Friday, July 22, 2011

British Actor of the Month: Wizarding Edition

With the final Harry Potter movie released this month, I thought it appropriate to honor

Alan Rickman

Now, after a pause in which you’ve wiped that coffee or whatever you were drinking off your computer screen, I’m sure you expected me to suggest Daniel Radcliffe or Ralph Fiennes or gender bend to feature Emma Watson, let me explain.

To those outside the Potter fandom, Rickman is perhaps best known for playing bad guys. His first major part as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, which the AFI ranked at #46 on their 100 Heroes & Villains list, defined the role a generation of British actors would play in Hollywood cinema: clever, sophisticated villains. Rickman has continued to play bad guys in films like Sweeney Todd and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which he, as the snarky Sheriff of Nottingham, steals the movie from Kevin Costner's rather lame Robin Hood.

Of course, Rickman doesn't always play the bad guy. Thanks to that rich, velvety voice of his, he's played the romantic lead a few times in films like Truly, Madly, Deeply and Sense and Sensibility, for which I must amend the Rule of Austen to say that playing a character who ends up married to a Jane Austen heroine in the film or TV production is British-Actor-of-the-Month-worthy. And let's not leave out a bunch of notable comedy roles such as in Dogma and the Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest, where he plays a Spock-like character. Lest my geek membership card be taken away, I must mention also that Rickman voices Marvin the Paranoid Android in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

And, lastly, the point of this blog, Rickman’s role in the Harry Potter films as Professor Snape. A thoroughly unlikeable character who is nevertheless not really a bad guy*, Snape would be a difficult character to tackle, and yet Rickman plays him to perfection. We never really know whose side the potions master is really on**, and yet we're always intrigued by him. We have no idea what Snape's motives are, but he always comes across as a believable character. And, without giving away too much (seriously***, is there anyone out there for whom this would be an actual spoiler?), his performance in Deathly Hallows--Part 2, in which we finally find out what does motivate Snape, is heart-breaking. I really do think Rickman's performance in the last film should get an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.

*River Song just hit me over the head with her diary.
**Until page 658 of the American hardback edition. That's where I started jumping up and down shouting "Haha! I knew it!!" And then I cried.
***I so wanted to type "Sirius-ly."

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