Known to most as Severus Snape, Alan Rickman was a highly revered British actor, both on screen and on stage. Throughout his career, Rickman starred in many critically acclaimed films including “Die Hard” (1988) and “Sense and Sensibility” (1995). His decades-long career resulted in a British Academy Film Award, Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Screen Actors Guild Award, and plenty more wins and nominations for his dozens of projects.
Rickman passed away in January 2016 as a result of pancreatic cancer. At the time, countless tributes from actors, musicians, playwrights, directors and others in the entertainment industry were plastered all over newspapers and social media, expressing great gratitude for his contributions to the performing arts. Over six years after his passing, his personal diaries have been published in the book, “Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman” (2022). Running from 1993 to 2015, ending a mere 33 days before his death, the diaries account some of the major events in Rickman’s life and contain many never-before-heard bits of gossip and insight into his world.
The book opens with a foreword from Rickman’s dear friend and fellow actress, Emma Thompson. The two starred in many projects together including the “Harry Potter” (2001–11) franchise and “Love Actually” (2003). Thompson describes Rickman’s kind nature and his constant generosity. In a heartwarming quote, Thompson says, “He was above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.” In both the foreword and the frequent mentions of Thompson in Rickman’s diaries, it is clear the two had a great impact on one another throughout the course of their long friendship.
The diary entries are frequently short, often not longer than a couple of sentences. Despite being short, the entries provide much detail into Rickman’s life, specifically the hecticness of his schedule. In the early entries, Rickman is constantly filming, traveling or meeting with others in the industry. It feels like Rickman rarely took a day off and even when he was not working, he was thinking about work and anticipating his next project — a true testament to his dedication and work ethic.
Rickman was a critic and throughout his diaries, there are many entries that are simply reviews of other people’s work. Most notably, in 1999 Rickman gave his candid opinions on the “Mamma Mia!” musical, calling it “good fun, but could easily be sensational,” before going on to say, “Some real choreographing (rather than the dated TV variety show spins and finger snapping) would help.” Other mentions include praising Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” (1995) after meeting her and listening to Adele’s “21” (2011) and saying, “She’s doing what she was born to.”
Similarly, Rickman frequently name-drops fellow actors, showing his connectedness with others in the industry. Aside from the obvious, like Thompson and his fellow “Harry Potter” actors, Rickman often mentions spending time with the highly accomplished Ian McKellen and even once spent Christmas with Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson, a Christmas dinner that was also attended by Stanley Tucci, Meryl Streep and Bette Midler. When discussing time spent with friends in the industry, there is a clear love for them and a desire for them to succeed.
Another interesting aspect of the diaries is Rickman’s personal thoughts on major events in both entertainment history and history as a whole. In a 1997 entry, after a friend told him the news of Princess Diana’s death (which Rickman originally could not comprehend and thought was a joke), he wrote, “No—here on the terrace of the Gritti Palace, glittering in the sun and clearly one of the most beautiful places in the world, the news is brutal and true.” Rickman further went on to write, “The newspapers are thick with it. Pictures of Diana crowd the pages; flowers carpet the streets. It is true—a light has gone out. A legend begins,” showing his admiration for the late princess. Rickman also accounts the 2005 London Bombings, which resulted in Rickman spending the day inside and answering worried phone calls from friends and family. He even writes about the death of Heath Ledger saying, “I met him in NY… Quiet, contained, and so talented.”
With Snape being one of the most complex, beloved characters in the “Harry Potter” franchise, many will undoubtedly read the diaries to hear his thoughts on the films. Rickman was originally offered the role in 2000 and accepted it in August of that year before having his first conversation with author J.K. Rowling in October. In their first conversation, Rowling said she would give Rickman a few insights into Snape’s character. The following day, Rickman wrote, “Talk to Joanne Rowling again and she nervously lets me in on a few glimpses of Snape’s background. Talking to her is talking to someone who lives these stories, not invents them.”
There are many insights into the filming of the series in Rickman’s diaries. When filming “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), specifically the scene when Snape catches Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) walking the halls with the Marauder’s Map, Rickman wrote, “He’s so concentrated now. Serious and focused—but with a sense of fun. I still don’t think he’s really an actor but he will undoubtedly direct/produce.” Rickman also praised the now Academy Award-winning director, Alfonso Cuarón who directed the third film saying, “It is a very grown-up movie, so full of daring that it made me smile and smile. Every frame of it is the work of an artist and story-teller.”
Despite enjoying some of his time on the films, it is clear Rickman often felt his talent was wasted and his heart was not always in it. When discussing “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005), Rickman described some of his scenes with Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon as a “monumental waste of energies,” going on further to state he felt “so shafted on this film.” As the series progressed, Rickman seemed unsure if he wanted to continue when he wrote, after agreeing to “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007), “The sensation is neither up nor down. The argument that wins is the one that says ‘See it through. It’s your story,’” once again showing dedication to his work, even when he was not the most invested in the project.
When the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” (2007) novel was released, Rickman read the book. In a beautiful quote, Rickman wrote, “Snape dies heroically, Potter describes him to his children as one of the bravest men he ever knew and calls his son Albus Severus. This was a genuine rite of passage. One small piece of information from Jo Rowling 7 years ago—Snape loved Lily—gave me a cliff edge to hang on to.” Many fans of the series are familiar that Rickman knew facts about Snape that only he and Rowling were privy to and this diary tells us exactly what that was; Rickman knew all along that Snape always loved Lily, and that is why he acted the way he did.
Since the final book was released in 2007, Rickman still had two movies “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1” (2010), before Snape would meet his fate.The filming of “Half-Blood Prince” was tough for Rickman as, with his knowledge of Snape’s past, some of the lines did not make sense to him and his criticism of the script often resulted in arguments with the director. In his final film in the series, when shooting his death scene, Rickman showed more displeasure toward the script saying, “Something is very wrong… apart from the deadly nature of the lines themselves.”
Despite some of his issues on the set of “Harry Potter,” Rickman concluded with mixed emotions. He writes about the plethora of documentary cameras on set on his final day pestering him for details on how he was feeling and his response: “It’s private,” and “I’m not sharing that with that,” Rickman said while pointing at a documentary camera, illustrating his more private side. The entry on his final day on “Harry Potter” concludes with, “Something is in those cans and it is finished. Thanks, Jo.” Even with his on-set struggles throughout the decade-long filming of the franchise, Rickman persevered and managed to deliver one of the best performances in the films, with his near-final word, “always,” being one of the most emotional and iconic in the whole series.
It is truly a gift to be able to see into the life and mind of such an accomplished and praised actor such as Rickman. His diaries, though they were never intended to be published, allow for an intimate glimpse into the life of a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Alan Taylor, a journalist who worked on compiling the diaries for this book, summarizes it perfectly — “Reading this book is as close we can get to being there ourselves and to encountering the real Alan Rickman. What a privilege it is to spend time in his company.”