Today, the world lost a genius. Today, a generation lost a piece of its childhood.
British actor Alan Rickman died of cancer Jan. 14, but I don’t want to talk about losing him. I want to talk about what we all gained from having him here.
Rickman began his acting career on stage, but most people will remember him for his roles on screen, especially those of a villainous nature.
He played German terrorist Hans Gruber in “Die Hard,” intriguing viewers with his portrayal of the organized crime leader. He was captivating in his role as the sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” where he brought the outrageous tax collector to life in a way I’ve not seen from any other person in that role.
I remember thoroughly enjoying his voiceover in the 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” film as Absolem the caterpillar, bringing an edgy darkness to the character I had watched merely puff smoke out of a hookah in the Disney version.
But the role that solidifies Rickman’s legacy, in a way that captured the hearts of generations globally, is Severus Snape.
My mother and I attended a book club on “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” during the summer of 2005, where we discussed the sixth Harry Potter book and gave our predictions for how the series would end. Mom and I told the group we believed Snape was a good guy and that he killed Dumbledore because of some bigger plot, one we weren’t sure of at the time.
Everyone scoffed, and then we ended up being right, which was cool.
The point of this anecdote is that it exemplifies how strong of an actor Rickman was, particularly in his role as Snape. He was one of the best book-to-screen adapted characters in the “Harry Potter” series and was so delightfully sour that everyone hated Snape even more after watching the films.
But he also gave attentive viewers a glimpse of the notion that he was in fact a hero, despite his evil demeanor and acts throughout the series. In interviews following the final Harry Potter film, Rickman revealed J.K. Rowling had given him a “tiny, little, left-of-field piece of information” before the filming of the first “Harry Potter” that made him believe Snape was “more complicated” than fans would perceive him to be.
What followed was acting of genius level. Knowing his character would shock fans later down the line, Rickman acted as Snape with just enough vulnerability that fans could not outright hate him like they did Voldemort or, later, Professor Dolores Umbridge. He was sallow and dark, but he was never a guaranteed villain and frequently had scenes that made him almost comedic, if not likable.
And now, that man who made us love the wicked and savor the malevolent is gone.
But he will never be forgotten, having been immortalized on-screen and in our hearts.