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    Spinning Rickman's Plate

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    One of the most daunting challenges she faced while writing the screen version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1995), Emma Thompson says during her Audio Commentary on the film’s Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, was “trying to keep plates spinning all the time,” particularly in the area of the major male roles of Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, played by her friends Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. Indeed, at the request of director Ang Lee, she incorporated a few scenes that would subtly supply telling bits of characterization for the men, who are only viewed through the lens of the Dashwood daughters in Austen’s book. In his breakout roles on Broadway (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and on screen (debuting as Hans Gruber in Die Hard and following that with Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ Sheriff of Nottingham), Rickman was evil personified. But as Thompson sought to establish Brandon’s qualities of class, charm and decency, as well as his innate wit and empathy (she called him “the man of all our dreams…the wounded older guy who is a river of compassion and love and strength and honor…”), her friend – and entrenched movie bad guy – Rickman came to mind because “there is the most extraordinary sweetness to his nature.” Under Ang Lee’s caring and sensitive direction, that sweetness is present as well as a touch of romantic heartthrob that Rickman rarely got to display on camera after Sense and Sensibility and the earlier Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), a haunting "ghostly" romance written and directed by Anthony Minghella. (However, his performance as Elyot in the 2001 London and 2002 Broadway revival of Noel Coward's Private Lives earned him great notices and his second Tony nomination.) He did get to be wonderfully – and oh-so-dryly – funny in Galaxy Quest (1999), foolishly indiscreet when reteamed with Thompson in Love Actually (2003) and once more indelible and iconic in the 8-part Harry Potter movie series as Severus Snape, the Hogwarts teacher whose malicious behavior throughout the course of movies stands in opposition to young Harry until the last chapter, in which the hard-hearted villain reveals himself to be a romantically tortured and ultimately moral and self-sacrificing character as young Harry faces his final battle with the evil Lord Voldemort. Following Rickman’s death in London Thursday at age 69 of cancer, Potter personifier Daniel Radcliffe tweeted in part: “Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny. And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass. As an actor he was one of the first of the adults on Potter to treat me like a peer rather than a child. Working with him at such a formative age was incredibly important and I will carry the lessons he taught me for the rest of my life and career. Film sets and theatre stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man.” And from Sense and Sensibility star/screenwriter Thompson come these thoughts via Time: