Alan Rickman, the British actor who brought Professor Severus Snape to the screen in the Harry Potter movies, has died from cancer at the age of 69.
The award-winning actor appeared on stage and in numerous films; however, he may be best known for his role as Snape, one of the most intriguing and compelling characters in J.K. Rowling’s bestselling series.
Although it’s widely believed that Rowling told Rickman about Snape’s incredible journey throughout the books, she initially provided him with only a hint.
"She gave me one tiny, little, left-of-field piece of information that helped me think that [Snape] was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought,” he told Hitfix in 2011. “If you remember when I did the first film, she'd only written three or four books, so nobody knew where it was really going except her."
However, as the series progressed, Rickman said he was always aware of his character’s place in the story, which enabled him to portray Snape as the mysterious and courageous character Rowling envisioned.
“He had a real understanding of the character, and now looking back, you can see there was always more going on there — a look, an expression, a sentiment — that hint at what is to come,” Harry Potter producer David Heyman told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “The shadow that he casts in these films is a huge one, and the emotion he conveys is immeasurable."
While the character of Snape is Rowling’s creation, it’s Rickman’s performance that brings him to life and makes Snape one of the most memorable and layered characters in modern literature. Indeed, it was his ability to capture the subtleties and emotional depth of the character that allowed Snape to teach us these important life lessons we’ll remember. Always.
1. There’s more to people than they show you.
It can be argued that Snape is an even bigger hero than Harry Potter himself, but throughout the series, he’s often unfair and downright cruel, especially to Harry and his friends. We later learn the reasons for Snape’s behavior when Harry takes a glimpse at Snape's most painful memories, a heartbreaking scene where Rickman leaves us sympathizing with this complicated character. It’s revealing that the version of himself Snape chooses to share with the world is one that hides his courage, sacrifice and ability to love deeply. So determined is he to keep that part of himself a secret that he demands Dumbledore give his word that it’ll remain between them. To which Dumbledore replies, “My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?”
2. Love is worth fighting for.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, we see wizards, muggles and magical creatures fight for a variety of purposes — for good, for evil, for justice, for equality — but Snape always fights for love. In fact, his love for Lily is so strong that he risks everything and ultimately sacrifices himself to protect her son. We may not know his motive in the beginning, but Rickman's portrayal of the character hints at the tortured man he truly is, endearing us to Snape despite his many faults.
3. People can change.
As Rowling reveals more about Snape’s backstory, we learn that he was fascinated by the Dark Arts and became a Death Eater once he left Hogwarts. But when Lily Potter, the woman he’s always loved, dies at the hand of Voldemort, it’s only then that Snape sees the error in his ways and becomes a double agent working for the greater good. Rickman’s performance in “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” when Snape falls to floor and clutches Lily’s body to his chest, shows us just how dramatically love can change a person. Rickman left not a dry eye in the audience with this scene: