The Brilliance of Alan Rickman

19 01 2016

The movie and stage world lost a tremendous talent in Alan Rickman. His ability to disappear into a character was staggering. I never saw “Alan Rickman” in his performances, I saw the character he was portraying. But his real brilliance was his portrayal of the bad guys.

There are plenty of actors that portray the antagonist, the bad guy, capably. Rickman took it to another level. You didn’t just dislike his villains. You really, really hated them. That hate was a genuine emotion not “gee, I guess I’m not supposed like this guy”. That, in my mind, takes some incredible acting talent.

I believe we are predisposed to liking characters in movies. We want to like them. That makes it easier for an actor to portray a likeable character because we’re ready to want to like them. We’re prepared to give them some leeway, and allow them some latitude, because we seem to try to find the good in all of the characters we see on the screen.

But Alan Rickman was able to infuse a level of dislikability into his bad guys that few other actors have found. I didn’t just dislike Hans Gruber, I loathed him. I didn’t feel the same way about his henchman. Rickman captured Snape completely, both the good and the bad. It was the Snape I had envisioned when I first read the books. Even Rickman’s over-the-top performance of the Sheriff of Nottingham (in the rather cringe-worthy Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) produced a truly dislikable character.

But Rickman the person (and a good person at that) wasn’t what we saw up on the screen. I didn’t see “Alan Rickman playing That Guy”, I just saw “That Guy”. Too many other performances end up as “That Actor Playing That Guy”, and we don’t see “That Guy”, except as an extension of the actor. Rickman the man was able to disappear into his characters.

That isn’t to say that Rickman was just a great portrayer of villains. All of his roles were typically excellent. Again, he could become the character, and we saw that character, good, bad or somewhere in between. An actor of that quality and ability is comparatively rare. He will be missed.

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