Does Alan Rickman *act*?

I think I’ve seen this general topic discussed before (not necessarily about Rickman), but I couldn’t find it to save my life.

When you see Alan Rickman play yet another character filled with sneering disdain (in a career full of characters filled with sneering disdain)… is the guy actually acting? Hans Gruber, Sheriff of Nottingham, Severus Snape… I mean, they’re essentially the same character (with some minor variations), just in different costumes, right? Comedies (Galaxy Quest, action films (Die Hard), fantasy (Harry Potter), on and on… his roles (or what he brings to them) are essentially the same.

I mean, compare him to Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays different people, you know… differently. He was goofy scientist guy in Twister, somber priest guy in Doubt, hyper CIA guy in Charlie Wilson’s War, wierd author guy in Capote… in other words, he actually acted like different people. Whereas Rickman just seems to play one particular type that you, as Mr. Producer, can slot in a film if you need a character who looks down at everyone else in the film.

BTW, this is not a swipe at Alan Rickman, whom I’ve enjoyed in nearly everything I’ve seen him in, it’s just that he (and others) seem to have a career where he mostly plays the same note, over and over. Perhaps he’s just typecast… I don’t know. But when I see him play Mr. Sneering Disdain in the umpteenth film and then see Hoffman play a role that wasn’t like anything Hoffman’s done before… well, it seems like they’re in entirely different professions.

What say you? What actors/actresses play differing roles with a unique approach every time, and which play (in your opinion) the same character over and over again? Which approach do you prefer? Or am I completely off-base here and am totally missing the subtle nuances that make each of Rickman’s roles unique? (And no, I haven’t seen everything the man has done, but I’ve seen enough of it to know that if I see AR in the credits, the smart money is betting that somebody in the film is going to feel his scorn).

His role in Love actually, was pretty much different from any other of the roles that you mentioned, so I guess he is the goto guy for that type of character.


I wish I could find a link, but I’ve heard Shakespeare readings by him that were very good. While he may often be playing variations on a single character, he does bring different nuances to each. Hans Gruber feels like a very different kind of sneering disdainful jerk than Severus Snape, and not just because only one of them has a magic wand. I’d say he’s acting, quite well in fact, but has specialized in a certain sort of character, most likely due to type casting.

Whereas I don’t think Christopher Walken is acting one bit.

Yeah, but in Dogma, he sneers with a deep world weary pain, and in Quigley down under he sneers with an Aussie accent. :wink:

Nah, I love the guy. I do agree with your point somewhat. I think he has a specialty that works very well for him, and when casting directors are looking for a guy to fill ‘That kind of roll’ he comes up, and he understands what is wanted for the pay check.

IMHO he is a great actor with a wide range, but they pay for one thing, so they get one thing.

Rickman’s work in Sense & Sensibility stands out amongst his roles, not much sneering disdain to it at all, but a lot of gallantry, deference to ladies (as was proper) and gentle manliness. (As opposed to gentlemanliness, which is different. And not really a word, but I trust most will know what I mean.)

I was just thinking today about his portrayal of Eamon de Valera in Michael Collins, which I thought was pretty good. Though I remember one reviewer characterizing his more over the top scenes therein as a “hysterical Count Chocula”.

Being able to play a broad variety of roles is not the only definition of “acting”. An actor has to nail the part he’s playing - and if he plays similar parts in other movies, what of it? As far as I’m concerned, a good actor is one who does a good job with the role I’m watching.

Alan Rickman does Alan Rickman roles far better than Phillip Seymour Hoffman could, so how could he be less of an actor?

Some of finest actors in Hollywood history had less of a range than Rickman does - Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, John Wayne. Were they not good actors?

A line from Janeane Garafolo sums it up well, “They offer you one kind of role, and then complain that you aren’t versatile”. (Paraphrased from memory.)

Where to draw the distinction between Rickman only being good at one sort of role, and producers only offering him the sort of role for which he’s known to be ideal? He’s a trained, experienced actor who came up through the ranks and served his ‘apprencticeship’ years. I expect that on the way up he was required to act in all manner of different roles. Then he got into movies and excelled in roles such as the ones cited in the OP, and so now he gets offered those kinds of roles fairly often.

If you want to see a very different Rickman, try Truly, Madly, Deeply.

He tends not to be cast for sharing, caring metrosexuals. But he occasionally gets one under the wire, like The January Man.

The part in Die Hard where Gruber tried to pass himself off to Willis’ character as an American employee of that company was a nice contrast. Different from Gruber and done believably as something that Gruber could possibly pull off.

I thought Hans Gruber quite a different character from Snape, and that’s just among his villians. Snape is cruel and bitter; Gruber’s a thief.

One factor that I think may contribute to the type of role he’s offered is his voice: it’s distinctive, and it does have something of a “sneering” (for want of a better word) quality.

He can certainly modulate it (Love, Actually and Sense and Sensibility are good examples), but there’s only so much he can do about its basic characteristics.

In what sense is his role in Truly, Madly, Deeply a sneering character? Even in the films you’ve listed above as sneering, his characters are rather different, and I don’t even consider some of them as sneering. His character in Dogma may have been world-weary, but he didn’t sneer. His character in Sense and Sensibility wasn’t sneering in any sense, nor was his character in Love Actually. The problem is that you’ve chosen a term that applies to a few of his roles and decided to extend it to other roles where it doesn’t fit.

Incidentally, I just looked up his IMDb entry to get some perspective on the range of his roles. He’s done relatively little work in movies for a 63-year-old. He did his first movie at 42, having been mostly a stage actor before then. He never had the chance to do the young hero roles that most major actors did, so you only think of him in middle-aged roles. Maybe there’s something about the roles that middle-aged actors get that makes them more like to be sneering roles.

I dunno, his entrance in Dogma seems to me to be refined, distilled, purified, 200-proof sneer. I wish I could sneer that well.

All of a sudden and apropos of nothing, I’m feeling like a senior-home-robber… :o If anybody had asked, I would have guessed him at some 10-15 years younger.

I think he’s typecast, really, but the people above me have given enough reasons to think that way.

Some actors who hit the same note again and again, but who depending on who you ask and on how they felt about the movie are great actors or just playing themselves would be, for example, Jack Nicholson and Sean Connery. There may be a movie somewhere in which Nicholson played a sane, nice fellow, but I haven’t run into it.

Well, you gotta admit, when the situation calls for sneering disdain, Rickman’s the man.

Oh, there was one a few years back . . .

Maybe not lately, but he showed a lot of range in Dead Zone, At Close Range, and The Deer Hunter.

Alan Rickman seems to be one of those guys you call when the character is Alan Rickman, sort of like Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery. They’re more than competent actors, but they’re so distinctive that they tend to get cast for roles in which you can’t see anyone but Rickman/Stewart/Connery.

I guess I enjoy his performances but when I took my kid to see the latest Harry Potter movie, I whispered to my wife that I had a hard time taking Snape seriously when it looked to me as though Harry Potter was being threatened by the Sheriff of Nottingham.

“With a spoon!”