10 Surprising Facts About Alan Rickman

Marsaili McGrath, Getty Images for KC Events
Marsaili McGrath, Getty Images for KC Events

On January 14, 2016, the world lost one of its most enigmatic actors when Alan Rickman passed away following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. On what would have been his 73rd birthday, we’re looking back at 10 surprising facts about the beloved actor.

1. His first career was in graphic design.

Though he dabbled in drama as a teenager, Alan Rickman’s first career was as an artist. After studying graphic design at Chelsea College of Art and Design, followed by graduate classes at the Royal College of Art, he and a few friends launched their own graphic design business, Graphitti. “It all seems like a 1970s fantasy now,” Rickman told Design Observer when asked about his first career. “A top floor studio in Berwick Street, shared with a photographer, whitewashed brick walls and a vaulted glass ceiling … My job also included hiking around a huge and heavy portfolio to all the art directors. Again, this was BC: Before Computers. We worked on magazine layouts and illustrations, book jackets, album sleeves, and advertising. And learned quickly that we had to pay our bills immediately, but that the same rule did not apply to our clients. A constant financial tightrope. It came to a natural finish when I started to work in fringe theater and then went to RADA, and the others merged with Alan Aldridge at Ink Studios. Happy endings.”

2. He came to acting later in life.

Alan Rickman
VINCE BUCCI, AFP/Getty Images

Though he found success in the graphic design world, Rickman admitted that, “theater was always lurking in the background.” So, while still working as a graphic designer, he sent a letter to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to request an audition. "I was getting older and I thought if you really want to do this you've got to get on with it," he told GQ in 1992. He was 26 years old when he auditioned with a speech from Richard III and was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious acting academy. “My body finally sighed with relief at being in the right place," he said. "I had really come home at last."

3. He auditioned for Return of the Jedi.

In The Making of Return of the Jedi, author J.W. Rinzler revealed that Rickman auditioned for the role of Admiral Moff Jerjerrod, who oversaw the construction of the second Death Star. The role ultimately went to Michael Pennington.

4. He rose to fame in America on the stage.

Rickman’s big break didn’t come in the movies, but on the stage, where he played Vicomte de Valmont in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985. When the play made the move to Broadway in 1987, Rickman came with it and received both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for the role.

5. Die Hard marked his feature film debut.

Rickman owed a debt of gratitude to Sam Neill, who was approached to play Hans Gruber in Die Hard but turned the role down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the film’s casting director saw Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont on Broadway and immediately wanted him for Hans. Though Rickman may have played the part as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

6. He almost turned down the role of Hans Gruber.

Though Die Hard turned Rickman into a hot commodity in Hollywood, he later admitted that he almost turned down the role. “I didn’t know anything about L.A. I didn’t know anything about the film business … I’d never made a film before, but I was extremely cheap,” Rickman said of the casting process for Die Hard—and when he read the script he thought, “What the hell is this? I’m not doing an action movie.” Fortunately, upon closer consideration, he realized that the film was “quite revolutionary, and quietly so.”

7. He was supposed to star in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

If Rickman has Sam Neill to thank for his Hollywood stardom, Hugh Grant should be thanking Alan Rickman. Grant was not the first choice to play Charles in his breakthrough film, Four Weddings and a Funeral; screenwriter Richard Curtis thought Grant was “too handsome” for the part. At one point, it was supposed to star Alan Rickman and Marisa Tomei. Fortunately for Grant, that changed.

8. Rickman has the "perfect" male voice, according to science.

In 2008, a pair of researchers—linguist Andrew Linn and sound engineer Shannon Harris—were tasked with analyzing voice samples from more than 50 people to determine what makes the perfect human voice. For men, it turns out that it’s a combination of Rickman and Jeremy Irons.

"As humans we instinctively know which voices send shivers down our spine and which make us shudder with disgust,” Linn explained. "The emotional responses panelists had to the voices were surprising and go some way to explaining how voiceover artists or radio DJs are selected, or why particular celebrity voices appeal."

Helen Mirren seemed to confirm this when she spoke about Rickman following his death, saying: "Alan was a towering person, physically, mentally and as an artist. He was utterly distinctive, with a voice that could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade, and the profile of a Roman Emperor."

9. J.K. Rowling gave him some confidential Harry Potter intel.

Moviegoers of a specific generation know Rickman best for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. When the actor took on the role, the book series was only four installments in, so there was still much to learn about what made Snape tick. In order to help Rickman play the character all the way through to the end, the author shared some information about Snape that wouldn’t be revealed until much later.

According to Rickman, it was “one tiny, little, left of field piece of information,” but it “helped me think that he was more complicated and that the story was not going to be as straight down the line as everybody thought. 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. And it was important for her that I know something, but she only gave me a tiny piece of information which helped me think it was a more ambiguous route.”

