Like a lot of people, the first movie I saw him in was Die Hard. To this day, Hans Gruber remains one of my favourite movie characters, and a lot of what I like has to do with Rickman. Even the little things, like that way he lingers on certain words, letting whatever problem he has highlighted hang in the air until someone is punished... Deliciously dark but with just a hint of irony. Gruber was so much more than just another action movie villain and Alan Rickman was so much more than another English actor slumming in Hollywood genre fare.
According to an interview Rickman did last year on the Empire podcast, the character of Hans Gruber came together on the set -- since Rickman was not the muscled military man in the original script, they made the decision to play to his strengths and retooled Gruber to be more urbane and intelligent, a cerebral force to act as a counterpoint to the rough-and-tumble John McClane. The scene where he and McClane come face to face was a last minute addition when they realised what kind of performer they had to work with. It remains a highlight of the film.
What makes it even better is that Rickman, then a 41 year old stage actor with no previous film experience, was figuring out how to adapt to the camera at the same time that the character of Hans was being re-tooled. That Rickman's inexperience never shows is a testament to the actor's abilities.
If Rickman is known for one thing, Die Hard is not a bad monument to have, and after the 1988 classic, he could have become Hollywood's Euro-villain in residence, yet he took great pains to avoid being type-cast in such roles.
There was so much to Rickman's palette, and thankfully, while we have been robbed of more great roles, he left us a body of work that is laudable for its range and breadth. Truly, Madly Deeply, Sense and Sensibility, Snow Cake, Sweeney Todd... Rickman boasts a diversity of characters that speak to the kind of talent that he had. Who else could have played the pretentious actor Alexander Dane from Galaxy Quest, Snape in Harry Potter and the tosser who wants to cancel Christmas in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?
Like David Bowie, Alan Rickman was one of those people who was always 100% committed to whatever project they were involved with. The other guy in the scene may be a ham sandwich but Rickman would always be there swinging for the fences. He could pick a movie up on his shoulders and carry it to the finish line, filling out the gaps in a hoary script and covering limp direction with his wit and intelligence.
The big screen will be a little smaller without him.
Happy trails Hans.