Alan Rickman: From Hans Gruber to Snape, the actor's most memorable roles

Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Photo: Warner Brothers
Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). Photo: Warner Brothers

Alan Rickman began his career in the theatre and returned to it throughout his life, however it is work in film that brought him international acclaim and recognition. He displayed extraordinary range, excelling as both arch villains and dashing romantic heroes, appealing to both adults and children alike. Here is a small selection of some of most memorable film roles.

Hans Gruber, Die Hard (1988) 

Action films of the 80s and 90s almost always needed a dastardly bad guy with a thick foreign accent and sadistic streak to play against the usually much more bland all-American hero. Hans Gruber, the ruthless German terrorist/thief of Die Hard, is the ultimate villain of this genre, and Rickman's performance helped turn the film into a modern classic. He brought his serious theatrical training to the role, turning in a performance that was both funny and menacing, and full of slick swagger and camp sophistication. "And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer," he quotes at one point, before quipping, "Benefits of a classical education." The audience is rooting for Bruce Willis' John McClane in the film, but everybody loves Gruber.

Jamie, Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990)

In the romantic comedy Roger Ebert called "Ghost for grownups", Rickman played Jamie, a cellist who dies but returns in ghostly form to his girlfriend Nina (Juliet Stevenson). Unlike the overwrought Ghost, the British film from Anthony Minghella treats the subject matter with good humour as well as sensitivity and pathos, as Jamie slowly gets on Nina's nerves and makes her realise that perhaps what she needs to do is give up the ghost. Rickman proved to American audiences, who only knew him as Gruber, that he was more than just a villain in this film, bringing charm to the role and helping make the film an arthouse hit.

The Sherriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

This amazingly cheesy version of Robin Hood, starring Kevin Costner, was a blockbuster smash in the early 90s but doesn't really stand up as either a romantic drama or action-packed comedy. Rickman's performance as the dastardly Sherriff of Nottingham however remains a delicious spectacle, from his pantomime black beard to his delivery of lines like "I'm going to cut your heart out with a spoon". Years after its release, Rickman revealed he enlisted some friends to help rework the "terrible" script to give his character some decent lines, such as when the Sheriff walks past a couple of women in a corridor and says "You. My room, 10.30," and turns to the other and says "You, 10.45. And bring a friend." Rickman won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for the role, while the star, Costner, got a Rasberry for Worst Actor of the year.

Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility (1995)

In one of the climatic scenes of Ang Lee's beautiful adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, Rickman, as Colonel Brandon, paces outside the room where his unrequited love, Marianne (Kate Winslet), lies in the grip of a terrible illness. "Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood," he begs her sister Elinor (Emma Thompson), "or I shall run mad." It was one of the many heartfelt, understated moments Rickman delivers as the tortured but dignified Brandon, an older man who lost his young love in tragic circumstances but later finds himself falling for the impulsive young heroine of the novel. Unlike Hugh Grant, who plays Elinor's rather wet and foppish love interest, Rickman's Brandon is a memorable romantic leading man. While Marianne remained immune and ignorant to his worthiness and the depth of his passion for much of the film, most of audience was left swooning.

Harry, Love, Actually (2003)

​Depending on your point of view, Love, Actually ​is either a joyful, Christmas classic you watch every year or a corny, sexist dud that just won't die. Whatever side of the debate you come down on, Rickman's turn as Harry, a smug man in the throws of a midlife crisis who cheats on his devoted wife Karen (Emma Thompson) with his saucy secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch), is one of his best-known and enduring roles. In a memorable, raw moment in a film otherwise filled with preposterous interactions, Harry and Karen confront each other about the truth of their marriage. "I am so in the wrong. A classic fool," he says. "Yes but you've also made a fool out of me," she responds.

Severus Snape, Harry Potter films (2001 - 2011)

To a entire generation though, Alan Rickman will always be Severus Snape, arguably the most complex and most beloved characters in the Harry Potter series. Rickman was able to perfectly illuminate the competing aspects of his character - from the outright villainy and at-times comic severity, to the man of quiet nobility and deep loyalty that he later reveals himself to be. Fairfax writer Phillipa Hawker said Rickman proved to the series' "greatest special effect of all" in her review of the last film, Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows Part 2, bringing a "perfect terrible gravity" to the role, and was "the definitive Man in Black, with his tortured expression and chilly, unnervingly sepulchral voice, the most fearful and unknowable of the figures of darkness."

There are many more not on this list. What is you favourite Alan Rickman role and why?


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