Ah, villains. We love to hate them. And while we may not fall in love with the bad guys and most have no redeemable qualities whatsoever, we can’t help but be fascinated by them. It’s only human nature. It’s like driving by a car accident. We feel horrible for the people involved but we can’t help but look. Hopefully we are all non-villains here at the diner, nevertheless as writers we are intrigued about what makes them tick. Many times, the villain is so interesting, so compelling, he steals the show from the hero.
Think Darth Vader in Star Wars or Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Archibald Cunningham in Rob Roy or Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. They weren’t the stars, but they made the movie.
No actor has brought more life and personality to bad guys on the big screen better than Alan Rickman. While he is a very talented thespian whose range goes from dramatic to comedic roles, it’s his villains that we love him for. The man is an acting genius, bringing a quality and depth to each of his evil characters that captivates us, leaving us eagerly awaiting his next appearance onstage as the drama plays out, while we all but forget about the hero.
He first burst onto the big screen as the merciless German terrorist Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Sure, Bruce Willis was the mega star, but Gruber’s cool sneers and subtle malice kept us glued to our seats. Even as he got his in the climactic end, all of American sat up and said “Who was that guy?” Next came his unforgettable portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Can you say Kevin who? While Costner was the box office draw, Rickman’s performance was the one everyone was talking about. He ranted and raved through each of his scenes, his frustration comical as Robin Hood thwarted his best-laid plans. His smarmy Sheriff had so much screen presence and all the best lines that he stole the whole movie out from under Kevin Costner’s nose, earning him the British Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His next villainous role was that of Grigori Rasputin in the HBO series Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny. His portrayal of the mad monk was so convincing, it garnered him an Emmy and Golden Globe award for it.
Then there’s Serevus Snape, a complex character Rickman has portrayed in all of the Harry Potter movies. While technically he wasn’t really a villain, he started out as one. Or did he? His character had us so conflicted, we never truly knew where his loyalties lay until the very end of the series. Some of us still aren’t sure. There’s never been a dark character so mysterious, so misleading, so multi-dimensional and layered, as Serevus Snape. Chalk that one up to the brilliant talent of J.K. Rowling. She took a character from villain to tragic hero on the written page and Alan Rickman brought him to full, vibrant life on the big screen. It’s a lesson we all should take to heart: if you ever think you may want to make your villain redeemable at some point, you might want to start by studying the life of Serevus Snape.