“I don't play villains, I play very interesting people.”—Alan Rickman.
Actor Alan Rickman certainly made his roles something much more than villains—a rare feat that not every actor can boast. Famous for his iconic roles in Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman is perhaps still best known as the menacing potions master Professor Snape.
A deeply private man, and dedicated English actor, he will be beloved by generations to come. Here are 42 facts about Alan Rickman.
1. To the Stage!
Rickman got his early start in acting in the theater. After attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art over in London, he got to play a lead role in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Once that production hit Broadway in the United States, back in 1987, Rickman was nominated for a Tony for his performance.
2. Prizes for Parts
In his 40 years acting, Rickman was never nominated for an Academy Award, despite all of his master performances. Rickman himself was never too put out by that fact, as he once told IFC, “Parts win prizes, not actors. You always know a part that’s got ‘prize winner’ written all over it, and it’s almost like anybody could say those lines.” Seems like he didn’t hold the Academy in high esteem anyway.
3. Humble Beginnings
Rickman came from a working-class background. His mother, Margaret Doreen Rose, was a stay-at-home mother. His father, Bernard William Rickman, was a working-class jack-of-all-trades. At various points, his father worked as a dock worker, a house painter, and decorator, and during World War II, he worked as an aircraft fitter.
4. What’s Your Sign?
Rickman was a Pisces: he was born on February 21, 1946.
5. Young Struggles
Rickman was one of four children. He had two brothers and a sister. However, tragedy struck the Rickman family when Alan was just eight years old. His father died of lung cancer and his mother then had to raise the four kids on her own. It was a struggle for Margaret, who tried to get by working at the Post Office.
6. Young Love
Rickman’s very first crush came when he was 10 years old. He saw a young girl named Amanda at his school’s field day. It was young love at first sight.
7. Always an Artist
Before Rickman was an actor, he was a graphic designer. He was taking graduate classes at the Royal College of Art before he started work at a design studio with some fellow students. Some of the work they did was on magazine layouts and illustrations, book jackets, album covers, and ads. While Rickman eventually left to work as an actor, he was always grateful for the experience.
8. Matter of Preference
Rickman preferred performing in theater to movies.
9. To the Left
Rickman’s political leanings went with England’s Labour party. According to Rickman, "I've been a card-carrying member of the Labour Party since I was born.”
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10. Late Bloomer
Rickman came to acting later in life. He’d already gone to school to be a graphic artist, but he felt the thing that was really holding him back from being a great graphic artist was that he wanted to act. At the age of 26, he thought, "I was getting older and I thought if you really want to do this you've got to get on with it." So he auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts with a monologue from Richard III.
He got not only a spot at the school but a scholarship as well. The admissions board recognized talent when they saw it. After getting in, Rickman said, "My body finally sighed with relief at being in the right place, I had really come home at last."
11. We All Have Heroes
Rickman’s personal hero was actor Fred Astaire, “for the incredible discipline and hard work and bleeding feet that end up looking effortless."
12. For the Galaxy
Rickman auditioned for Return of the Jedi, the conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy. He attempted to get the role of Admiral Moff Jerjerrod, who was overseeing the construction of the second death star. The part didn’t go to Rickman, but instead went to Michael Pennington. They didn't know what they were missing!
One of Rickman’s best-known roles is the villain of Die Hard, Hans Gruber. This also happened to be the first movie Rickman was ever in.
14. Could Have Would Have
Hugh Grant shot to stardom after his movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, but the lead role almost went to Rickman. The director thought Grant was too pretty, and wanted to cast Rickman instead.
15. Speaking of Perfection
A study found that Alan Rickman has the perfect male voice. They asked people to rate 50 voices, and when it came to men, Rickman and Jeremy Irons topped the list. What is it about the voice of a smooth British villain that we just love? Scientists think it might be that deep gravelly voices inspire trust, but no one seems to account for the way those voices also sound smooth as silk.
16. Private Sweeties
Rickman met the love of his life when he was 19 years old. He met Rima Horton while he was studying graphic design at college, and the pair were together until his death. She stayed with him through career changes, Die Hard, and Harry Potter. The pair weren’t married until 2012, in a very private ceremony. They were so hush-hush about their marriage that it wasn’t until three years later that anyone even knew that they’d been wed!
