To at least two generations of young filmgoers, the imposing Mr. Rickman was Severus Snape, the filmic embodiment of the most ambiguous, complex and frightening of young wizard Harry Potter (played by Radcliffe). His 6-foot-1 frame draped in black and his head crowned with a lank mop of inky, Oscar Wilde-ish hair, he bedeviled Potter’s ambitions and expectations through eight blockbuster films. That Snape emerged at the end as a pivotal and sympathetic figure was a testament to Mr. Rickman’s considerable gifts as an actor, that he was able to convey subtleties of characterization even while engulfed in a sea of special effects.
“Snape's a great double agent,” he said at the release of the final film, “although you don't get to see that side of him until late.”
That talent was also on display in his breakout role in movies as the sophisticated German terrorist Hans Gruber in the 1988 action thriller “Die Hard.” With cold-blooded polish (and, in one shape-shifting scene, a nifty American accent), Mr. Rickman squared off against the New York cop played by Willis as the two battled for control of a skyscraper the Germans had seized. Hollywood took note and Mr. Rickman was soon a busy man, hired to play baddies of various time periods, such as “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (as the Sheriff of Nottingham, in which he bellowed to “Call off Christmas!”), and in the title role in an HBO movie of “Rasputin.”
But he also illustrated his more sensitive side, playing a tender-hearted and faithful Baron in 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility.” In “Truly, Madly, Deeply,” a 1990 love-ghost story, Rickman’s characters dies and comes back as a spirit to resume their relationship.
But he remained best known for his skill in rendering libertines, villains and antagonists into complicated, sympathetic figure. That ability was powerfully on exhibit early in his career when he created the role of the Vicomte de Valmont in the play Les Liasons Dangereuses. Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of French novelist Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s book of the same name told of two decedent French aristocrats who play as love games. Valmont bets that he can seduce a virtuous married lady, but ends up falling in love himself and inviting his spiritual and corporeal doom.
The show was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985 and made a star out of Rickman and his co-star, Lindsay Duncan. In 1986, the play transferred to the West End. The following year, he traveled with the play to Broadway and received a Tony and Drama Desk nomination.
“Give me any straight play — it should have a lot of laughs in it,” Mr. Rickman told Playbill.com in 2011, explaining his layered view of acting. “I remember the laughs in Hamlet when I did that. There were plenty in that, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses is, of course, incredibly funny. That house was rocking with laughter, even though, as you say, it was ultimately a drama.”
Fifteen years after Les Liaisons, Rickman and Duncan teamed up again as a different pair of romantic combatants, Amanda and Elyot in an acclaimed West End and Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s Private Lives. The production was a hit and he was again nominated for a Tony and Drama Desk Award. His third and final Broadway appearance was as an imperious, but vulnerable fiction teacher in Theresa Rebeck’s drama Seminar in 2011.
Though his visits to the New York stage were few, he was a more regular presence in the London theatre scene. He directed The Winter Guest at the Almeida Theatre in 1995. He played Marc Antony opposite Helen Mirren in Cleopatra at the National Theatre in 1998. In 2010, he was back with Duncan in Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. That production traveled to BAM in Brooklyn. He also directed Strindberg’s Creditors at BAM.
He also turned playwright when he directed his own work My Name Is Rachel Corrie, about the American student whose death at the Gaza Strip was a cause of controversy, at the Royal Court. The play was also produced Off-Broadway and subsequently staged at many theatres.
Nevertheless, following the success of “Die Hard,” and even moreso after the “Harry Potter” juggernaut, it was film that occupied most of Mr. Rickman’s time. His 21st-century assignments included the romantic comedy “Love Actually,” Tim Burton’s film version of the musical “Sweeney Todd,” in which he played the evil Judge Turpin, Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” in which he was the voice of the caterpillar, “Bottle Shock,” and “A Little Chaos,” set in King Louis XIV’s France, which he also directed.
Alan Rickman was born Feb. 12, 1945, in Acton, London. His family was working class, his mother a housewife, his father—who died when Rickman was eight—a factory worker. The Rickman children grew up to be a talented brood. Alan’s brothers became a graphic designer and tennis coach, and Alan himself discovered an affinity for calligraphy and painting. He attended art school, which led to graphic designer work at a newspaper. He formed a graphic design studio with several friends and found success, but abandoned it after three years to pursue acting.
He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where he won several prizes for his work. To support himself, he was a dresser for Ralph Richardson and Nigel Hawthorne. In the late ‘70s, he began acting professionally on stage, doing the works of Chekhov and Shakespeare at regional and repertory houses. Eventually, he hooked up with the RSC.
Mr. Rickman’s private life was steady. He met his partner, Rima Horton, when he was 19, and they remained together until his death. They married in private in 2012. She survives him.