CLOSE
Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

10 Surprising Facts About Alan Rickman

Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Jemal Countess/Getty Images

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 71st 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.

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. 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. ACCORDING TO SCIENCE, RICKMAN HAS A “PERFECT” MALE VOICE.

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.

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.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
iStock
iStock

People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cost Plus World Market
arrow
Smart Shopping
18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
Cost Plus World Market
Cost Plus World Market

Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

Buy on Amazon.

2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

Buy on Amazon.

3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

Buy on ThinkGeek.

4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

Buy on Amazon.

5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

Buy on Amazon.

6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

Buy on Amazon.

7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

Buy on Amazon.

9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

Buy on Amazon.

10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

Buy on Amazon.

11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

Buy on Amazon.

12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

Buy on Amazon.

13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

Buy on Amazon.

14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

Buy on Amazon.

15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

Buy on Amazon.

16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

Buy on Amazon.

17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios