In 2011 the final instalment of the Harry Potter movies hit theaters to much fanfare. But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 didn’t just mark the end of the boy wizard’s journey. It also, in fact, saw Alan Rickman grace the screen as Severus Snape for the last time. And so to bid farewell to the beloved character, the actor penned a poignant letter.
Rickman has, of course, enjoyed a varied and celebrated career on stage and screen. Yet he wasn’t always an actor. In his younger days, in fact, Rickman – born and raised in London – actually graduated from the Royal College of Art. He then even started a graphic design business with his friends.
However, Rickman seemingly realized that acting was his true calling. He later therefore auditioned for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and was naturally accepted. And after graduating, the actor started performing on stage in various theater productions and as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It was in 1988, though, that Rickman got his first break in Hollywood. It was then, after all, that he made the transition from stage to screen with a major role in Die Hard. Surprisingly, Rickman was already 41 years old when he made this film debut. He portrayed antagonist Hans Gruber in the hit action movie starring Bruce Willis.
Rickman hadn’t been sure about taking the role at first, though. But thankfully he did, and he consequently became a celebrated on-screen villain. And this status was only further cemented when he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
He wasn’t always the bad guy, however. In fact, Rickman turned his hand to comedy on many occasions. This included roles in funny movies such as Dogma and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Of course, many fans will also know Rickman for his turn as Emma Thompson’s husband in the hit romantic comedy Love Actually.
With so many popular roles under his belt, then, it’s perhaps no surprise that Rickman also has several awards to his name. The star received a BAFTA for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in fact. And he additionally won a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award for 1996’s Rasputin.
So Rickman evidently had a storied and varied career during his decades as an actor. But for some fans, there is one role that defines him above all others. And that is none other than his portrayal of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies.
As many people know, the Harry Potter franchise is a worldwide phenomenon. And it all started when J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States. The book was released in the U.K. in 1997 and went on to become an international bestseller.
In fact, Harry Potter turned into a saga that lasted for a total of seven novels. And in 1999 Warner Bros. bought the film rights to the first four of those books for a rumored $2 million. So it was then up to the production team to find the perfect people to embody those characters.
The child actors subsequently cast in the movies were mostly unknowns – but some of the most respected British actors were brought in to play the adults. Across the course of the series, in fact, renowned talents such as Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon and Richard Harris all put in appearances. Yet according to David Yates, who directed the final four films, Rickman and Maggie Smith were the most skilled of the lot.
However, Yates and Rickman didn’t always see eye to eye. In 2009, for instance, Rickman wrote a note while working on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. In it, Rickman relates how the pair had different ideas about how to approach the character of Snape. “It’s as if David Yates has decided that this is not important in the scheme of things i.e. teen audience appeal,” he wrote.
Another letter from producer David Heyman to Rickman also addressed the actor’s vexations while performing in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. “Thank you for making HP2 a success,” the note stated. “I know, at times, you are frustrated but please know that you are an integral part of the films. And you are brilliant.”
The character of Severus Snape is, after all, a multifaceted one. For much of the series, in fact, it is unclear whether Snape is a good or a bad person. For instance, early on in the films, we see him as a strict teacher who may still be involved in the dark arts. Yet later on he comes across as something of a hero. Many people therefore felt that Rickman was the perfect casting choice.
Indeed, Rupert Grint – who played Ron Weasley in the movies – admitted that he had been apprehensive of Rickman. “Alan sort of stayed in character between takes,” he told The Guardian in 2011. “I mean, he wasn’t evil or anything. But he’s quite intimidating.”
And Matthew Lewis, who portrayed the character of Neville Longbottom, agreed. “Alan Rickman was brilliant and terrifying,” he said. “It took me about four or five years just to be able to say to him, ‘Mornin’ Alan.’” They had, however, seemingly become closer before the series ended.
“On his last day of shooting, I went to his trailer and told him how much working with him had meant to me,” Lewis continued. “He invited me in, and we talked about my future. I’m thinking, ‘S***! I’m in Alan Rickman’s trailer, and he’s giving me advice on my future!’”
For a decade, then, Rickman played the professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And in a letter that was later sold at an auction, Rowling thanked the actor “for doing justice to [her] most complex character.” As it turned out, too, the author had truly trusted Rickman – and even let him in on a major spoiler.
As discussed, the character of Snape remained a mystery for readers and viewers until the books and films reached their conclusions. However, Rowling wanted Rickman to understand where he would end up. She therefore revealed Snape’s secrets to him, years before fans were privy to them.
In 2011 Rickman explained to RTÉ that what he was told was “crucial to [him] as a piece of information that made [him] travel down that road rather than that one or that one or that one.” However, he swore to keep the information to himself – and did just that. It wasn’t until years later, in fact, that Rowling finally let slip what she had said.
Rowling explained on Twitter in 2016, “I told Alan what lies behind the word ‘always.’” You see, in the stories, Snape had been in love with Lily Potter, mother of Harry, since childhood. So he gave the appearance of aligning himself with the villainous Voldemort in order to protect her son at all costs, making him a hero to many fans.
