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Alan Rickman defined exceptional acting, from Die Hard to Galaxy Quest

Alan Rickman, who passed away today at the age of 69, was a bit of an oddball.

From the roles he took on to the way he approached the Hollywood niche, Rickman seemed to always be okay with straddling the line of being an outsider in a very small world.

He wasn't the type to schmooze at parties, nor was he interested in only accepting roles that would garner him buzz at annual award shows like some actors are.

Instead, Rickman was in love with the craft he dedicated his life to. He was one of the few remaining actors that took on as much work as he possibly could and treated each role with the same level of respect as the one before it.

Whether he was the main villain (Hans Gruber in Die Hard), a questionable professor (Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series) or a contentious washed up actor (Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest), Rickman played every role to perfection.

Die Hard

Rickman had been working for years in British television before he was cast as Gruber in John McTiernan's Die Hard. It was a role that would change his career forever and catapult him into the public eye.

Die Hard could have been a disaster. There were moments that teetered on the edge of absurdity and at times the entire film felt like it bit off more than it could handle. But what kept the film moving forward were the performances of both Bruce Willis as NYPD detective John McClane and Rickman as German terrorist Hans Gruber.

Whereas Willis' McClane was set up to be an iconic character, the all-American hero renegade cop, Rickman's villain could have died away with the film. Instead, Rickman gave the performance of a lifetime and, in doing so, created one of the most iconic baddies in cinematic history.

Who could forget Rickman's nonchalant, cold-hearted count to three when threatening Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi? Or, better yet, his menacing reply of "Okay" when Takagi announces that he doesn't know the code to the safe and tells Gruber that he'll just have to be killed instead?

Gruber could have been a caricature. McClane was such an homage to action stars of the '70s and early '80s that Gruber could have been far more outlandish and gotten away with it, but that wasn't the type of actor Rickman was.

Rickman embraced the character, examining the motives of the thief in terrorist clothing he was encompassing, and tried to figure out why Gruber would have committed the deeds he did.

It was his commitment to the role and his excellent portrayal of Gruber that would, ironically enough, seal his fate as the go-to actor for downtrodden characters.

Harry Potter

He played none with a sadder fate than perhaps his most beloved role, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise.

From the very beginning, Rickman was embraced as one of the nastiest villains in the series, a suspicious, hook-nosed miscreant that left audiences wondering what his true motives were after every movie. By the end of the series, Snape's true intentions are revealed and he's celebrated as one of the bravest characters, but it was a testament to Rickman's acting talents that audiences were left divided about his character for close to a decade.

He was, after all, quite menacing. He slowed his speech down until each word was enunciated with scorn and, although already quite large in stature, made himself seem enormous, imposing his frightening self over the entire Hogwarts student body.

For the first few films, Severus Snape was one of the more terrifying villains, even more so, in many cases, than Lord Voldemort. Whereas Voldemort was a concept of evil, Rickman's Snape seemed to embody every horrifying detail fairy tales warned children about.

None with a sadder fate than perhaps his most beloved role, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise.

Rickman not only took on the role emotionally, but he physically became the looming character J.K. Rowling wrote the character to be in the novels.

In doing so, he became one of the most beloved parts of the franchise. Severus Snape was one of the most crucial characters to the series; in order for the films to have worked as well as they did, the role needed an actor who could not only portray a character with that kind of emotional depth and complexity, but who could make the confusion surrounding his life as a double agent plausible.

Rickman did that, and even when he was playing Snape at his worst, he was still a character you couldn't help but root for — because Rickman was the type of actor that stole the scene, whether he intended to or not. He was absolutely spellbinding.

Galaxy Quest

A perfect example of that is his work in Galaxy Quest. Galaxy Quest is, for lack of a better term, garbage. But it's the type of precious garbage that must be protected at all costs.

In the movie, Rickman plays Alexander Dane, an actor that has gained notoriety for his role in a sci-fi movie and who's become absolutely fed up with the various convention appearances and store openings he's forced to attend.

Galaxy Quest came out at an interesting point in Rickman's career. Trying to break away from the villainous typecast he had found himself in, Rickman started exploring more comedic roles and proved to the world that he was, above all else, hysterical.

To date, there are few actors that can pull off deadpan as well as Rickman could. He understood comedic timing like few others did and, using his sophisticated, infamous voice to his advantage, used deadpan comedy whenever he could.

One of the best moments in Galaxy Quest is when Dane joins his fellow cast members at the opening of a new store and he's forced to say his iconic line from the film, "By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged," but with one slight alteration. In the scene, Rickman nails the apathetic, bored look and slowly says, with every bit of disgust, "By Grabthar's hammer, what a savings."

It's only six words of dialogue, but it shows off just how quickly and easily Rickman could steal a scene. The reason the character works as well as it does is because of the actor's understanding of the ludicrous nature surrounding him.

Instead of buying into the ridiculousness, however, he plays the characters as seriously as he can, creating one of the film's funniest roles.

It's easy to go on and on about Rickman — we haven't even touched Marvin the manically depressed robot in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — because Rickman contributed so much to the world of film, television, and theater. He was an actor's actor and someone that influenced almost everyone he worked with.

After news of Rickman's death spread, his Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliffe published a message on his Facebook page that perfectly summed up what it was like to work with an actor of Rickman's caliber.

"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," Radcliffe wrote. "Film sets and theater stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man."

To say that Rickman will be missed would be sorely understated, but the mark he left on the world of art and entertainment will forever be treasured.

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