Name: Alan Rickman
21 February 1946 (Age: 69)
Where: London, England
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA, 1 Emmy, 1 Golden Globe
People in the UK often complain that the finest British thespians seldom get opportunities to succeed in Hollywood pictures. Often the reason is simple - most great British actors are just SO damned British they're considered only for the occasional role. A butler, perhaps, or a dastardly villain, more often Queen Elizabeth I. And, in the case of Alan Rickman, there is a further problem. To most top-line stars, the man is a positive menace. Absolutely explosive in his work, he's not only ideally suited to cinema but he's a scene-stealer of the highest and most dangerous order. Take his Sheriff Of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. Kevin Costner famously cut many of his scenes, and STILL the movie's remembered for Rickman's hilarious outbursts.
His path to prominence has been long and hard. He was born Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman, on a council estate in Acton, West London, on the 21st of February, 1946, to a Welsh mother and Irish father. He had one older brother, then a younger brother and sister. Sadly, his father, a factory worker, died when he was just 8, leaving him to be raised by his mum who, he's said, instilled in him both a sense of decency and a respect for women. As a child, he was bright, and artistic, capable of excellent calligraphy and watercolour painting. Eventually, he won a scholarship to Latymer School (later alumni including Hugh Grant and Mel Smith), and quickly became involved in drama. Latymer was fairly radical in this department. Both pupils and teachers acted alongside each other, an approach that demanded the boys mature rapidly.
Rickman loved acting, but his other artistic talents led him towards graphic design - certainly a safer occupation. "Drama school," he says "wasn't considered the sensible thing to do at 18". So he enrolled at the Chelsea College Of Art And Design, later spending a year at the Royal College Of Art. It was at Chelsea that he met Rima Horton, still his partner today. Both keen to continue acting in some shape or form, they founded an amateur troupe, the Brook Green Players. Rima, sharing Alan's liberal beliefs, would eventually become a politician, serving for many years on the council of Kensington and Chelsea.
Alan continued at the day job, on graduation forming a design company, Graphiti, with some friends. He'd continue taking design work till well into the Seventies. But closer and closer he came to professional acting. He played with another amateur troupe, the Court Drama Group, performing in the likes of Romeo And Juliet and View From A Bridge. Then, at the relatively late age of 26, wrote to RADA, hoping for an in. He got one.
Delivering a speech from Richard III at his audition, he was accepted, spending the next three years studying and performing Shakespeare and facing such emotional and technical challenges as Uncle Vanya and Ghosts. For his efforts, he was awarded the Emile Litter Prize, the Forbes Robertson Prize and the Bancroft Gold Medal.
. After leaving RADA, Rickman threw himself into any acting jobs going. Though he is, of course, renowned as an extremely serious actor, he played all manner of roles over the next four years, as he gained experience in weekly repertory theatre. With the Library Theatre Company in Manchester he took on farce and light comedy, performing in the likes of Babes In The Wood, Lock Up Your Daughters and There's A Girl In My Soup. He did Romeo And Juliet in Leicester, he was King Rat in Dick Whittington in Bristol, Sherlock Holmes in Birmingham where he also appeared in The Devil Is An Ass, he played the lead in Nijinsky, Laertes in Hamlet. There were musicals too, Rickman touring with both Guys And Dolls and Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. There were serious plays, naturally, like St Joan, but Rickman was grounding himself in every stage discipline - he could be still and desperately intense, magnetic and sexy, outlandish and larger than life.
From 1976, his cohort in all this - and this will seem monstrously peculiar to most of the British public - was Ruby Wax. They met at the Sheffield Crucible, where Rickman was a visiting player and Wax a member of the local troupe, and they became firm friends and something of a comedy double act, Rickman playing the straight man. Together, they gigged around the country, playing in Man Is Man and Ubu Rex at Bristol's Old Vic (both directed by Adrian Noble), then moved back to Sheffield in 1977 for As You Like It.
A year later, inevitably really, Rickman would join the Royal Shakespeare Company. Not so inevitably, Wax would join him there, as would a young actress with whom he'd later twang violently on the heart-strings of the nation - Juliet Stevenson. In this single season with the RSC he'd appear in The Tempest (starring Michael Hordern and Ian Charleson), Love's Labour's Lost (Michael Pennington and Jane Lapotaire), Antony And Cleopatra (Glenda Jackson, Jonathan Pryce, Patrick Stewart) and, in Stratford studio theatre The Other Place, he'd star in Captain Swing alongside Zoe Wanamaker
Unfortunately, it wasn't really working out. Given his age and his rootsy experience, he found the RSC elitist, their traditionalist structures too limiting. He stuck it for only a year, before returning to rep. Wax, too, encouraged by Rickman, was now branching out, particularly into writing , and would put on two shows with her RSC colleagues. The Johnson Wax Floorshow would star Rickman, Lapotaire, Charleson, Wanamaker, Pryce and David Suchet, while Juliet Stevenson, directed by Rickman, would perform in Desperately Yours.