It’s been just over four years since the world lost the incomparably brilliant Alan Rickman, who sadly passed away from cancer at 69. Known primarily for his villainous roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter series, Rickman was a highly-regarded actor both on the screen and the stage. While he often played the bad guy, by most accounts, Rickman was a warm, generous soul who was always willing to offer his typically-younger co-stars a guiding hand.
Today would have been Rickman’s 74th birthday, so in honor of the iconic actor, join us as we highlight 10 lesser-known facts about Golden Globe-winning actor.
10. His Distinctive Voice
One of Rickman’s most recognizable assets was his voice. Due to its distinctive low register and Rickman’s slow, calm delivery, it was always very easy to place.
Rickman’s voice was actually the result of a childhood disability. His lower jaw was very tight, which caused his words to come out as indistinct and muffled. Fortunately for us, he maintained this drawl for the rest of his life.
In fact, one scientific study from 2008 actually claims that Rickman had the perfect voice. The study based this on a combination of tone, speed, frequency, words per minute, and intonation.
9. He Could Sing!
Given how low his speaking voice was, it’s difficult to picture Rickman as being an accomplished singer. As the video below proves though, Rickman actually had a flair for singing.
Despite having a strong singing voice, Rickman generally hid it away. This was due to a teacher in drama school saying it sounded like he was singing “the back end of the drain pipe.”
So yes, that was actually Rickman singing in Sweeney Todd. Rickman credited his vocal coach on that film for helping him realize his ability.
Not bad for an actor who was told he should never be a singer.
8. Teenage Sweethearts
Rickman had been with his partner, Rima Horton, since 1965. Funny enough, the two didn’t end up getting married until 2012 in a private ceremony — a full 47 years into their relationship!
As it turns out, Rickman was an old sweetheart, having been with Horton — a university lecturer and Labour Party Councillor from 1986 to 2006 — since he was 19-years-old. This means that Roickman stayed with his very first girlfriend for his entire life.
The two moved in together in 1977. They lived together right up until Rickman’s death.
7. He Was Almost Cast in the Short-Lived Clerks Cartoon
Alan Rickman worked with filmmaker Kevin Smith on the latter’s 1999 theological fantasy film Dogma. So naturally, Smith had Rickman’s distinctive voice in mind when he was casting the 2000 cartoon based on his 1994 film Clerks.
Rickman was offered the role of Leonardo Leonardo. In fact, the character was actually modeled after Rickman’s character, Hans Gruber, from Die Hard. Unfortunately, the design was changed upon Rickman’s request. Also, the studio decided not to go with Rickman in favor of Alec Baldwin.
6. Not the First Snape
It’s a pretty well-known bit of Harry Potter lore that author J.K. Rowling wrote the character Severus Snape with Alan Rickman in mind to play him in a hypothetical film adaptation. However, when it came time to cast the role for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Rickman didn’t automatically get the part.
Actor Tim Roth was originally offered the role. Instead, Roth chose to star in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, which cleared the way for Rickman. According to Roth, his version of Snape would have been quite different, but feels that “it was the right decision [to cast Rickman] since Alan’s had some success with the character.”
While it would have been interesting to see Roth’s interpretation of Snape, we’re glad Rowling got her wish in the end.
5. Started Acting Late in Life
Most actors generally get their first break when they’re relatively young. If they don’t, they’ll likely move onto something else. Well, Alan Rickman wasn’t your typical actor.
Before he became an actor, Rickman studied graphic design and was pretty good at it. He had a successful business but decided to drop all that and go to acting school when he was 28.
Rickman spent over a decade struggling to get noticed. He appeared in various stage productions and TV movies before finally landing his first movie role at the age of 46. The title of that movie — Die Hard.
4. Gruber’s Death Surprise
Die Hard fans, of course, remember how excellent Alan Rickman was as the villainous German terrorist Hans Gruber.
One of Rickman’s most memorable moments in the role has to be his wide-eyed fall from the top of the Nakatomi Tower. Rickman wasn’t acting though; that’s a real look of terror on his face!
Not only was he dropped by a stuntman from a 20-foot high model — onto an airbag, of course — but to get a genuine reaction from him, the stuntman dropped Rickman on the count of one instead of three. We’re sure Rickman wasn’t upset once he saw the result.
3. Rickman Knew Snape’s Secret Before Anyone Else
As already mentioned, J.K. Rowling loved the fact that Rickman got to play Severus Snape in the movies. Rowling loved it so much that she actually told him about the character’s true allegiance long before it was revealed to the rest of the world.
Rickman not only never told a soul about what he knew. He actually used the information to inform his performance, which frustrated his directors. In an interview with the L.A. Times, series producer David Heyman mentioned:
“It was quite amusing, too, because there were times when a director would tell Alan what to do in a scene and he would say something like, ‘No I can’t do that — I know what is going to happen and you don’t[.]’”
2. He Really Liked Canada
Although Rickman was a Brit through and through, he had a fondness for Canada. In fact, he considered it to be like a second home.
Rickman was a good friend of former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson. He would visit her home in Ottawa back in 2005.
Plus, Rickman considered his time spent on The Canadian, a train that takes a scenic route between Jasper and Vancouver, to be one of his favorite Canadian memories. In 2008, Rickman told the Toronto Sun: “It was wonderful, everybody should do that … We had 24 hours in the Rockies and then took a floatplane to Tofino and Sooke Harbour.”
1. Old Man Snape
As mentioned previously, Rickman didn’t start acting in movies until he was almost 50-years-old. Due to his late entry into action, he was pushing 60 by the time he played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.
As a result, Rickman was significantly older than the character he played. Snape is in his 30s over the course of the series. Also, he was also quite a bit older than the actors who played Snape’s contemporaries. Rickman was 11 years older than Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew), 12 years older than Adrian Rawlins (James Potter) and Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), 17 years older than David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), and 21 years older than Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter).
Maybe Snape was just held back in school … a lot.