Top Performances is a recurring feature in which we definitively handpick the very best performances from an iconic actor or actress. This article was originally published in 2006.
He was the villain. Until he wasn’t.
You can take this angle on the late Alan Rickman in two ways. The first is his film career, in which the actor set himself up to be a go-to heavy for years to come. His Hans Gruber in Die Hard was the perfect foil for Bruce Willis’ John McClaine — the former neat, succinct, calculating while the latter was a mess, foulmouthed, and always improvising. Then there was the scenery-chewing performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie oft-maligned but not because of Rickman. Far from it.
These evil performances were not an indication of what would follow. Most of Rickman’s future, post-Robin Hood roles found him playing good people or at least non-terrorist/murderers. You could root for most of the characters on the following list without feeling bad or ashamed (shhhh #teamgruber).
The second take on the villain/not a villain lands in the world of Harry Potter. Is it safe to spoil now? Better not, though I guess I already did. Read on.
Alan Rickman’s career began on the stage, but it was his performances on screen that took him across the world. It’s there where he’ll live on forever. We now present to you a celebration of his greatest performances. Some evil, some good…
— Justin Gerber
10. Grigori Rasputin, Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny (1996)
I am far and away the least qualified candidate to speak on the historical accuracy where Russian royalty is concerned, I barely passed AP World History as a teenager. However, where Rasputin comes in, only two names follow — Christopher Lloyd of Anastasia fame and the drunken antics of Rickman’s (not so metaphorical) dick-waving turn at portraying one of human civilization’s most notorious occultists.
Sure, he ain’t Russian (or German or anything else), but just look at his grime; look at his madness. Rasputin is Rickman’s equivalent to Amadeus: a fictionalized, exaggerated, award-winning brilliance that we can see no other man taking on. Go ahead and challenge him. We dare you. After all, this is not a character that’s known for dying easy. — David Buchanan
09. Steve Spurrier, Bottle Shock (2008)
Now here’s a cutesy, witty, snarky indie flick about oenophiles and their obessions with wine. No, no, it’s not Sideways. Bottle Shock is a forgotten farce about the early days of wine and wine-making in 1970s California, and Rickman is cunning and charismatic wine shop owner sommelier Steven Spurrier.
What’s most fascinating about this dramedy is the English purr of Rickman’s voice describing the art of wine, the process, the history and creation and craft that goes into every grape and glass. You listen to him speak with eloquent grace, and think, This guy should’ve been doing commercials, describing dew drops on grape skin, and winery pride or something.
That is to say, Rickman embraces a certain snootiness (this is wine), but owns every line and every sip here. Rickman’s all smiles and bliss, charming, and is likely sporting a buzz here that makes him so very likeable. — Blake Goble
08. Marvin the Paranoid Android, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
It took years and years for Douglas Adams’ beloved, existential sci-fi comedy romp about a posse of strange friends jaunting across the universe to make it to the big screen. And when it finally got a release in 2005 … the film broke even and has sustained a quiet home video life mostly thanks to the good graces of Douglas Adams enthusiasts. Hah. 42. Towels.
However, it can be easily declared that the very best thing about this movie was Alan Rickman as the bulbous, broken-hearted, clinically depressed robot, Marvin. Look at the sad green eyes! It was a role Rickman was born to play! Just listen to Rickman’s robotic sigh! He nailed the withering, oh-woe-is-me self-pity of Adams’ robot. It’s just funny to see a diminutive, shiny robot have the finely tuned voice of Rickman bemoan his lot in life as an assistant to far inferior humans and alien creatures. *deep sigh* — B.G.
07. Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
There is a long-running battle between my mother and my fiancée for the defense/offense of Costner’s acting in Robin Hood, the biggest con being his absent accent in a period fiction. What we all seem to universally agree upon is this: If you’re striking for devilishly hammy authenticity, you can do no better than Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham.
Just hearing the deliberate stammering emphasis on his pronunciation of “Locksley” is enough to send Maid Marion into a damsel panic. His near-BDSM-caliber outfit, his presence, and speech clearly later meant for one of Rowling’s great tragic characters — the question was not if he’d chew you up and slither away, but when. Another excellent case of his villainy genuinely making the film work. — D.B.
06. Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus, Galaxy Quest (1999)
What was it about Rickman’s voice? It could express grave confidence and prove calm amidst hysterical co-actors. It could also be used with perfect comic intonation, conveying a sense of deep indignation that was hard not to laugh about. His audible pain could be our pleasure.
For the master’s class in the latter, look no further than Rickman’s beloved role as Alexander Dane, or rather, Dr. Lazarus, in Galaxy Quest. He played the role like you might expect: a classically trained, preening actor. Rickman potentially drew on his experiences jumping from the stage to camp onscreen, but he does it in such a knowing, smiling, and frankly memorable way. Rickman put on the cheap prosthetic and eye makeup and showed up his flashier (and probably more expensive) co-stars as a mistaken alien god of sorts.
Rickman was seriously funny stuff here. It’s no wonder he stole the movie from Tim Allen and has Galaxy Quest’s biggest quotable line. By Grapthar’s hammer… what a great part. — B.G.