January 2016 is shaping up to be a month of tragic deaths, as we managed to lose both musical genius David Bowie and the incomparable Alan Rickman in the same week; both to cancer and both at 69 years of age. Rickman was a highly-regarded actor both on the screen and the stage, known primarily for his villainous (well, for the most part) roles in films such as Die Hard and the Harry Potter series. 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. In light of the news of his tragic death, we thought we’d highlight some lesser known facts about Rickman to illustrate his uniqueness as an actor and to celebrate the loss of a man who always seemed to elevate any project he worked on.
Here are a few things you might not have known about Alan Rickman. RIP.
10. 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 it, displaying a strong singing voice that he generally hid away. So yes, that was actually Rickman singing in Sweeney Todd and he credited his vocal coach on that film for helping him realize his ability, as he claimed that a teacher in drama school told him he sounded like he was “singing through a drain pipe.” Not bad for an actor who was told he should never be a singer!
9. Teenage Sweethearts
Rickman had been with his partner, Rima Horton, since 1965, but 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 1986-2006 — since he was 19-years-old, meaning that he stayed with his very first girlfriend for his entire life. The two moved in together in 1977 and did so right up until Rickman’s death.
8. His Distinctive Voice
One of Rickman’s most recognizable assets was his voice, which was always very easy to place due to its distinctive low register and Rickman’s slow, calm delivery. His voice was actually the result of a childhood disability, as 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, based on a combination of good tone, speed, frequency, words per minute, and intonation. Speaking of Rickman’s voice…
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 and the character was actually modeled after Rickman’s character Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Unfortunately, the design was changed upon Rickman’s request and 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, but when it came time to cast the role for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 2001, Rickman didn’t automatically get the part. Actor Tim Roth was originally offered the role, but chose to star in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes instead, clearing the way for Rickman. According to Roth, his version of Snape would have been quite different, but feels that “in the end…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 and if they don’t, they’ll likely move onto something else. Alan Rickman wasn’t your typical actor. Before he became an actor, Alan 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. Then he spent over a decade struggling to get noticed, appearing in various stage productions and TV movies before finally landing his first movie role (get this) at the age of 46! The title of that movie — Die Hard. Seems like it was worth the wait.
4. Gruber’s Death Surprise
Die Hard fans of course remember how excellent Alan Rickman was as the villainous German terrorist Hans Gruber and one of Rickman’s most memorable moments in that role has to be his wide-eyed fall from the top of 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 air bag, of course) but to get a genuine reaction from him, the stuntman dropped Rickman on the count of two instead of three. We’re sure Rickman wasn’t upset once he was the result!
3. Rickman Knew Snape’s Secret Before Anyone Else
As already mentioned, Harry Potter J.K. Rowling loved the fact that Rickman got to play Severus Snape in the movies, to the point where 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, but actually used the information to inform his performance…and frustrated his directors: “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,’” series producer David Heyman told the L.A. Times.
2. He Really Liked Canada
Although Rickman was born in London, England and was a Brit through and through, he had a fondness for Canada and considered it to be like a second home. Rickman was a good friend of former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson — Rickman visited her home in Ottawa back in 2005 — and 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: “It was wonderful, everybody should do that,” Rickman told the Toronto Star in 2008. “We had 24 hours in the Rockies and then took a float plane 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, meaning that by the time he played the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, he was pushing 60. As a result, Rickman was significantly older than the character he played (Snape is in his 30s over the course of the series), but 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.