Most people have seen Alan Rickman in Die Hard, the Harry Potter movies, Love Actually. In Sense and Sensibility and Galaxy Quest. On The Tonight Show doing hits of helium with Jimmy Fallon.
But Alan Rickman had a long career, and he was game for pretty much anything. As someone who has spent the past 25 years or so in the throes of Rickmania, I’ve seen it all. Here’s a deep dive into some of You Tube’s choicest Rickman obscurities and oddities.
The Four Yorkshiremen. In 2001, Rickman, Eddie Izzard and British TV comedians Vic Reeves and Harry Enfield recreated Monty Python’s immortal “Yorkshiremen” skit at the Secret Policeman’s Ball, held in London to benefit Amnesty International. When Rickman delivers his first line, a huge roar goes up from the arena crowd and Izzard ad libs, “I think Jesus has just come in.”
Revolutionary Witness, “The Preacher,” 1989
Rickman and British playwright Peter Barnes were close friends and frequent collaborators. This short TV film is part of a series of monologues written by Barnes to celebrate the bicentennial of the French Revolution. I know, sounds like a rollicking good time. But I promise, you’ll be hooked from the moment Rickman, as Jacques Roux, a revolutionary and churchman, opens his mouth. This is one of his greatest, most magnetic performances; if I had to choose one video to explain why Alan Rickman mattered, this is it.
Music video, “In Demand,” 2000
The Scottish band Texas’s video has become the stuff of legend among Rickmaniacs. Enjoy.
Girls on Top, “Four-Play” 1985
Girls on Top was a British sitcom written by and starring Tracey Ullman, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders (later of Absolutely Fabulous) and Rickman’s protege, American comedian Ruby Wax. Always ready to help out his friends, Rickman donned a blinding white disco jacket to guest as a Greek con man.
“Plots and Proposals”, Victoria Wood with All the Trimmings, 2000
British comic Victoria Wood, another of Rickman’s friends, wrote a blisteringly funny spoof of Jane Austen in particular and BBC period dramas in general, then got Rickman to essentially send up his Colonel Brandon role from Sense and Sensibility. There are many familiar actors here, including Imelda Staunton and Richard E. Grant, and they all do a bang-up job of keeping a straight face through exchanges such as, “Fetch me my writing mittens, I have letters that will not wait till the warm weather.” “Could you not stick your hands in your muff?” Rickman manages to get through his scenes with Grant without breaking up, but only barely.
Victoria Wood, “All Day Breakfast,” 1992
Rickman proves what a good sport he is in this short send-up of TV morning shows.
“Play,” written by Samuel Beckett, directed by Anthony Minghella, 2001
And now for something completely different. Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and Kristin Scott-Thomas play a man, his wife and his mistress, squabbling out Beckett’s venomous lines in double-time, while crouched in large urns with their faces painted into a state of decomposition. I didn’t get this play until I saw it performed in this video. Rickman believed that no playwright was too “difficult” to communicate to an audience, and if it was, the actors hadn’t done their jobs.
Painting with Light, in-house commercial for Turner Classic Movies
Rickman talks about his favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, while drawing with a light pen in one of a series of ads TCM was running in the early ’00s.
“Dust,” a short film by Ben Okrent and Jake Russell, 2014
Rickman was generous with his time and mentorship, often appearing in young filmmakers’ projects just for the asking. In this film, which also stars Jodie Whittaker, he is a silent, menacing and unshaven presence, but wait — there’s a twist.
American Cinematheque Salute to Bruce Willis, 2000
That time Alan Rickman did stand-up comedy as the host of a prime-time TV awards special. And you know what? He killed.
Closing credits, “The Search for John Gissing,” 2001
Rickman donned Peter Sellers glasses and a wardrobe of impeccably cut suits to play the title character in this uneven screwball comedy by director/writer Mike Binder. The ensemble cast performed a dance routine over the closing credits. Rickman, who idolized Fred Astaire, may not have those kinds of moves, but he throws himself into the dance like a hyperactive kid, wholeheartedly abandoning himself to goofiness. There are no traces of the intimidating antagonist, Thinking Woman’s Crumpet or distinguished thespian here. It made me laugh to see it again, the day after his sudden and heartbreaking demise. I hope he’s dancing wherever he is.
©Joyce Millman, The Mix Tape, 2016