As you may have heard, actor Alan Rickman, who performed in such films as Die Hard, Galaxy Quest, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Harry Potter movies, and countless more, passed away today after a battle with cancer. Whether fans remember him most fondly as John McClane’s foil Hans Gruber, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Dr. Lazarus, or the emotionally conflicted Severus Snape, there’s no question that how he comported himself—not just as an actor or lover of arts, but as a man—left an indelible impact on whoever encountered him.
For me, my Mr. Rickman will always be, first and foremost, the Metatron from Kevin Smith’s film Dogma. Oh, don’t misunderstand me: Whenever I think of the man, I will always drift back to thoughts of the silky calmness with which he approached the role of Gruber or how he managed to embody the roiling contradictions that filled the potions master Professor Snape. How could I not? There are so many roles that he’s made iconic that to think of Mr. Rickman attached to only one of them is nigh impossible.
Still, with his involvement in Dogma, my respect for Mr. Rickman as a professional soared to new heights, as his role as the Metatron showed just what type of man he was. For those unfamiliar with the film, Dogma revolves around two angels who have been cast from Heaven who discovered a loophole that would allow them to circumvent God’s final word. However, should the angels succeed, their actions would bring about the apocalypse. Mr. Rickman acts as a seraphim, the Metatron, who enlists Bethany Sloane, the last descendant of Christ, to stop the angels from bringing about the End of All Things. And, this being Kevin Smith, many shit, fart, and fuck jokes—some of them delivered by Mr. Rickman himself—are peppered throughout the film for good measure.
Here’s the thing, though: Mr. Rickman brought the same air of professionalism and respect to the script and the director as he would any other project. Don’t get me wrong: I love Kevin Smith, especially his early work, and, amid the crass comedy with which he imbues each of his stories, there are core messages that keep the films tied together. With Dogma, Smith addressed the nature of faith and, well, dogma that a religion can pick up like so much moss over the centuries. Heady stuff for any director to tackle.
And although Smith, while proven to be an adept filmmaker, only had three films under his directing belt, Mr. Rickman agreed to be in the film. With that role, he brought the same level of professionalism that he applied to any other project, even a film with giant poop monster and stoner prophets. In the DVD commentary for Dogma, Smith notes that Mr. Rickman’s very presence, on set and off, made all the other actors puff up their chests and bring their A-game, although the legend couldn’t be more welcoming. Smith went on to say that for the part of the Metatron, Mr. Rickman had to wear a particularly heavy harness any time his wings appeared on camera. Although it wrecked the actor’s back, he bulled through the performance like the pro he was.
That professionalism shone through whenever Mr. Rickman appeared on screen as well. His dialogue is a mixture of wry sarcasm, dry wit, barely-contained exasperation at his position as God’s mouthpiece, and compassion for the plight of humanity, and he elevates every utterance and seems to make the other actors better by extension. Smith’s films are jammed-packed with jokes and allusions and Mr. Rickman made each of those bits gut-busters, from lamenting that angels are as “anatomically impaired” as Ken dolls to rolling his eyes at the expressions humans make during sex, always stick the landing.
However, he also brought the softness and caring side to angels that make them worthy of God’s trust. The Metatron is a character who has seen humanity’s struggles since Day 1 and, while he might have an air of dismissiveness to him about our plight, Mr. Rickman brought the necessary compassion for and respect of humankind that an ancient being might develops over the eons. This is particularly on display when Metatron shows Bethany that, despite her godly bloodline, she has free will and, ultimately, is a person first and foremost, not an instrument of the divine. He carries a sadness about him at times when speaking of the burden that the young Jesus had to bear and cheers Bethany on, encouraging her and reminding just how strong she and the rest of humanity can be. Mr. Rickman wielded a gentle touch that was not always at the fore or appropriate in his other acting parts, but playing the Metatron showed how genuinely broad his range could be.
Thank you, Mr. Rickman, for bringing a touch of the divine not just to the role of the Metatron, but to the rest of cinema.
Alan Rickman passed away on January 14th. He was 69-years-old.