One of the most distinctive and well-regarded English actors of all time, Alan Rickman is a fan favourite across the generations, having starred in many classic films over a number of decades.
Dazzling as Hans Gruber in the 1980s, the Sheriff of Nottingham in the 1990s, and Professor Severus Snape in the 2000s – alongside many other critically acclaimed performances – Rickman certainly established himself as a distinguished thespian over the course of his life.
Below are 20 things you might not have realised about the late actor.
20. He knew where Snape’s loyalties lay all along
The biggest twist in the Harry Potter series was undoubtedly that concerning Harry’s hostile Potions teacher, Severus Snape.
For those that don’t know, the final piece of the puzzle that explained Snape’s confusing character was the fact that he was deeply in love with Harry’s mother, Lily.
This was only revealed towards the end of the Deathly Hallows book – and in the Deathly Hallows Part 2 film.
While Snape’s undying love for Lily was a secret closely guarded by JK Rowling, the author chose to share this with Rickman while shooting the first film.
Rowling said that she let Rickman in on the secret because “he needed to understand […] where this bitterness towards this boy, who’s living proof of [Lily’s] preference for another man, came from.”
Apparently, the film’s directors would often ask Rickman why he would act in certain ways. He responded by saying he knew something that they didn’t know.
19. He only agreed to make Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves on the condition that he could rewrite all his lines
As well as Hans Gruber and Severus Snape, the Sheriff of Nottingham is undoubtedly one of Rickman’s most famous roles.
But, surprisingly, Rickman almost turned down the chance to star in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Apparently, the actor turned down the role not once, but twice, and only agreed to portray the sheriff after he was given “carte blanche” to portray the character however he saw fit.
Speaking to The Times in 2015, the actor revealed that he ended up re-writing chunks of the script with the help of his friend and fellow actress Ruby Wax and playwright Peter Barnes.
Rickman claimed that he said to Barnes: “Will you have a look at this script because it’s terrible, and I need some good lines.”
Barnes went on to re-write swathes of the script after meeting the actor in a Pizza Express where, according to Rickman, “pizza and bacon and egg” slopped “all over” the script.
18. He pranked Daniel Radcliffe on the set of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
While Severus Snape is the last person you’d expect to be joking around with Harry Potter, it seems Rickman himself had a much better sense of humour.
Writing in during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, Potter star Daniel Radcliffe revealed how Rickman and Michael Gambon pranked him one day on set.
“There’s a shot in the great hall of all the kids sleeping in the great hall, and the camera starts very very wide, and comes in so that it’s an inch from my face,” Radcliffe wrote.
He continued: “Alan Rickman decided he would plant one of those fart machines in my, uh, sleeping bag.”
“They waited until like – the camera had come in for this huge DRAMATIC developing shot, and then unleashed this tremendous noise in the great hall.”
So, while Snape may appear brooding, humourless, and austere, at least Rickman was a touch more jolly.
17. He was born into a struggling, working-class London family
Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was born into a working-class family in West London on the 21st of February 1946.
His father Bernard worked as an aircraft fitter during World War II and later as a painter and decorator.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck and Bernard died of lung cancer when his son was eight years old.
Rickman’s mother Margaret was left to raise him and his three siblings – David, Michael and Sheila – by herself.
Margaret did remarry in 1960 when Rickman was 14 years old, but the marriage lasted only three years.
According to Rickman’s biographer Maureen Paton, “his mother struggled to bring up four children on her own by working for the Post Office.”
16. His distinctive vocal delivery was due to a childhood speech impediment
Arguably, Rickman’s most distinctive facet is his voice. Combined with his sheer talent, Rickman’s voice is undoubtedly part of the reason why he garnered so much success as an actor.
Rickman’s unique voice was actually caused by childhood speech impediment that came as a result of him being born with a tight jaw.
This condition meant he was unable to move his lower jaw properly, which caused his words to come out muffled and unclear.
In an interview with NPR in 2007, Rickman revealed some of the harsh comments he received from his teachers regarding his speech.
“‘You sound as if your voice is coming under the back end of the drain pipe’ was one review from my voice teacher,” he confessed.
Rickman was able to overcome the impediment and this ultimately resulted in the vocal delivery that would make him one of the most recognisable actors in the world.
15. He was turned down for a role in Return of the Jedi
Rickman’s big break came in 1988 when he portrayed Hans Gruber in American action film Die Hard.
But he’d actually tried to make his first silver screen appearance some years previously, back in 1983.
Rickman was looking to play Moff Jerjerrod, the Admiral in charge of the construction of the evil empire’s second Death Star.
- Credit: Douglas H Jeffery
But unfortunately, the role was ultimately handed to a more experienced actor: the esteemed Michael Pennington.
Rickman went on to play the Vicomte de Valmont in the 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
14. He almost turned down the role of Hans Gruber
The 1988 action classic Die Hard was Rickman’s very first feature film performance after acting in a number of TV and theatre roles.
