EDIT: Apparently the meme below isn’t actually a quote from Rickman. Too soon, Snopes, too soon.
There are actors out there that for whom acting is just a job and, really, I don’t think it matters that much to them. These are the actors who don’t really care about the roles they get or whether or not they are liked or make any kind of impact. Acting, for them, is just a profession, a way to earn a paycheck, and that’s not bad.
Then there are the actors who get it, that what they do actually impacts the lives of other people. I’m not talking about the pretentious gits in your college theater classes who pronounce “actor” like “actooooor”, I mean people who genuinely see that what they do matters to others and respect that, even if it doesn’t necessarily matter to them.
Finally, there’s the third group, those actors who understand how their roles influence others and, for themselves, see how those roles also impact them in turn.
Case in point, Mandy Patinkin.
Mandy played a role that was very important to many people in my generation, Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. It’s a movie that’s meaningful for a lot of reasons, the pure brilliance of the movie, the various themes, its quotability, and it made a great impact on those who grew up with it.
Among all of that is Mandy’s role of the revenge-seeking, sword-wielding Inigo. His quest to find and kill Count Rugen, the six-fingered man who murdered his father, is a story of love and loss that we can all understand but was personal for Mandy in that shortly before he began filming the movie he lost his own father to cancer and so he was struggling with his own grief during that movie. In the final confrontation between Inigo and Rugen, as Inigo is advancing on Rugen, saying over and over again his famous lines of “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”, his voice building like a waves ever higher to crash down on the shore, Mandy was putting all of his own grief into every shout, turning Rugen into the cancer that killed his own father.
And in that last moment, just after Rugen offers Inigo anything he wants in order to spare Rugen’s life and before Inigo runs him through, when Inigo says “I want my father back, you son of a bitch!” that’s Mandy in that moment, raw, open, and hurting for us all to see, wanting nothing more in the world to have his father back.
Unlike other actors who get annoyed when people ask them about roles long since past and ignoring more recent work (as I’ve heard some get, like Tim Curry if you bring up Frank-N-Furter), Mandy will still quote that line with a genuine smile if a fan asks him. Even though it’s been over twenty-five years since he filmed that movie, that line is important to people and important to him and he gets, and I think cherishes, that.
I think Alan Rickman was the same.
The first time I saw Alan Rickman on screen was as Sheriff George of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves opposite Kevin Costner and he was bloody brilliant as a villain in that. There is no one in my friends group who doesn’t know that the answering line to “Get me a spoon so I can cut out his heart.” is “Because it’s dull, you twit, it’ll hurt more!” His Hans Gruber in Die Hard, with the dry “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”, was also fantastic and I know there is a vast horde of people for whom it’s not really Christmas unless they see Alan Rickman fall off the top of Nakatomi Plaza.
But for so many others he’ll always be Severus Snape. Rickman was entrusted with the whole plot of Harry Potter by Rowling before the series was finished so that he could accurately portray Snape and the act that Snape had to put on, which is an incredible honor for anyone to have, and he did it wonderfully. He played that perfect villain so completely, and yet made the pivot at the end when we learn it was all just a ruse and the Snape was a good guy feel so genuine, that it’s no wonder his character is one of people’s favorites from the film series.
And it’s clear to us that him playing that part impacted him as well. I’ve been seeing this quote all over the internet today and it cuts the bottom out from under me because he didn’t get his wish.
But about us, the fans, he got it, he understood. He knew what Snape meant to us because that role meant something to him too. I have to wonder if that’s partially why he was able to make his role in GalaxyQuest as funny, and touching, as it was.
So thank you, Alan, for everything.