Alan Rickman was one of the most versatile actors in the business, of that there is no doubt. Just take a glance at his IMDb roster, and let your eyes scroll down the decades-spanning list of roles that range from heartless villain, to God’s microphone, to a blue caterpillar, and everything in between. We could have been given the opportunity to experience his talent for fifty years and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
Cancer is a relentless, evil, world-shattering disease that steals away the people we love. Those people may be family members, friends, or people we never met in person but who impacted your life ways that are different yet just as important as those closest to us. Entertainment is a form of escape, and in its purest form it helps us set aside our everyday lives and enter another world where we get to interact, or dream, or just merely observe. Either way, we form attachments to films, to characters, to ideas that run deep, because we associate them with snapshots of our lives, entangled with events and emotions and memories.
Die Hard remains arguably the best action movie of all time, and what would John McClane be without Hans Gruber? In Dogma, what would God be without Metatron? What would Robin Hood be without the Sheriff of Nottingham? What would Alice in Wonderland be without the Blue Caterpillar? Because of Alan Rickman, we’ll never have to find out. Throughout the years, Rickman has brought a uniquely straightforward, no nonsense vibe to many of his characters. Hans Gruber and the Sheriff were both inherently bad. Metatron and Blue Caterpillar existed largely to amuse and confuse, that rich, distinct voice always immediately recognizable.
But throughout the years there was one singular character that contained the depth, the passion, the layered emotion, the complicated yet undeniable simple motivation that can change the way a viewer feels about movies, even about life. I know it doesn’t do Alan Rickman justice to define his career by a single role, but there has never been, and I doubt there ever will be, anyone like Severus Snape; and Rickman not only pulled him from the page, but breathed life into him in a way no one else could have.
Back when the Harry Potter franchise was coming to a close, Rickman wrote a letter that was published in Empire Magazine, and in praising series author J. K. Rowling he said, “It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller.” I believe he wasn’t giving himself enough credit at the time for his own storytelling ability through the character of Severus Snape, a man whose own journey is an epic story in itself.
I recently read an article in Huffington Post that explains Alan Rickman was the only person involved with the films who was made aware by J. K. Rowling of the true motivations and nature of Severus Snape, and that Rickman would change the way he was directed to do scenes with this knowledge because he knew where his character has been and where he was headed. When watching the films from the beginning, it’s easy to see who Snape is in the details once we know his full story. Alan Rickman injects subtlety with a glance, a grimace, a glint in his eye, a harsh word, a look full of pity, that implies he’s not just a sniveling serpent who’s solely fueled by his inexplicable disdain for Harry and his allegiance to the Dark Lord.
One single character can tell a story of his own, and Snape’s story is as worth telling, perhaps even more so than Harry’s, because he embodies what true love and true sacrifice really mean. Alan Rickman was so passionate and devoted to his character that he used his ending to embed clues, to provide us glimpses of his character’s story from the very beginning, and because of that he created a man with such a layered existence but yet such pure intentions that he becomes the true hero.
Professor Severus Snape changed my life twice, once when I read the Harry Potter books and again when Alan Rickman brought him to life on screen. Through Snape, I fully realized that people are quite often not exactly what they seem, that the way we perceive their actions might not always match their intentions, and regardless of what we see or think we know about someone, our hearts should always be open, ready and willing to be proven wrong. It’s because of Severus Snape that I try to love people even when they give me many reasons not to, because in the end everyone is fighting a different crusade in the dark than we get to see in the light. So thank you, Alan Rickman, for teaching me about love, and life, and for telling me my favorite story.