Producer Heyman said that Rickman had taken the secret seriously and considered it whenever he had been on set. “It was quite amusing, too, because there were times when a director would tell Alan what to do in a scene, and he would say something like, ‘No, I can’t do that – I know what is going to happen, and you don’t,’” he told the Los Angeles Times.
It seems that being let in on Rowling’s big secret had only helped Rickman to become the perfect Snape, though. “He had a real understanding of the character and now looking back, you can see there was always more going on there – a look, an expression, a sentiment – that hint at what is to come,” Heyman added. “The shadow that he casts in these films is a huge one, and the emotion he conveys is immeasurable.”
After the truth came out, Rickman also discussed the information about the character that Rowling had kept under wraps for years. “It’s completely staggering that she had all of that in her head,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “Rumor has it that she put the ending in a bank vault when she was writing the beginning. So she held it all in her head, all seven books.”
Rickman continued, “It’s jaw-dropping, really. When we started she had only written three of the books, so it was like trying to walk down two potential roads not at all knowing what the end would be, but having some sense of what that man’s life was. I knew with Snape I was working as a double agent, as it turns out, and a very good one at that.”
Just as Snape and the man who played him were an integral part of Harry Potter, so too was the franchise important to Rickman. “It was a punctuation mark in my life every year, because I would be doing other things but always come back to that,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “And I was always aware of my place in the story even as others around me were not.”
Rickman also reflected on the saga coming to a close. “Am I sad? The point about a great story is that it’s got a beginning, a middle and end,” he said. “The ending of this story was quite popular and beautifully judged by Jo Rowling and David Yates, so it’s not a cause for sadness; it’s a cause for celebration that it was rounded off so well.”
But when the time came for his final day as Snape, Rickman chose a touching way to commemorate it. So, after completing production on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, the star penned a letter for Empire magazine. In it, he reflected on his time with the franchise.
In particular, Rickman looked back on working with Grint, Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger, and Daniel Radcliffe, who portrayed Harry Potter. “I have just returned from the dubbing studio where I spoke into a microphone as Severus Snape for absolutely the last time,” he wrote in the April 2011 note. “On the screen were some flashback shots of Daniel, Emma and Rupert from ten years ago.”
Rickman explained that the children had been only 12 years old at the time. And he had not only seen them grow within Harry Potter but additionally by following their careers beyond it. “I have also recently returned from New York, and while I was there, I saw Daniel singing and dancing (brilliantly) on Broadway,” he wrote. “A lifetime seems to have passed in minutes.”
Rickman also remembered that fateful conversation when Rowling had told him the truth about Snape. “Three children have become adults since a phone call with Jo Rowling, containing one small clue, persuaded me that there was more to Snape than an unchanging costume, and that even though only three of the books were out at that time, she held the entire massive but delicate narrative in the surest of hands,” Rickman shared.
Rickman concluded by expressing his appreciation of Rowling. “It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller,” he added. “Thanks for all of it, Jo.” It was a moving farewell to a world that Rickman had seemingly become deeply entrenched in.
Yet just a few years after Rickman said goodbye to Snape, the world said a sad farewell to him. According to reports, it all began in August 2015 when the actor allegedly suffered a stroke. And although it hadn’t been a major stroke, it seems that Rickman was soon after given some devastating news.
Unfortunately, Rickman discovered that he had pancreatic cancer that was incurable. But instead of opening up about his illness, he only told the news to the people closest to him. So the world was left in shock when he died at 69 years of age on January 14, 2016.
Following Rickman’s passing, Empire shared his touching letter online. And fans found it deeply moving and heartbreaking. Some revealed that they had actually treasured the issue of the magazine that the letter had been printed in.
“Such a lovely and touching letter. Eloquent, thoughtful, memorable. Alan Rickman, thank you for your years of dedication to the arts,” one Twitter user shared. Another added, “That brought tears to my eyes. We have not [only] lost a great actor but [also] an amazing mentor for coming generations.”
After Rickman died, fans also flocked to London’s King’s Cross station. There, they established a memorial beneath the sign for Platform 9 ¾, which features in the Harry Potter saga. And it further became clear just how much he meant to his colleagues from the series.
“I’m very sad to hear about Alan today. I feel so lucky to have worked and spent time with such a special man and actor. I’ll really miss our conversations. RIP Alan. We love you,” Watson shared. And Rowling stated, “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death. He was a magnificent actor and a wonderful man.”
Radcliffe also delivered a moving tribute to his former co-star, revealing that Rickman had come to see each stage production he had done, both in America and the United Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, Radcliffe called Rickman “undoubtedly one of the greatest actors [he] will ever work with.” But Radcliffe added, “He is also one of the loyalest and most supportive people I’ve ever met in the film industry.”
In conclusion, Radcliffe wrote on Facebook that Rickman was nothing like some of his hardhearted characters. “Alan was extremely kind, generous, self-deprecating and funny. And certain things obviously became even funnier when delivered in his unmistakable double-bass,” he shared. “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 theater stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man.”