17. Something Smells
While Rickman appears to be a very serious man, he still loved to pull a good prank. On the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a young Daniel Radcliffe had a crush on one of his co-stars. Hoping to get in some good flirting, he situated himself near her while they were filming one of their scenes together.
Little did the young star know that co-star Rickman, with the help of Michael Gambon and director Alfonso Cuaron, had hidden a remote-controlled whoopie cushion nearby. They set it off to embarrass Radcliffe in front of his crush while the young actor tried desperately to stay in character. Good to know that even serious actors and directors think farts are funny.
18. Milkshakes Bring All the Boys to the Car
Harry Potter co-stars Radcliffe and Rupert Grint spilled milkshakes all over Rickman’s car while filming Goblet of Fire. This mishap got them banned from coming even close to his BMW while they filmed Order of the Phoenix.
Despite being new to the business, Rickman still left notes on the Die Hard script. Among his suggestions were that Gruber should wear a suit, and pretend to be a hostage. The director didn’t take too kindly to it at first, but suggestions were included in the final script.
20. Almost a Different Man
The potions master was almost played by an entirely different actor. Warner Brothers, the studio that filmed Harry Potter, wanted actor Tim Roth for the role. He turned it down so he could be in the Planet of the Apes remake instead. Roth told MTV, "I was going to do both films...They figured out the schedule but it just got to be overwhelming in my mind."
Rickman is well known for playing villains who terrorize, but in real life, the actor can’t fire a prop gun without flinching. Throughout Die Hard, the director had to work around Rickman’s reactions to gunshots.
22. On the Count of Two
When Rickman was filming his death scene in Die Hard, he had to fall 21 feet down to an airbag. The director wanted a genuine surprise reaction from Rickman, so he had the stuntman holding him drop him on the count of two rather than three, as Rickman was told. Years and years later, during Dumbledore’s death scene in The Hal-Blood Prince, the same thing happened to actor Michael Gambon. Rickman thinks it’s a lot funnier when you aren’t the one being dropped.
23. Talk Like an American
During the filming of Die Hard, the director discovered that Rickman could successfully pull off an American accent. Upon this discovery, they added a scene to the classic where Rickman pretends to be a hostage and gets to meet the movie’s hero, John McClane. It's now become an iconic scene in the classic movie.
24. Not Fast or Furious
Rickman failed his California driving test for “driving too cautiously through a green light.” Fast and furious? No, Alan Rickman plays it safe and slow.
25. A Little Help for Friends
When Rickman first read the screenplay for Snow Cake, he just knew that Sigourney Weaver had to play the role of Linda Freeman. He and Weaver had been co-stars in Galaxy Quest, and he thought she’d be perfect for the part. Rickman not only suggested Weaver to the director but personally called her and told her to read the screenplay.
26. Always on Her Mind
Rickman’s role in Snow Cake was written with him in mind. The screenwriter wanted Rickman as Alex Hughes so badly that the original name of the character was Alan—until Rickman suggested that they change it.
27. Good Knight
Rickman’s character in Galaxy Quest was originally going to be an actor who had been knighted by the Queen. Rickman didn’t think that it made sense for his character, named Alexander Dane, to be a knight, and asked that it be changed. The director made the change—but in the credits sequence, the character is still listed as Sir Alexander Dane.
28. Third Time’s the Charm
Rickman didn’t really want to be in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves—the movie he famously stole from Kevin Costner. Rickman only agreed to play the Sheriff of Nottingham against Costner’s Robin Hood when the director gave him carte blanche on the role.
29. Don’t Hate the Player
Rickman took cello lessons while playing a cellist in Truly, Madly, Deeply. Even with all those lessons, though, it took some movie magic to make it appear as if he was good at the cello. Rickman moved his right hand, and a professional cellist stood behind him, and placing his hand through Rickman’s armpit, played the left.
Rickman moved the bow, the cellist pressed down on the strings. Sometimes playing the cello can be a team sport!
30. Twice as Good
Rickman was featured not once but twice on Time’s list of greatest movie villains. He came in at number 41 for the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and again at number 10 for Hans Grubber in Die Hard.
31. First of Many
The first movie Rickman ever saw was Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson.
