickman’s first film role. No, that would be his portrayal of Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988), a movie I have yet to get through without giggling. How many actors can say they nabbed their first film role at age 42 and that their character would be known as one of the top movie villains of all time?
Rickman didn’t randomly decide to begin acting in his Bloomer years. In truth, he started earlier—it’s just his success in the film world that came later. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and graduated when he was 28, after which he worked in British theatre, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. One play, Les liaisons dangereuses, made it to Broadway, and it was for his role as Vicomte de Valmont that he earned a Tony Award nomination. He was 41. And that was, by all accounts, the point at which Rickman’s acting career began to fully bloom.
(It should be noted that when Les liaisons dangereuses became a movie, Dangerous Liaisons, Rickman’s part went to John Malkovich. I like Malkovich just fine, but Rickman would have been awesome. You know it’s true.)
You’ll notice I’ve left out any mention of Rickman’s role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise. I saved the best for last. As much as Rickman’s work in some truly great movies makes him admirable, it’s Severus Snape that makes him beloved by a wide audience. Millions have seen those films and adored them. Little kids. Bloomers. Everyone in between. Rickman plays villains gorgeously (or, as the folks at The Many Faces Of… put it: “With each patronizing grin, disdainful remark and narcissistic fit, Alan Rickman elevates the role of a villain from the plain ol’ bastard to a bastard coated bastard with bastard filling.”), and Snape is among the most multi-faceted, simply because Rickman had eight movies in which to explore the character.
Female actors often lament the dearth of quality roles for older women. Male bloomers suffer no such problem; however, some of the best movie roles for older males seem to be going to Alan Rickman. He played Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), a film that explores grief and memory. Rickman’s Jamie is the ghost of a cellist who returns to his ex-girlfriend (Juliet Stevenson) a year after his death. This is not Ghost—it’s a nuanced, touching reflection of reconciling reality with an idealized version of a relationship.
In addition, Rickman has taken on the roles of Col. Christopher Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995); Harry in Love Actually (2003); Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd (2007); and a host of others. He’s been nominated for BAFTA Awards for his roles in Michael Collins; Sense and Sensibility; and Truly, Madly, Deeply, and won a BAFTA for his supporting role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. He’s also won a Gold Hugo award for his work as a director for The Winter Guest, as well as a Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, and Screen Actors Guild Award for his role in the TV movie Rasputin. That’s just a portion of the awards he’s won or for which he’s been nominated.
Yes, all after the age of forty.