Today is the birthday of the late actor, Alan Rickman. Alan passed away on January 14, 2016, and as happened on this day last year, I wavered back and forth all day, on whether I would write a blog post in honor of this insightful man.
The truth is, the only reason I hesitated is because of the concern that others would perceive my post to be the gushing of a fan girl. If that is the worst thing ever thought about me, I decided, that’s okay! Far from being star struck, I have deep appreciation and gratitude for Alan Rickman, who has greatly inspired me.
After Alan’s death last year, following a short battle with pancreatic cancer, I keenly felt his absence in the world. A bright light flickered and went out. Reading about Alan, in the days following his death, I discovered a quote of his that became an invitation to learn more about him.
I wanted to know more about who he was. I accepted the invitation to discover Alan through his vast body of work. It has been a soulful and amazing journey, this past year, watching Alan’s films and shorts, interviews and late night tv show appearances. In addition, I’ve read his words, primarily through collected quotes, and the words of his friends, colleagues and interviewers.
This is what I have learned from Alan Rickman, who became my teacher though we never met, who walked alongside me, sharing his wisdom, though none but me knew he was there.
It is never too late to do what you are created to do. The heart and body know the way. Although he was always interested in acting, Alan came late into the profession. After working as a graphic artist, he at last followed his heart and his passion, performing for years on stage before breaking into film as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Alan said that when he made that shift, “My body finally sighed with relief at being in the right place.”
Don’t let others decide who you are. Only you can do that. Because of villainous roles such as Hans Gruber and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies, Alan could have become typecast, continuing to portray darker characters. He refused to allow that, expanding himself and his viewers in such diverse roles as Jamie in Truly, Madly, Deeply, Alexander in Galaxy Quest, and King Louis in A Little Chaos. He played, with equal talent, villains, romantic leads, doctors, heroes, businessmen and kings. In one of his final films, Alan stood behind the camera as well, as the director.
Help others along the way. Over and over, I have read how Alan helped other actors that he worked with on his many films and projects. He graciously offered encouragement, support and suggestions to his colleagues, from helping a young Kate Winslet in one of her first films, Sense and Sensibility, to attending other performances and plays of Harry Potter co-star Daniel Radcliff. Friend Ian McKellen paid Alan tribute, calling him “a constant agent for helping others.”
Travel and see the world. I discovered that Alan loved to travel, calling it one of his favorite things to do. He saw the value of experiencing different locations and cultures. Alan wrote, “Nothing gives me as much pleasure as traveling. I love getting on planes and boats and trains.” Relationships are important. Treasure them. Not only did Alan help fellow actors, and build friendships that lasted a lifetime, he was also in a long term relationship with one woman. He met his wife Rima as a teenager, and their love story spanned 50 years. He acknowledged that their long years together were due to Rima’s remarkable tolerance, saying she deserved sainthood.
There are so many other lessons from Alan that I could list. One of the most crucial has shaped this year, and my life, in a profound way. Alan’s quote, “If only life could be a little more tender, and art a little more robust” is my focus for 2017. I have taken Alan’s words to heart. As I move through each day, having asked the question of the Divine, How shall we play?, I stay open to the opportunities to be tender toward others, to create robust art in my life. This year is shifting me in huge ways.
From his perch on my writing table, Absolem the caterpillar, whom Alan voiced in Alice in Wonderland, reminds me daily of this extraordinary man and his gifts to the world, as he asks the question…Who are you? In considering that question and answering it for myself, I have studied Alan’s journey, learning about who HE was. He has encouraged me, as surely as he did his colleagues, to follow my heart, to declare my truths, to cherish my relationships and help others, to travel and see the world…and to make life a little more tender and art a little more robust.