He was spotted by Die Hard’s casting director performing in the stage show Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
And it wasn’t long before he was officially offered the career-making role of the film’s villain, Hans Gruber.
But he nearly turned down the opportunity to star alongside Bruce Willis, later saying, “I didn’t know anything about LA.”
“I didn’t know anything about the film business… I’d never made a film before,” he revealed in a 2015 Guardian interview.
According to the actor, his initial reaction after reading the script for the first time was “What the hell is this? I’m not doing an action movie.”
13. He was genuinely terrified during his famous Die Hard fall
The Die Hard team went to extra lengths to ensure that Rickman had a genuine look of terror as he fell from Nakatomi Plaza towards the end of the film.
To get the shot with Rickman’s face clearly visible, the actor was required to fall backwards onto a massive blue pillow 20 feet below.
“John McTiernan had to talk Alan into doing that shot because even stuntmen will generally not fall backwards – they like to see where they’re going,” explained visual effects supervisor Richard Edlund in a 2018 interview with Thrillist.
“When Alan falls away from the lens, that’s true terror you see in his face. He’s really scared of falling backwards, as anybody would be,” Edlund said.
To give the actor a real fright, the film’s stunt coordinator, Charlie Picerni, ordered him to be dropped a second earlier than he was expecting.
Picerni explained on Netflix show The Movies That Made Us that he’d told Rickman he’d be released on the count of three – but slyly told the stunt guys to “let him go on one.”
Rickman wryly noted in later interviews that the filmmakers had also made sure this moment was the actor’s very last shot for the film, covering themselves in case anything went wrong.
12. He very nearly landed Hugh Grant’s role in Four Weddings and a Funeral
Believe it or not, Rickman was originally first choice to play Charles in the 1994 romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The film’s writer Richard Curtis was not convinced that Hugh Grant was right for the role.
While speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, he revealed that he was desperate for Rickman to be cast in his place.
He said that he initially found Hugh Grant “annoying, too good-looking, and a bit posh.”
“We auditioned about 70 people for Hugh’s part. Eventually it was down to Hugh and Alan Rickman. I went for Alan but I was outvoted,” he said.
Richard Curtis went on to work with Rickman in 2003 film Love Actually, where the actor starred as unfaithful husband Harry.
11. He met his wife when they were both teenagers
In 1965, at the age of 19, Rickman met Rima Horton. The two instantly connected and began dating.
They had met at a meeting of an amateur theatre group at the Chelsea College of Arts, where Rickman was enrolled.
The pair began living together in 1977 and remained a solid couple for over five decades.
However, the pair decided not to tie the knot until 2012. They were wed in a private ceremony in New York City, and only publicly revealed that they had got married some years later in 2015.
Rickman was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August 2015 after he suffered a minor stroke.
Sadly the talented actor lost his battle with the illness on 14th January 2016 at the age of 69.
10. He injured himself during the first scene he shot for Die Hard
With a movie as action-packed as Die Hard, it’s no surprise Rickman actually injured himself on set.
He didn’t hurt himself while filming his dramatic death scene, though – instead, it happened on his very first shot.
“I thought I had ripped a ligament on the very first shot,” he told Empire magazine back in 2015.
“Turned out I’d torn a cartilage, but I knew enough to go downstairs and see the doctor.”
“I hadn’t even shot a scene! I was still in my costume, and I said, ‘Could you pull the trouser leg down over that splint thing?’”
Undeterred by the injury, Rickman soldiered on: “I went back up to the 33rd floor and carried on shooting.”
9. He was almost cast in the short-lived Clerks cartoon
Clerks was an animated series that launched back in 2000, based on the 1994 black and white buddy comedy film.
The series was only short-lived, with only two episodes making it to air before ABC cancelled the whole show.
Interestingly, Rickman was in the running for a role on the show. The actor had worked with filmmaker Kevin Smith on his 1999 fantasy film Dogma.
And so, when Smith thought about who might be a good fit for his TV adaptation of Clerks, Rickman immediately came to his mind.
Smith had hoped for Rickman to assume the role of Leonardo Leonardo and even modelled the character after Rickman’s portrayal of Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
But Smith’s choice was vetoed by the studio who ousted Rickman in favour of Alec Baldwin.
8. He flinched every time someone shot a gun in Die Hard
You’d think that Rickman would have gotten used to the sound of guns being fired after a few weeks of shooting Die Hard.
But you’d be mistaken – as it happened, Rickman just couldn’t help but flinch every time a gun was fired on set.
Of course, Rickman was only firing blanks, but that didn’t stop him instinctively jumping every time.
Because of this, director John McTiernan was made to adapt shots in order to avoid capturing Rickman’s wincing on screen.
However, one instance of this did make it to the film’s final cut, and you can spot it if you look closely in a certain scene.
If you watch carefully in the scene where Gruber kills Nakatomi executive Mr. Tagaki, you can see him flinch as he shoots.