10. He met his longtime partner when he was just a teenager.

Alan Rickman and Rima Horton
Tristan Fewings, Getty Images for Qatar Goodwood Festival

In 1965, while a student at Chelsea College of Art and Design, Rickman—then 19 years old—met his first love, 18-year-old Rima Horton, who served as a Labour Party councilor on the Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council from 1986 to 2006. She has also worked as an economics lecturer at Kingston University. Though it would take until 2012 for the couple to tie the knot in a private ceremony in New York, they remained a devoted couple for more than 50 years, until his passing. "She’s tolerant,” Rickman once said of Horton. “She’s incredibly tolerant. Possibly a candidate for sainthood.”

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

20 Best Docuseries You Can Stream Right Now

A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
A still from Netflix's The Devil Next Door (2019).
Netflix

If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.

But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.

Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.

1. Making a Murderer (2015-)

One of the major true crime phenomenons of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling. Three years after the docuseries became a surprise hit for Netflix, it returned for a second season in 2018.

Where to watch it: Netflix

2. The Staircase (2004-2018)

In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife, Kathleen, had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was The StaircaseJean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. And Netflix's addition of new episodes in 2018 led to a resurgence in interest in this mind-boggling case (with armchair detectives even positing that an owl was the real killer).

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Flint Town (2018)

If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. The Jinx (2015)

After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. The first was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.

Where to watch it: HBO Now and Hulu

5. Wild Wild Country (2018)

What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.

Where to watch it: Netflix

6. Wormwood (2017)

Documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Five Came Back (2017)

Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.

Where to watch it: Netflix

8. The Devil Next Door (2019)

In 1980s Cleveland, John Demjanjuk was living a quiet life as a grandfather and auto worker. Suddenly, he was being extradited to Israel over accusations he was once notorious Nazi concentration camp monster Ivan the Terrible. As Demjanjuk mounts a defense, the trial captivates a country—but was he really the monster? This riveting series will have you guessing until the very end.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Ugly Delicious (2018-)

David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.

Where to watch it: Netflix

10. Evil Genius (2018)

At approximately 2:20 p.m. on August 28, 2003, Brian Wells—a pizza deliveryman—walked into a PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, and handed a note to a teller demanding $250,000 in cash. Wells had a bomb, which was strapped to his body via a metal neck collar, and a loaded shotgun that was fashioned to look like a walking cane. Approximately 12 minutes later, Wells strolled out of the bank with $8702 in cash, then made his way to the McDonald’s next door, where he retrieved a detailed note that told him where to go and what to do next. Within 15 minutes, Wells would be arrested. At 3:18 p.m.—less than an hour after he first entered the bank—the bomb locked around Wells’s neck detonated as police watched (and waited for the bomb squad), killing the 46-year-old in broad daylight. The bizarre incident was just the beginning of Evil Genius, which documents the peculiar case that would eventually entangle a range of unusual suspects, including Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, and has had armchair detectives—and the FBI—questioning whether Wells was in on the bank robbery, or a genuine victim, for more than a decade.

Where to watch it: Netflix

11. The Confession Tapes (2019)

A spare room. One or two detectives. A weary suspect. That's the set-up for this series that lets archival footage of police interrogations tell its own arresting stories.

Where to watch it: Netflix

12. Our Planet (2019)

Be amazed at the sensational vistas and eclectic wildlife with this beautifully-photographed trek through some of nature's most astounding sights—and the environmental perils that affect them. David Attenborough narrates.

Where to watch it: Netflix

13. The National Parks: America's Best Idea (2009)

The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Where to watch it: Amazon

14. The Innocent Man (2018)

After two brutal murders in 1980s Oklahoma, four men are convicted of the crimes. All of them maintain their innocence, causing observers to question whether they were guilty or themselves victims of police coercion. This drama is based on John Grisham's 2006 book of the same name; Grisham executive produces.

Where to watch it: Netflix

15. Last Chance U (2016-)

Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. Later seasons switch focus to a team out of Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas.

Where to watch it: Netflix

16. Vice (2013-)

The series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens. The first six seasons are available on HBO, with a seventh airing on Showtime in 2020.

Where to watch it: HBO Go

17. Chef's Table (2015-)

From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. There's no shame in licking your screen.

Where to watch it: Netflix

18. The Toys That Made Us (2017-)

Who knew the origin of classic toy lines could be so dramatic? This series puts the spotlight on the creative friction that led to some of the most iconic playthings of the 20th century, from Transformers to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Where to watch it: Netflix

19. The Eighties (2016)

CNN's series highlighting the pop culture of the neon-colored decade boasts familiar talking heads like Tom Hanks and enough nostalgia to keep you afloat for weeks. The network's The Seventies and The Nineties are also available.

Where to watch it: Netflix

20. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)

This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?

Where to watch it: Netflix

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