As with most people, the death of Alan Rickman hit me pretty hard. Not just for the loss to film and theater, nor for the close proximity to the death of David Bowie, nor even because yet another brilliant genius is gone because of that stupid, somehow unstoppable tyranny called cancer. But because it felt like a member of my family was gone. That’s really weird to say; I never met Alan Rickman, not did anyone I know ever meet him. But, over the past 12 years or so, he’s sort of become the unofficial mascot of my Christmas.
Now, Rickman has done many, many films and played some amazing roles; the guy was good at everything. From Galaxy Quest to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Dogma to that TV movie about and called Rasputin, Rickman was often my favorite thing about movies I already liked (and always my favorite thing about movies I didn’t like). But, for the holidays, he played in three truly indelible movies/series of movies that, whether I was aware of it or not, had become part of our yearly Christmas tradition. More than George C. Scott’s Ebenezer Scrooge or Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, Alan Rickman had become the unofficial spokesman of me being home for Christmas.
The first is one everybody has been talking about, for good reason. The casting of Rickman as Severus Snape in the film adaptations of J. K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series proved to be beyond perfect. Contending with Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore, Snape still became the most memorable adult performance in all eight movies. None of the Potter movies are specifically Christmas movies, but most of them—as far as my shoddy memory is concerned—have something to do with Christmas, since they take place during the span of school year. I think it must have been around 2003 or 2004 when ABC Family, of all channels, showed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone around Christmastime.
My family, never needing an excuse to sit through one of these movies, plopped down and watched the whole thing. But, ugh, commercials. So the following year when it was on again, we decided to go for our DVD copy instead. And then it just kind of became a thing we did with the different Potter movies, my brother always opting for whichever was the most recent, and me pulling for either Sorcerer’s Stone or Prisoner of Azkaban. I usually lost, but what can ya do? Rickman’s Snape always featured prominently. Depending on how late in the series we watched, we were either irritated at his constant Harry-chiding or sympathetic to his secret and buried affection toward the Boy Who Lived. Gloriously underplayed performances.
Like most dudes, I claim to not be much for romantic comedies, but there’s something I can’t help but love about a Richard Curtis movie, especially his massive holiday mash-up of storylines called Love Actually. I’ve seen this movie several times, beginning in 2006 when I finally gave in to watching “a dumb old romantic movie.” Every time I remember Rick Grimes and Keira Knightley, I remember Bill Nighy’s radio station rant, I remember the meet-cute between Martin Freeman and Joanna Page’s porn movie stand-ins (what exactly are they filming?)… but for some reason, I always forget that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s storyline is the sad one: his character Harry gives expensive jewelry to the woman in his office who wants to have an affair, instead of to his wife. It’s heartbreaking every single time. Even though Rickman is known for playing villains, I always want him to be better than that. It’s Christmas, man! What’re you doing?! But, only he can play this part and elicit disappointment instead of pure hatred—a rare feat.
And, look, I’m not original; my mom and I cannot have a holiday season without watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve. It’s just the truth of the matter. Whether we watch any other Christmas movie (because some years I just can’t watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again), we have to and do watch John McClane fighting terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza. It’s compulsory. Bruce Willis is, of course, fantastic as the foul-mouthed New York cop who can’t help but talk to himself so we know what he’s thinking, but Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is the essential action movie villain of all time.
And, a fact that’s been spoken about a lot: it was his first movie role! Way to come out of the gate swinging for the fences! His icy line delivery is only matched by the moments of explosive rage whenever McClane becomes yet another wrench in the works. He’s faux-German accent is wonderful for lines like, “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time of miracles,” and, “What was it you said? ‘Yippee-ki-yay… mudda f***ah.'” When he pretends to be American, though, is pretty funny. “Pleeease Gawd, no, yer one uv them!” He is absolutely magnetic from beginning to end. He shoots two people in the head! That’s some cold-blooded stuff. “You wanted a miracle, I give you the F. B. I.”
I feel like I just saw Alan Rickman, thanks to Christmas passing mere weeks ago. I didn’t know he was sick, but nobody really did. It really feels like a punch in the gut. Eleven months from now when I undoubtedly embark on these cinematic nostalgia trips again, I can’t help but feel like they’ll shine a little less brightly. Watching Die Hard, Love Actually, and the Harry Potter movies now will always make my heart a little heavier. Hans, Severus, and Harry are three of the weirdest people to choose to spend the holidays with, but it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
Images: Universal, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!