32. Best Behavior
Director Kevin Smith cast Rickman in his movie Dogma after Rickman had praised the director’s movie Chasing Amy, calling it his favorite movie of the year. Rickman’s presence on the set had an unusual effect for one of the actors, Jason Mewes (who played Jay). At the time Mewes was struggling with drug addiction, but the presence of Rickman caused him to put on his best foot forward.
He memorized the entire screenplay, just so that he wouldn’t upset Rickman.
33. Show Me the Money
Rickman almost got the role of Benedict in Last Action Hero, but it turns out he was too expensive to be hired! Instead the role went to Charles Dance, long before he would play Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. When Dance found out that the only reason he got the part was that he didn’t cost as much, he had a hilarious response.
he had a custom T-shirt made that read “I’m cheaper than Alan Rickman.”
34. Oscar Worthy
While Rickman was never even nominated for an Oscar, many people thought his performance as Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two deserved recognition from the Academy. Co-star Radcliffe was the first one to suggest it, saying, “I do think it's the performance of his career. I think he should get nominations for Best Supporting Actor because it's so touching and beautiful what he does. I'm really thrilled to share the screen with him.”
Unfortunately, the Academy didn’t listen to Radcliffe.
Despite the fact that Hans Gruber has gone down as one of the most iconic movie villains of all time, Rickman almost turned down the role. He didn’t ever think he’d make a movie, and because he wasn’t a film actor, he speculated the reason the director wanted him was that he was so cheap. Rickman recounted reading the script and thinking, “What the hell is this? I’m not doing an action movie.”
Years later, he looked back on the movie and was glad he took part in it. Not because it made him a movie star, but rather because he thought it was a game-changer for the action genre. Rickman has even gone so far as to call Die Hard revolutionary.
36. Principled and Dignified
Rickman brought work to a grinding halt on the set of Die Hard for an entire day during the filming process. The script called for Rickman to throw co-star Bonnie Bedelia to the ground. The writers had it in their head that Hans Gruber, as the villain of Die Hard, was the type of guy who wasn’t above hurting a woman to inspire fear.
Rickman thought that the violence against his co-star was offensive, and flat out refused to do it. In an interview with GQ, Rickman stated, “My character was very civilized in a strange sort of way and just wouldn't have behaved like that. Nor would Bonnie's character, a self-possessed career woman, have allowed him to. It was a stereotype—the woman as eternal victim—that they hadn't even thought about.”
Rickman took a stand against violence against women on film that day, and successfully got the scene changed.
37. No Questions, Please
Rickman had a list of questions that were off-limits during interviews. According to GQ, you weren’t allowed to ask about any of the following, “his family, his girlfriend, his talent for playing villains, any aspect of acting at all (‘too, too hard to articulate’) right down to the nether reaches of trivia (‘my clothes—not an interesting topic of conversation’).”
38. Perfect Casting
Rickman was Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s first choice for who should play potions master Severus Snape. In fact, Rowling has even said that she pictured Snape looked like Rickman while she was writing Harry Potter.
39. No Spoilers!
When Rickman first took the role of Snape, the ending of the book series had not yet been revealed. So, to make sure that he could best portray the complicated character, JK Rowling revealed a key piece of information about Snape to him: "Always." That Snape would always love Lily Potter. That he would always protect Harry. That nothing in the world, no amount of torment or danger, could change that.
We know this today because J.K. Rowling told us as much, but fewer people remember the other heartbreaking piece of information about this story: Rickman took that secret to his grave. He never revealed to anyone what it was that Rowling had told him to make him understand and sympathize with Professor Snape.
40. Horrible News
In August 2015, Rickman was going about his business when he suffered a minor stroke. The actor was in his late 60s, and so he initially thought it was nothing to worry too much about—but tragedy loomed. Eventually, the stroke led to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and doctors gave Rickman only months to live.
41. Dearly Departed
Rickman left the world too soon, passing away January 14, 2016, when he was just 69 years old. He passed away due to pancreatic cancer.
42. Private Pain
Rickman was always incredibly private, and he kept his terminal illness a secret even from his friends and co-stars. He told only those closest to him about the news. So when he did pass, the world was understandably shocked. Actors who had worked with him expressed their sorrow and surprise; as Ralph Fiennes wrote, "I cannot believe he is gone."
Rest in peace, Alan Rickman.