Let no-one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men
~ Quintus Ennius
This week has not been a good one for the arts and music community of Great Britain and beyond – mourning the loss of both David Bowie and Alan Rickman in the same few days, the gloomy January weather has felt somewhat appropriate.
I was shocked and a little saddened by Bowie’s passing at the start of the week – he was an amazing creative mind who showed the world that it is okay to be who you are – even if that is different to everyone else, to do what you want to do – even if it’s not what everyone else ‘wants’, and that it’s okay to change your mind and try something different if that’s what you want.
He also proved that, even today in the world of Twitter and Wikipedia, privacy is not dead. And neither is dignity. He kept his illness private until the end, he kept doing what he wanted to do even when he knew his time was limited. He planned how he wanted everything to go in the end – he produced his final album, with its haunting lyrics and distinctive style, waited until he was ready and then released it as his own way of saying goodbye. Without having to tell the world that was what it was. We didn’t have a clue.
And that was perfect. It was dignified, thoughtful, masterful and so, so clever.
And then yesterday broke the news of Alan Rickman’s passing.
That one hurt more for me.
My first memory of Alan Rickman is from watching Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves on TV at home. He was the perfect Sheriff of Nottingham – deliciously British and totally evil – he outshone the other stars in that cast, even to me as a child when I thought that the Power Rangers were pretty awesome actors.
Then as I grew up I saw him in countless other things and my adoration of him as an actor grew – I particularly loved him in Galaxy Quest and Sweeny Todd and as the voice of Marvin the Robot in Hitchhikers Guide.
Oh that voice. He could have sat and read the Yellow Pages out loud and he’d have had a captive audience for hours. It wasn’t just his voice though, it was the way he used it. He knew the power of pauses and changes in tone, he knew exactly how to manipulate even the simplest of lines to say a hundred more words than actually left his mouth.
And then he was Professor Snape.
I don’t like the Harry Potter movies very much. There, I said it. I am a total Harry Potter nerd but I would much rather re-read the books than sit through the films.
But Alan Rickman as Professor Snape? That was perfect. He was perfect. The way he spoke, the way he held himself, everything. He lifted Snape from the books and brought him to life in a way no other person in those movies managed, with the possible exception of Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the first two movies.
More perfect than the character portrayal itself, was the way he refused to talk in depth about playing Snape both during the filming of the movies and afterwards. He didn’t want to destroy the magic of the story, he wanted to keep himself and Snape as different people so as not to blur the lines too much for the younger fans.
I never talk about ‘Harry Potter’ because I think that would rob children of something that’s private to them. I think too many things get explained, so I hate talking about it.
He stayed in character whenever they were filming and he never gave anything away, even though I’m sure he knew the truth about Snape long before the rest of us. He must have done to play it so well – J. K. Rowling must have trusted him with a few spoilers along the way, given that the movies started coming out way before the books were all released.
He truly was an incredible actor. One that kept me inspired as a GCSE/A-Level and first year undergraduate Drama & Theatre Studies student with the way he worked. I remember poking around on the internet whilst looking something up for a GCSE drama essay and coming across this quote:
Any actor who judges his character is a fool – for every role you play you’ve got to absorb that character’s motives and justifications.
That one sentence changed my whole attitude towards drama. He’s right. Until I realised that, I was always being myself reading lines from a character’s point of view. After, I always did my best to put myself in the shoes of whoever I was meant to be portraying and do what they would do, not what I would do. I mean, I was never really any good, I loved it but I mostly sucked, but it gave me a better attitude and it felt more natural. It wasn’t new advice, I know that, but it came from someone I respected, and that always makes a difference.
But the thing I loved the most about Alan Rickman was his belief in stories and the arts and how important they are. I can’t say it better than he did, so I will leave you with his words instead and then I’m going to find a tissue, because my eyes are leaking. Again.
And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.