Rickman, who has died at the age of 69, was irresistible even at his most acid, and leaves behind an astonishing legacy of indelible performances
His aquiline face, with all its magnificent hauteur made him a star: something between an eagle and a big cat. And that rich, resonant voice exerted a hypnotic hold on audiences, a bass rumble which could sound like a creak or a groan or a beckoningly sensual purr. It came from between lips which were kept mysteriously almost closed, like a ventriloquists. Alan Rickman morphed from being a Shakespearian leading man to being a character actor of enormous flair via a wonderful period of being a wildly charismatic bad guy in the movies.
He stunned Hollywood audiences in the 80s as the villainous terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard, facing off elegantly against the sweaty and vest-clad Bruce Willis. And he was an outrageously funny Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, stealing the scene from a slightly stunned looking Kevin Costner with lines like: No more merciful beheadings! And call off Christmas!
Generations of children came to know him as the menacingly scary master Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, although importantly he wasnt the unspeakable Voldemort: Alan Rickman always had a base-level of unexpected lovability, no matter how acid his barbs.
Alan Rickman was the classically trained actor and RSC stalwart who made a splash in 1985 as the drawling sexual connoisseur Vicomte De Valmont in the stage version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. After each performance, audiences were said to emerge from the theatre secretly and not so secretly longing to have sex most of them with Alan Rickman.
And yet the Rickman roles that I enjoyed were those which showed his gentler, calmer, more romantically vulnerable side. The first time I saw him was in the whimsical romantic fantasy directed by Anthony Minghella: Truly, Madly, Deeply (sometimes nicknamed the British Ghost) in which he plays the spirit of Juliet Stevensons dead husband, who returns from the spirit world to ease her grief. He was unexpectedly engaging as the ram-rod straight Colonel Brandon in Ang Lees Sense and Sensibility. It was the movie which launched Kate Winslet in the role of Marianne, the young woman with whom Brandon is to fall in love after she has been trifled with by the caddish Willoughby. The final pairing of Winslet and Rickman made audiences smile and was part of the irresistible charm of that film. Rickmans romanticism was finely judged.
Interestingly, he was to play a cad himself a real villain, and not just a stage villain, in Richard Curtiss sugary romcom ensemble piece Love, Actually, in which he is a man who is deceiving his wife, played by Emma Thompson, caught buying expensive presents for another woman.
One of my favourite Alan Rickman roles is in a little remembered noirish drama of sexual obsession from the 90s: Close My Eyes, written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff. Rickman plays an extremely clever and wealthy man, absolutely devoted to his young wife (played by Saskia Reeves) and whose world is destroyed by the creeping realisation that she is having a sexual relationship with her brother (played by a young Clive Owen). Rickman is superb at conveying his characters brooding shock, his steely good manners, his suppressed anguish in realising that his money and prestige and charm are quite useless in the face of this catastrophe.
But many would say that Rickmans finest hour was his performance in the comedy masterpiece Galaxy Quest (1999) about the cast of a cancelled sci-fi TV show called Galaxy Quest, now has-beens condemned to making a living signing autographs for obsessive fans, whose lives revolve around a programme in which the stars have long since lost interest and have come to hate. But this show and its hapless players become very important when a race of aliens arrive, having apparently seen the show and taken it for a historical document about reality.
Rickman is the fantastically self-important British actor Alexander Dane, who plays Dr Lazarus of TevMeck, a character with Spock-like levels of intellect. Rickman is wonderful at suggesting this Shakespearian actors rage and self-hate at getting no proper work and getting sucked into the lucrative fan world, wearing the stupid costume and make up at these fan-conventions and wearily saying his catchphrase: By Grabthars hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged! Galaxy Quest came out before the 21st century world of Comic-Con and fan-power and it came out before all stars accepted the career importance of dressing up in lycra and being a superhero or supervillain. Alan Rickmans Alexander Dane wonderfully sent up the whole thing and sent himself up as well.
The last time I saw him on screen was in cameo, as the French King Louis XIV, in the period drama A Little Chaos, which he also directed. Im afraid I didnt get on with the film much, but Rickmans own performance was beguiling: witty and self-aware.
Rickman was a one-off: a superbly accomplished and generous actor whose vocal caress and physical presence hinted at romantic depths. He was a glorious Cavalier in a world of Roundheads.