Alan Rickman, the villain you loved to love, dies at 69

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Alan Rickman. Photo by Mark Blinch/Reuters

Photo of Alan Rickman by Mark Blinch/Reuters

British actor Alan Rickman, known for the rich intonations he brought to his stage and cinema characters, died in London, his family confirmed Thursday. He was 69.

The Emmy-winning actor had been suffering from cancer, the family’s statement said, adding he “was surrounded by family and friends.”

Armed with a deep, distinctive voice, Rickman has played a series of on-screen villains who spoke and moved ever so methodically, as when the terrorist Hans Gruber counted to three in 1988’s “Die Hard.” Fictional adversaries love their countdowns, but Rickman’s measured diction only enhanced the menace of his character’s threats.

Video by YouTube user Katherine Breed

At a British Academy of Film and Television Arts tribute last year, Rickman said he had no prior film experience when he was offered the iconic role at age 41. He got the part two days after arriving in Los Angeles. Rickman said he was “extremely cheap” for an actor.

“Torture him” scene from 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Video by YouTube user ejeevika

Rickman said it was background in stage theater that compelled him to make suggestions to “Die Hard” director Joel Silver, including swapping out Gruber’s terrorist gear for a suit.

In a 1988 interview, Rickman advised actors to not be afraid to ask “Why?” in order to create a clear understanding of the character for the audience. It’s a similar approach to staging a play for the first time, he said.

“There are wonderful actors around, but there are also a lot of wonderful actors who aren’t getting the jobs because of a system that rewards repetition,” he added.

The same year he starred in his first blockbuster, he earned a Tony Award nomination for playing the Vicomte de Valmont in the 1988 stage production “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” Years before, he had worked with several theater groups before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978. He appeared in “The Tempest,” “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and other productions, but later criticized the company for what he called a “factory” approach to its actors.

Rickman’s portrayals of on-screen antagonists also include the sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and Rasputin, who infamously worked as a faith healer for the last Tsar of Russia, in a 1996 HBO biopic for which he won an Emmy. Rickman also starred as a cellist in Anthony Minghella’s “Truly, Madly, Deeply” in 1990, filled the role of Colonel Brandon in Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility” in 1995, and gave a necklace to the wrong woman in 2003’s “Love Actually.”

Video by YouTube user Sex, Drugs & Rock N’Roll

But Rickman also earned a new generation of fans by playing the sneering Professor Snape in the films based on J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books. When The New York Times asked Rickman how he crafted the Snape character over eight “Harry Potter” films, he said there wasn’t too much prior planning.

“Filming is a bizzare medium. There’s never any rehearsal. It’s often about the product and not very often is there time for rehearsal,” the consummate Shakespearean actor said. “And that could be a good thing. That means there’s not too much thinking. You just have to do it.

Instead, as with Hans Gruber, Rickman said he was heavily involved with creating Snape’s look. He told the Times in 2012 that he wanted the sleeves to be really tight and his garb to have a bunch of buttons.

Video by YouTube user DesperateLion.

Author J.K. Rowling said on Twitter her thoughts were with Rickman’s family.

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