Friday, January 15, 2016

Nostalgia Nugget: So Good at Being Bad

I get the feeling that Gruber always got coal for
Alan Rickman was one of those actors who was so good at being bad. I first saw him in Die Hard. When it comes to 1980s action films, it is difficult to top that one. So many elements of the film work, and Rickman's portrayal of the urbane and deadly Hans Gruber became a template for baddies after that. Not only did Rickman get some great lines, but his delivery (along with his accent) made the character memorable and a solid match for Willis. Gruber was calculating and clever. But his plans are wrecked but he wild card John McClane. Still Gruber never gives up... never surrenders. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Rickman played a similar role as Marston the wicked rancher in Quigley Down Under. While the role itself isn't too interesting, Rickman makes it work and you love hating him. But his real triumph as a villain in the early 90s was as the absurd, cowardly and hate filled Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Costner was pretty bland in the lead role, but Rickman brought the goods, going over the top in a fun way and making all his scenes count. This version of Robin Hood works because of its villain (and the wonderful assist from Morgan Freeman). But around this time, Rickman admitted he was tired of playing the villain.

"You were never serious about the craft!"
He was in plenty of great films after that. Sense and Sensibility, Michael Collins and Love Actually filled out his drama roles. He also got into some comedy roles with Dogma and Bob Roberts. But my favorite comedic role that he tackles was as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. He combined the long suffering "talent" with the fish out of water concept and the result was comic gold. In a movie that is filled with hilarious lines, a fun concept and solid casting, Rickman steals the film. Galaxy Quest is one of my favorite comedies from the 1990s and he is one of the main reasons.

Snape has had just about enough of Mr. Potter.
However it is his role as Severus Snape that gave him a whole generation of fans. Rickman appeared in all eight of the Harry Potter films. I remember when I first heard about his casting as Snape. I had been reading the books and the casting seemed so perfect. He could take that contempt he expressed in Galaxy Quest and combine with the deliciously evil performance of Die Hard. But Rickman went beyond that. He made Snape into his own character. The performance was so good that any time I reread the Harry Potter novels it is Alan Rickman I see in my mind's eye as the character (not something that carries over with a lot of the the film cast). Kids who grew up with the Harry Potter films may know Rickman from this role only. But the role was more than a simple villain (as we discover in the final installments of the story). I think that is why Rickman took the part. Snape seems like the perfect dark wizard. But by the end of the series we discover he was an unpleasant man, but there was a very powerful reason for his actions. Rickman brought this part to life on the screen, and made his scenes in the final episode really resonate. I don't think his legacy in that role will soon be forgotten. 

It is sad that we lost a fine actor. But Alan Rickman gave us so many wonderful performances and we can always go back and revisit those. And with some certified classics in his resume, I think we will be revising them for years to come.


  1. You're right Rickman was an excellent bad guy, and really as movie fans I don't think we give those roles enough respect. But a story helps to have those bad guy roles to make the protagonist stick out that much more. Diehard is one of those action films I can see over and over again. I'd forgotten he was in Quigley, but it's one of those overlooked films, and probably one of my favorite Selleck roles. He did nail the Snape role too. Even if you had not read the novels, the way he was dressed and the way he acted, you could tell--something is up with this guy.

    As I wrote this I wondered about some of the antagonist roles in past movies. I think Bruce Dern is one from out of the past off the top of my head. I'm also thinking of who I think is a current good villain or might fill that role in the future. For sure, Rickman did it well.

    1. Yeah most actors start expressing some annoyance about typecasting. I remember Liam Neison saying something similar in the late 1990s that he was being cast over and over as the noble hero. Well now he's the rough and ready action hero, so I guess he got his wish.

      One guy who's been playing the baddie quite a bit lately is Christoph Waltz. and much like Rickman, he does it so well, we just love to hate him. I think "Inglorious Bastards" is what sealed it for him. But he played Cardinal Richelieu in "the Three Musketeers" in 2011 and of course Blofeld in "Spectre".

  2. Some best bad guys:

    1. That was a solid list for sure. Had some of my favorites on there. Agent Smith from "The Matrix" seems to get forgotten quite a bit. I think because the sequels were so iffy for most folks. But he is really a nasty piece of work and Hugo Weaving does a great job with him.

  3. The villain is almost always the better role, though I can understand why he wanted a break from them.

    “Galaxy Quest” is a marvelous comedy and Rickman was perfect in the role. The movie actually works as a standalone scifi flick even for those who are not Star Trek fans, but as a send-up of the franchise the only one I like as much is the low-budget non-scifi “Free Enterprise” (1998) in which Shatner appears as himself.

    I’m not a big Harry Potter fan but the films are charming enough, and Rickman is well suited for his character who is enigmatic for most of the series. It’s always fun to see Maggie Smith (Minerva) too, of whom I became a fan in 1969 with “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”

    1. Its good to see more and more people appreciating "Galaxy Quest". When it came out, people enjoyed it well enough, but it seemed to have been forgotten in the decade after that. But in the last five years or so, I see it coming up on lists of favorite comedies or sci-fi films. I have a fan who is a Star Trek fan who calls "Galaxy Quest" the best Star Trek film of the 1990s. :)

      Maggie Smith is always awesome. For me, she will always be Thetis the Goddess of the Sea from "Clash of the Titans". She really brought the godlike arrogance, jealousy and unbridled fury to the role. As a kid, she was almost scarier than Medusa! That was the first time I saw her and for some reason that role always sticks in my mind. I'm sure she would rather be remembered for "Miss Jean Brodie" instead. I still need to see it, it is on my list!