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Alan Rickman, master of the sly, conniving British villain

By Geoffrey MacNab

Published 15/01/2016

Alan Rickman in the role that terrified millions children - Severus Snape, the a fictional character in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
Alan Rickman in the role that terrified millions children - Severus Snape, the a fictional character in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series
2011: Alan Rickman signs autographs as he arrives for the North American premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at Lincoln Center in New York. AFP PHOTO / STAN HONDASTAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
1998: Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman during a photocall rehearsal for 'Anthony and Cleopatra' at the Olivier Theatre on London's South Bank. John Stillwell/PA Wire
2008: Alan Rickman, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and Timothy Spall at the premiere of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Odeon West End Cinema, Leicester Square, London. Joel Ryan/PA Wire
Alan Rickman was the host at 'Hollywood Salutes Bruce Willis: An American Cinematheque Tribute' at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, Ca. 9/23/00. Rickman came out onstage with crutches after a clip was shown of him falling to his death in a Bruce Willis film. Photo:Kevin Winter/ImageDirect.
1999 Alan Rickman stars in the new movie "Galaxy Quest." Photo Dreamworks
2015: Alan Rickman in front of the Qatar Tourism wall of flowers containing 35,000 carnations during day two of the Glorious Goodwood Festival, Chichester. John Walton/PA Wire
2001: Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson at London's Ivy Restaurant, helping to launch ActionAid Week. Johnny Green/PA Wire
Alan Rickman and his partner Labour Councillor Rima Horton arrive for the 50th anniversary gala of the NFT at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank in London. Yui Mok/PA Wire
2010: Frances de la Tour, Alan Rickman, Tom Wilkinson and Andy de la Tour perform at the Concert For Haiti, sponsored by the TUC, at Congress House in London. Rickman has died from cancer aged 69, his family said. Ian West/PA Wire
2010: Alan Rickman attends the world premier of "Alice in Wonderland" at the Odeon Cinema in London's Leicester Square. AFP PHOTO / CARL COURTCARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images
2007: Alan Rickman arrives for the premiere of "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" in New York. AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS ROBERTSNICHOLAS ROBERTS/AFP/Getty Images
2003: Alan Rickman is seen during a press conference for the premiere of the film "Love actually" in Paris. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYSGABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
2012: Alan Rickman walks on the red carpet as he arrives to attend the World Premier for the film 'Gambit' in Leicester Square, central London. AFP PHOTO / ANDREW COWIEANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images
2009: Alan Rickman arrives at the New York premier of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in New York. AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERTDON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
2013: Alan Rickman poses during the photocall of "Une Promesse" presented out of competition at the 70th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYSGABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
2015: Alan Rickman poses for photographers on the red carpet for the UK premiere of the film "A Little Chaos" in central London. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLISJUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images
2010: The Prince of Wales (left) meets Alan Rickman on arriving for the Royal world premiere of Alice in Wonderland at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London. Ian West/PA Wire
2015: Helen McCrory, Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet attending the UK premiere of the film A Little Chaos at the Odeon Kensington, London. Ian West/PA Wire
2006: Sigourney Weaver with Director Marc Evans and co-star Alan Rickman at the Dominion theatre in Edinburgh for the Premier of Snow Cake during the Edinburgh International Festival. Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
2001: Alan Rickman as 'Elyot' and Lindsay Duncan as 'Amanda' at a photocall for Howard Davies's production of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" at the Albery Theatre in London. Peter Jordan/PA Wire
2000: Queen Elizabeth II meeting actors Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman at the opening of the new premises of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Ian Jones/Daily Telegraph/PA Wire
1999: Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Ben Affleck and Salma Hayek on the rooftop of the Palais des Festivals, promoting their latest movie "Dogma", directed by Kevin Smith during the 52nd Annual International Cannes Film Festival 1999. Neil Munns/PA Wire
2001: Comedian Vic Reeves, comedian and host Eddie Izzard, actor Alan Rickman and comedian Harry Enfield on stage during a photocall prior to the 'We Know Where You Live. Live!' event to mark the 40th anniversary of Amnesty International at London's Wembley Arena. William Conran/PA Wire

Alan Rickman, who has died at the age of 69 after a short battle with cancer, was the most mellifluous of actors, with a voice that had a wonderful mellowness of sneer about it. That was why he was such a prime candidate to play villains in Hollywood movies.

As critic Roger Ebert said after seeing Rickman as German terrorist Hans Gruber opposite Bruce Willis's hero in Die Hard (1988): "He is really the most interesting character in the movie, kind of an intellectual guy with delusions of superiority."

Alan Rickman death: Harry Potter fans pay 'wands up' tribute to Professor Snape

Kate Winslet tribute to 'warm hearted puppy dog' Alan Rickman who has died at 69  

Alan Rickman death: JK Rowling and Harry Potter cast pay tribute to actor  

Nobody could do superciliousness or clammy nastiness quite like Rickman. He was natural casting as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Kevin Costner vehicle, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991).

It was his role as the scheming seducer Valmont in the 1985 RSC production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses that brought him to the attention of Hollywood agents.

"Having a film career at all was a bit of a surprise," Rickman acknowledged in a Bafta interview last year. If it hadn't been for Liaisons, he might have stayed a British stage actor. As it was, his career veered off in a very different direction.

You can see hints of Valmont in all Rickman's screen villains: a calculating quality, an elegance and a capacity for cruelty. That, though, was only part of what he offered.

He is easily best known to a mass audience for playing potions guru Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films - and that was a role of surprising complexity. His lank-haired Severus was anguished, emotional and with an unlikely dark romantic quality. Given the chance, Rickman was a skilled (very dry) comic actor. He was very funny as Alexander Dane, the self-important Shakespearean actor who has been slumming it as a Dr Spock-like alien in sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest (1999). "It's a bit too close for comfort," he later joked of a role that seemed to have been written with him in mind.

Rickman also had the presence to play major historical figures. He was a memorably scheming Eamon de Valera opposite Liam Neeson's Michael Collins in Neil Jordan's biopic Michael Collins (1996).

A little incongruously, he played US President Ronald Reagan in Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013).

Belying his reputation as a British classical actor, he was cast recently as legendary New York music impresario and club owner Hilly Kristal in CBGB (2013). The film may not have been especially well received but it showed how bold and off-beat Rickman often was in his choice of roles.

On TV, this seemingly most self-contained of actors had a notable success (and won a Golden Globe) as the gimlet-eyed Russian monk in Uli Edel's Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996).

One of his best-loved films was as the "ghost" in Anthony Minghella's debut feature Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), a recently deceased cellist carrying on his relationship with his bereaved girlfriend Nina (Juliet Stevenson). Some British critics moaned about the sentimentality, but others adored it.

What Truly, Madly Deeply underlined was both Rickman's natural charisma and his ability to play a romantic lead.

Look through Rickman's credits and you realise just what a restless, unpredictable figure he was.

At the same time he was appearing in Harry Potter movies, he was continuing to work on stage. He performed in Shakespeare, Noel Coward and Samuel Beckett.

There was a political side to his work, evident in My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the play he edited and directed, based on the diaries and emails of an American activist who was killed in Gaza in 2003.

Rickman also directed feature films. His debut feature was The Winter Guest (1997), an ensemble piece based on Sharman Macdonald's play and starring Phyllida Law and Emma Thompson.

Rickman leaves behind his wife Rima Horton, an arts patron and former Labour councillor.

The couple had lived together for 50 years before deciding to marry in secret in 2012.

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