Heroes of Cult

Heroes of Cult: Alan Rickman

To some he was a Sheriff, a monk, to others a terrorist. Some saw him as a teacher, others as the voice of God; to us at Cult Faction he was simply The Rickman… and by Grabthar’s hammer… by the Suns of Worvan… he shall be… avenged!

Alan Rickman was born in Acton, London, to a working class family, the son of Margaret Doreen Rose (Bartlett), a housewife, and Bernard Rickman, a factory worker. His ancestry was English, Irish and Welsh; his father was Catholic and his mother a Methodist. His family included an older brother, David (b. 1944), a graphic designer; a younger brother, Michael (b. 1947), a tennis coach; and a younger sister, Sheila (b. 1950). Rickman attended Derwentwater Primary School in Acton, a school that followed the Montessori method of education.

When he was eight years old, Rickman’s father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his three siblings mostly alone. She married again, but divorced his stepfather after three years. “There was one love in her life”, Rickman later said of her. He excelled at calligraphy and watercolour painting. From Derwentwater Junior School he won a scholarship to Latymer Upper School in London, where he became involved in drama. After leaving Latymer, he attended Chelsea College of Art and Design and then the Royal College of Art. This education allowed him to work as a graphic designer for the Notting Hill Herald, which Rickman considered a more stable occupation than acting as “drama school wasn’t considered the sensible thing to do at 18.”

After graduation, Rickman and several friends opened a graphic design studio called Graphiti, but after three years of successful business, he decided that if he was going to pursue acting professionally, it was now or never. He wrote to request an audition with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), which he attended from 1972–74. While there, he studied Shakespeare and supported himself by working as a dresser for Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Sir Ralph Richardson.

After graduating from RADA, Rickman worked extensively with British repertory and experimental theatre groups in productions including Chekhov’s The Seagull and Snoo Wilson’s The Grass Widow at the Royal Court Theatre, and appeared three times at the Edinburgh International Festival. In 1978, he performed with the Court Drama Group, gaining parts in Romeo and Juliet and A View from the Bridge, among other plays. While working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) he was cast in As You Like It. He appeared in the BBC’s adaptation of Trollope’s first two Barchester novels known as The Barchester Chronicles (1982), as the Reverend Obadiah Slope.

He was given the male lead, the Vicomte de Valmont, in the 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, directed by Howard Davies. After the RSC production transferred to Broadway in 1987, Rickman received both a Tony Award nomination and a Drama Desk Award nomination for his performance.

Rickman’s career was filled with a wide variety of roles including an early appearance in Girls On Top (1985) where he played Dimitri – Tracy Ullman’s Greek boyfriend. He played romantic leads like Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991); numerous villains in Hollywood big-budget films, like German terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988) and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves(1991); and the occasional television role such as the “mad monk” Rasputin in the HBO biopic Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996), for which he won a Golden Globe and an Emmy. He was the “master of ceremonies” on Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells II (1992), on which he read a list of instruments on the album.

His role as Hans Gruber in Die Hard earned him a spot on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains list as the 46th best villain in film history, though he revealed he almost did not take the role as he did not think Die Hard was the kind of film he wanted to make. His performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves also earned him praise as one of the best actors to portray a villain in films.

Rickman took issue with being typecast as a “villain actor”, citing the fact that he had not portrayed a stock villain character since the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991. His portrayal of Severus Snape, the potions master in the Harry Potter series (2001–11), was dark, but the character’s motivations were not clear early on. During his career Rickman played comedic roles, including as Sir Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus in the science fiction parody Galaxy Quest (1999), portraying the angel Metatron, the voice of God, in Dogma (1999), appearing as Emma Thompson’s foolish husband Harry in the British Christmas-themed romantic comedy Love Actually (2003), providing the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), and the egotistical,Nobel Prize-winning father in Nobel Son (2007).

Rickman was nominated for an Emmy for his work as Dr. Alfred Blalock in HBO’s Something the Lord Made (2004). He also starred in the independent film Snow Cake (2006) with Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss, which had its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006), directed by Tom Tykwer. Rickman appeared as the evil Judge Turpin in the critically acclaimed Tim Burton film Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) alongside Harry Potter co-stars Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall. Rickman provided the voice of Absolem the Caterpillar in Burton’s film Alice in Wonderland (2010).

He performed onstage in Noël Coward’s romantic comedy Private Lives, which transferred to Broadway after its successful run in London at the Albery Theatre and ended in September 2002; he reunited with his Les Liaisons Dangereuses co-star Lindsay Duncan and director Howard Davies in the Tony Award-winning production. His previous stage performance was in Antony and Cleopatra in 1998 as Mark Antony with Dame Helen Mirren as Cleopatra, in the Royal National Theatre’s production at the Olivier Theatre in London, which ran from 20 October to 3 December 1998. Rickman appeared in Victoria Wood with All The Trimmings (2000), a Christmas special with Victoria Wood, playing an aged colonel in the battle of Waterloo who is forced to break off his engagement to Honeysuckle Weeks’ character.

Rickman also directed The Winter Guest at London’s Almeida Theatre in 1995 and the film version of the same play, released in 1997, starring Emma Thompson and her real-life mother Phyllida Law. With Katharine Viner he compiled the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie, and directed the premiere production at the Royal Court Theatre, which opened in April 2005. He won the Theatre Goers’ Choice Awards for Best Director. Rickman befriended the Corrie family and earned their trust, and the show was warmly received in London in 2005. But the next year, its original New York production was “postponed” over the possibility of boycotts and protests from those who saw it as “anti-Israeli agit-prop”. Rickman denounced “censorship born out of fear”. Tony Kushner, Harold Pinter and Vanessa Redgrave, among others, criticised the decision to indefinitely delay the show. The one-woman play was put on later that year at another theatre to mixed reviews, and has since been staged at venues around the world.

In 2009, Rickman was awarded the James Joyce Award by University College Dublin’s Literary and Historical Society. In October and November 2010, Rickman starred in the eponymous role in Henrik Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin alongside Lindsay Duncan and Fiona Shaw. The Irish Independent called Rickman’s performance breathtaking.

In 2011, Rickman again appeared as Severus Snape in the final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Throughout the series, his portrayal of Snape garnered widespread critical acclaim. Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times said Rickman “as always, makes the most lasting impression,” while Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Rickman “sublime at giving us a glimpse at last into the secret nurturing heart that … Snape masks with a sneer.”

Media coverage characterised Rickman’s performance as worthy of nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His first award nominations for his role as Snape came at the 2011 Alliance of Women Film Journalists Awards, 2011 Saturn Awards, 2011 Scream Awards and 2011 St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards in the Best Supporting Actor category.

On 21 November 2011, Rickman opened in Seminar, a new play by Theresa Rebeck, at the John Golden Theatre on Broadway. Rickman, who left the production on 1 April, won the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Favorite Actor in a Play  and was nominated for a Drama League Award.

Rickman starred with Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz in a remake of 1966’s Gambit by Michael Hoffman. In 2013, he played Hilly Kristal, the founder of the famous East Village punk-rock club CBGB, in the CBGB film with Rupert Grint.

In August 2015 Rickman suffered a minor stroke, which led to the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He concealed the fact that he was terminally ill from all but his closest confidants. On 14 January 2016, Rickman died in a London hospital, surrounded by friends and relatives. Soon after, his fans created a memorial underneath the “Platform 9¾” sign at London King’s Cross railway station.

Alan Rickman… always.

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