7. He changed parts of the Die Hard script
Rickman is a very hands-on actor – so hands-on, in fact, that he even asked for parts of the Die Hard script to be changed.
Gruber may have been Rickman’s first cinematic role, but his experience with theatre work meant he wasn’t afraid to voice his thoughts concerning the script.
He argued that his character should wear a suit at all times and suggested that he pretend to be a hostage in one scene.
Confident in his vision for the character, Rickman left a note detailing his ideas on producer Joel Silver’s table.
Initially, Silver was not best pleased by Rickman’s suggestions: “I got Joel saying, ‘Get the hell out of here, you’ll wear what you’re told,” the actor told the Guardian in 2015.
But Silver listened to Rickman in the end. “When I came back, I was handed a new script. It showed that it pays to have a little bit of theatre training.”
6. His diaries are going to be published
As we all know, Rickman tragically passed away in 2016 following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
But it seems we haven’t seen the last of him, as 27 handwritten volumes of his diaries are set to be published in autumn 2022.
The actor’s diaries feature his musings on his career and personal life, and span over 25 years.
Rickman began writing these diaries back in the early 1990s and always intended to have them published.
The diaries also include fascinating insights into what it was like on the set of Harry Potter.
The 27 volumes are to be edited down and condensed into a single book which will be published by Canongate.
5. He banned Rupert Grint and Matthew Lewis from touching his car
It’s apparent that Rickman wasn’t as grouchy and mean-spirited as Snape, but he wasn’t completely laidback.
Although the actor was certainly a lot kinder to Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) off screen than on, he still had some strict rules for them.
The actor banned the pair of boys from getting within five metres of his new BMW while filming Order of the Phoenix.
The duo had apparently spilled milkshakes in his brand new Beamer while shooting the film, which led to Rickman imposing the ban.
Still, it seems that Rickman, Grint, and Lewis maintained a strong friendship despite this milkshake incident.
Following Rickman’s passing in 2016, Grint publicly expressed his grief and said he was “devastated” by the loss.
4. He can’t actually play the cello, despite his appearance in Truly Madly Deeply
In the 1990 film Truly Madly Deeply, Rickman appears as the ghost of a dead cellist and is seen perfectly playing the cello.
However, although it seems like he is, Rickman does not play the cello himself at any point during the film.
The actor did take cello lessons to prepare for the role, but ultimately, there wasn’t time for him to truly master the instrument.
A ‘stunt cellist,’ Caroline Dale, was hired by director Anthony Minghella and used for close-ups of Rickman’s left hand.
These scenes were shot with Dale standing behind Rickman and putting her arm under his armpit.
If you look closely in the opening scene, you can see that the hand playing the cello is noticeably feminine.
3. A combination of him and Jeremy Irons is thought to create the perfect male voice
Back in 2008, researchers including a sound engineer and a linguist created what they believed to be “the perfect male voice.”
The study asked people to rate 50 different voices, and then analysed the results to ascertain what makes a ‘good’ voice.
According to the Guardian, the results found “the most pleasing blend of tone, speed, frequency, words per minute and intonation.”
“The ideal voice should, apparently, utter no more than 164 words per minute and pause for 0.48 seconds between sentences that fall in intonation.”
They crafted the perfect voice by these standards by combining the vote of Rickman and his fellow actor Jeremy Irons.
The BBC once said that Rickman’s “sonorous, languid voice was his calling card,” and that he made “even throwaway lines of dialogue sound thought out and authoritative.”
2. He worked as a graphic artist before pursuing an acting career
Rickman studied in London at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and later at the Royal College of Art.
The future actor was reluctant to enrol in drama school, as, in his own words, it “wasn’t considered the sensible thing to do at 18.”
After he graduated, Rickman and some of his friends started a successful graphic design studio named Graphitti.
“It all seems like a 1970s fantasy now,” Rickman told Design Observer back in 2014. “A top floor studio in Berwick Street, shared with a photographer, whitewashed brick walls and a vaulted glass ceiling.”
“We worked on magazine layouts and illustrations, book jackets, album sleeves, and advertising,” he said, explaining the ins and outs of his first career.
But he later decided to pursue a career in acting by joining the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
1. He was inspired to take up acting after watching the 1975 film Nashville
Rickman’s desire to take up acting came after he watched the 1975 Robert Altman film Nashville.
The actor went so far as to reveal that Nashville, a satirical musical comedy-drama with 24 main characters, changed the course of his whole life.
After decided to pursue an acting career, he successfully auditioned for RADA and attended between 1972 and 1974.
While a student there, he funded himself by working part time as a dresser for Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Sir Ralph Richardson.
Interestingly, Nashville is also British film director Richard Curtis’ favourite film – and he drew inspiration from the film when creating one of his best-known works.
Curtis has said in interviews the structure of Love Actually (which features Rickman as love rat Harry) with all its interconnected characters was inspired by the 1975 film.