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For us Potterheads who still live in the hope that one fine day an owl will catapult in through the window with the letter from Professor McGonagall, Alan Rickman is almost synonymous with a cold, hard, pale face and black billowing robes that can teach us to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death. 21st February, 2021, marks the day the legend would have turned 75 years old, and as the day draws to an end, I’m peeling myself off the couch from yet another Potter marathon, much to the dismay of my parents (muggles really don’t understand magic, do they). Sure, I would enjoy nothing more than to dive headfirst into who Severus Snape was, but he was just one of the characters that Alan Rickman immortalized, and reducing his legacy to just one character hardly seems appropriate.
Born in West London in 1946, he started out as a theatre actor, and was first seen on screen as Hans Gruber, the villain in Die Hard. He then went on to star in Dogman, Galaxy Quest (Severus Snape would hate our funny little Alexander Dane), Truly, Madly, Deeply, Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd (Depp and Rickman, god help us) and one of my favorites, Sense and Sensibility among many others. By far, his other most memorable role was that of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
For those of us (I’m looking at myself) who have known him best as Severus Snape, it’s a little hard to imagine him in these comedies and dramas but oh, was he splendid on screen. I never have seen him perform as a theatre actor (I can count the number of plays I’ve watched on one finger, unfortunately) but I don’t find it too hard to believe that he was no less brilliant there as well.
And Professor Severus Snape. Our cold, morally ambiguous and selfless Professor Snape. I could have discussions for days about whether Professor Snape was ultimately a good guy or not, whether he had his morals and intentions in the right place or not, but like I said, we aren’t paying tribute to Snape. What we can celebrate is the absolute brilliance of Alan Rickman in portraying this morally grey hero. I happen to be one of those who make it a point to read the book before watching the movie, and then spend those hours in front of the screen rambling about how the book did it better, often in my mind, sometimes out loud. I won’t lie, Harry Potter is no exception to that- I will always like the books better. And there are Snape mannerisms from the book that Alan Rickman nailed. Snape, in the books, has a menacing and fixed stare, often trained on Harry, and Alan Rickman delivered that better than what Rowling described (think of almost any dinner in The Great Hall, if you can take your eyes off the food, that is). Rickman’s booming voice and precise enunciation of spells are reflective of Snape’s faultless incantations described in the books. When not chanting a spell, Snape barely spoke above a whisper, with an impassive face most of the time, and Rickman managed to deliver the character’s most famous quotes in exactly that tone, reinforcing the mysterious enigma that Snape was supposed to be. The smirk of authority that reminded us that Snape was as intimidating as wizard professors get, the disgust held back by the tight lipped vicious demeanour, the seething bottled rage, the silent sorrow- Rickman wore them like a second skin when he donned the robes of Severus Snape.
Pick whatever role of his that delights you the most. What you will remember from them is that Rickman didn’t speak– he dropped words with reverberant, heavy pauses between them, in a double bass, each syllable distinct. As a matter of fact, Rickman’s almost languid tone comes from a speech impediment from his childhood, wherein the mobility of his lower jaw was restricted.
Of course he is the one of the most esteemed actors of his time, and as it is with most of us, there was more to him than his profession. Rickman was a humanitarian, with a lot of his focus and efforts dedicated to helping children. Those blessed enough to have called him a friend and a co-star remember him as kind and loyal. On the news of his passing, Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter, took to Google+, saying–
“People create perceptions of actors based on the parts they played so it might surprise some people to learn that contrary to some of the sterner (or downright scary) characters he played, Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny. And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass.”
We lost Alan Rickman in the same week as David Bowie, and we lost both these gems to the same monster, cancer. To me, and all other Potterheads, it was unsettling to wrap our heads around the fact that Professor Snape was gone. It is wishful thinking, but wouldn’t it have been brilliant if he had learned to stopper death from Snape? He had the bottling of fame and the brewing of glory done already. In the words of Tim Burton-
In our hearts always, Professor Snape. Always.