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There are few modern actors or famous entertainers who have as much effortless charisma as Alan Rickman.
There aren’t many people who could narrate about a tortoise munching a strawberry and make it entertaining.

But Alan Rickman can pull that off, as he did when he lent his voice to this video just last month, to help raise money for both  Save the Children and the  Refugee Council. Footage like this also shows how much of a sense of humor he had about his own personality and the famously dry, monotone demeanor he was associated with (and widely parodied for).

You’re definitely a part of the cultural lexicon when you’re one of the most popular subjects for impressionists. Some of his film roles also demonstrated that he wasn’t anything like the sober, deadly serious Thespian type, even though he could be a straight lead actor of great gravity, just as capably as a Ben Kingsley or Patrick Stewart. Among various significant projects in recent years, Rickman directed and helped edit  My Name Is Rachel Corrie,  a drama based on the life of the American activist who was killed by Israeli bulldozers in Gaza in 2003 during the second Palestinian intifada. When the play opened in London in 2005, it was to broad critical acclaim; but a planned appearance in New York had to be cancelled.

As with a lot of serious, accomplished actors, Alan Rickman probably wouldn’t like being pigeonholed or having his body of work summed up with just a couple of pop references; but he did become a part of popular culture, and as with the likes of Peter O’Toole or Ian McKellin, would’ve been well aware that a lot of people – especially younger people – would identify him with those roles more than with his theater work (though I would’ve loved to have seen him as Mark Antony at the Olivier Theater in London). I don’t know whether he would’ve been annoyed or touched to see so many people on Twitter writing ‘RIP, Harry Potter Actor’, as if that’s the extent of his epitaph. But then he did seem to hold his  Harry Potter association in high regard (though the widely-shared quote about him reading Harry Potter is actually a fake). I’ve never seen a whole  Harry Potter  movie, and so don’t know much about his role in the J.K Rowling inspired film franchise.

There are mainstream film performances, however – unforgettable ones – that I’ll most remember Alan Rickman for. And the five films highlighted below are all films you should check out some day, if only to see Alan Rickman doing his thing the way only he can.

It’s a bit of a cliche that playing the villain is always more fun than playing the hero; but no one has made that more apparent than Alan Rickman, who, in film terms at least, became most famous for doing the best Bad Guy act around. As the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s  Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Alan Rickman set the standard for hammy, over-acted villainy. He did so knowingly, of course, which is what makes it an art rather than an actual OTT performance (and which is probably why he won a BAFTA for that performance). But it wasn’t just a case of casting Rickman to add that larger-than-life flavor to the film: Rickman’s Sheriff *was* why we remember that movie and why that movie works. No one loves  Prince of Thieves for Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood (seriously, couldn’t he have at least  attempted  an English accent?) or for the story; it’s for that mad, unrestrained Rickman performance, which raises the film far above what would’ve been its mark otherwise.

Take Alan Rickman out of that film and it’s just an average or below-average summer blockbuster that would’ve looked dated very quickly.

In fact, his take on the Sheriff of Nottingham is so fabulous and addictive that I invariably end up rooting for him. That’s how fun Rickman’s performance is: I actually end up rooting for the villain and caring hardly at all about the inauthentic-feeling Robin Hood or the tedious Maid Marian. Rickman became the definitive example of what American film studios often do – which is to throw a charismatic British actor into a movie in order to give it the gravitas it might otherwise have been missing. “That’s it then. Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas.”

Rickman’s sinister terrorist, Hans Gruber, from the first  Die Hard  film, has become one of the most remembered and quoted villains in modern American cinema. He is so convincing and also so charismatic that sometimes, just like in  Prince of Thieves, I actually find myself wanting him to win. That might make me a bad person, but it’s really just a result of what Alan Rickman does with that part.

But, as incomparably as he did villainy, he thankfully was able to avoid being permanently type-cast as the villain. And the three later roles I most fondly remember Alan Rickman for saw him playing a cult sci-fi actor/alien, a depressed, paranoid android and the Voice of God.

 
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When Kevin Smith made the movie  Dogma, he couldn’t have done better than to cast Alan Rickman to play an archangel, or more specifically the ‘Metatron’ – the Voice of God. Probably Smith’s best film to date, Dogma features a star-studded cast including Matt Damon, Chris Rock and the late George Carlin (and Alanis Morisette as God in another piece of casting genius; pictured above); but it’s Alan Rickman that brings both gravity and charisma to the film with his sarcastic, deadpan, semi-divine being. Rickman is basically just *playing* Rickman in this part, but that’s exactly what Smith would’ve been looking for. Dogma  is a very enjoyable film at any rate, but it’s also worth watching just for Rickman if nothing else. Kevin Smith made a heartfelt statement yesterday about what it meant to him have Rickman be in the film, with Rickman having been the first ‘star’ to sign on to the project. If I ever encounter an angel or supernatural messenger some day, I’d want them to have Rickman’s bored, deadpan demeanour and roll of the eyes, just as in this film.

In  Galaxy Quest  (1999) – a very popular  Star Trek  parody film – Alan Rickman again managed to be the best thing about what was generally an entertaining movie. In a film that also starred Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen among others, Rickman stole the show as the character Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus, who was clearly a send-up of the famous Nimoy/Spock off-screen/on-screen duality.

As with the other films mentioned, Rickman’s ability to be dropped into a project and become the best thing about it was actually a defining and recurring feature of his film career.

 
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In the 2005 film version of  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  Rickman was yet again the best thing about the project, despite not being one of the main stars. That 2005 adaptation of the cult Douglas Adams creation wasn’t a particularly great film, but having Alan Rickman as the voice of Marvin, the Paranoid Android, is so perfect that it pretty much justifies the film’s existence on its own. Who but the perpetually sarcastic, over-medicated-sounding Rickman could voice a diminutive, melancholy, down-on-his-luck robot? A whole, separate off-shoot movie centered on Rickman’s Marvin would’ve been something marvelous.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. His final finished role,  Alice Through the Looking Glass, will be released posthumously in May this year. Meanwhile, the rest of his varied film work can be enjoyed for the next few decades.

 
 

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