Alan Rickman: Hanging On To Every Word

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I watched “The January Man” only for Kevin Kline.  And I came about this movie as I doxed the VHS rental video library for anything on Kline, thanks to “A Fish Called Wanda”. Oh, how I swung from loving him to hating him in this mad caper, him having a petulant ball of a time, even as I laughed and felt sorry for John Cleese. And so, I came upon the smaller, quieter “The January Man”, a movie that was immediately panned by the critics. Which meant that I kind of liked it – no really, it was a nice, funny little mystery, with a calendar and building tower floors to solve a serial killing spree. And that was my introduction to Alan Rickman.

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Alan Rickman in The January Man: a man for all calendars

As Ed, the painter, Rickman was slightly grubby, introvertish sort of chap who could mock and observe through the narrow slit of his sharp eyes. And then, his voice. Oh, that voice, and that dialogue delivery. He spoke with such grace and charm, I was hooked right away. In the months that followed, I scrounged for, and got his “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, but as luck and the tarnished video tape would have it, all I could see was white, limn tracks of frustration and anger.

Next, and very quickly, I met Alan Rickman in the Sterling theater, Bombay. This time, Rickman took a twist for the villainous better, and captured and took the employees of Nakatomi Corporation hostage in the Nakatomi Plaza. This, of course, was “Die Hard”. While Bruce Willis made cool even cooler, and tempted even the most stoic amongst my gang of friends to suck on a cigarette, what blew me away in the movie were two gentlemen. One, composer Michael Kamen, who added that pulse and throb to the tension. And the other, of course, was Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.  Sitzmarked in the snow of my cinematic memory is the scene where he walks with his armed gang of killers and technicians. Nattily dressed, his hair perfectly set in place as he strode confidently into the offices, he held my attention until the very end. When he addressed the hostages the first time, he added a touch of fastuous suaveness to villainy that was unseen and unheard of. And oh, could he speak, oh could he mesmerize the audience and the characters with that voice. How I wished Mclane shot less and Gruber spoke more.

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As Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Rickman’s voice was deadlier than Maclane’s bullets

I next met my friend Alan in the Eros theater, Bombay, in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”. And even as I got swept in by this absolute zinger of one of my favorite tales, the icing on the arrow tip was the Sheriff of Nottingham. Played by, of course, Rickman. As he donned the armor and cloak of the evil sheriff, and doled out woes that made the life of the common man doleful, he delighted me and the audience no end.  Again, that voice and the dialogue delivery, that made Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood look and sound like a squeaky, mildly irritating toy boy.  Which wasn’t to say Costner wasn’t good. He was superb, in fact. But to my mildly deranged cinematic sense, Rickman was the show stealer.

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In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Rickman cut Robin to size. (Pic courtesy: Everett Collection)

And then arrived the Harry Potter series. Almost everyone was reading the series, hooked on to what I am sure, are phantasmagorical words of pure fantasy. I jumped into the cinema hall, instead, and very quickly met Severus Snape or Alan Rickman. In the entire movie series, the verbal jousts between Rickman and first Richard Harris, and then Michael Gambon were the highlights. If there was anyone in these movies who could freeze me to my spot in the cinema hall, it was Rickman. He lent a sense of quiet, unseen, unknown terror and majestious morbidity to his role. He could talk anyone down, and when he appeared onscreen, he simply went about chewing the scenery with such élan and elegance, he made me shiver with delight, making me wait for what he would do or say next.

Rickman made the Harry Potter series severusly entertaining

And that was Alan Rickman. Undoubtedly primmed and spruced by his stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Rickman used his voice and dialogue delivery to astounding effect. He spoke each word as if he were salivating at a delicacy, he delivered each word, as if masticating the drama out of their meaning and delivering it to you with the preciseness of a calibrated Vernier Caliper. Rickman was one of those rare actors who made you pirouette around his delivery, keeping you on verbal tenterhooks, even as you breathlessly waited to hear what he said and how he said it.  One of my most fantastical dreams was to see Rickman on stage, and that dream has now transfigured into a life-long regret.

If there is a stage up there – and given the alarming and rapid cadence at which our beloved artistes are being beckoned, there surely is – Alan Rickman must be already enthralling the Gods. And them? Do they have a choice, but to hang on to every word he says?

By Marie-Lan Nguyen ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Alan Rickman: So long

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