Harry Potter: Alan Rickman and the meaning behind ‘always’

Harry Potter actor Alan Rickman’s death has brought about the meaning and story behind ‘always’. 

The recent death of respected British actor Alan Rickman took many of us by surprise, and following his death we have been getting some new, precious information about one of his most well-known performances.

Luke Kerr-Dineen of USA Today notes that Rickman disclosed in 2011 that J.K. Rowling gave him a bit of advice, at the beginning of making the Harry Potter movies, about playing Professor Snape.

“She gave me one tiny, little, left of field piece of information that 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.”

Ever since he made this disclosure, the substance of Rowling’s advice has been the subject of much speculation.

Today, Rowling answered the question on Twitter of what she told Rickman about playing Professor Snape.

This is that “tiny, little, left of field piece of information” that showed Alan Rickman that his character was more complicated and the story was more ambiguous than everyone assumed at the time. Snape’s Patronus took the form of a doe, identical to that of Lily Potter, because he had been in love with her when they were children and still loved her all those years after her death.

Harry’s father, James Potter, was one of Severus Snape’s most unrelenting tormentors during their school years, and Severus never forgave him. It was because of that resentment of James that Professor Snape was so hostile to Harry as his student, and it was because of his love for Lily that he devoted years of his life to keeping Harry alive.

Rowling made sure to tell Rickman at the beginning that his character, a teacher who never missed an opportunity to bully and terrify his less-favored students, was at his core motivated by genuine, unselfish love for the memory of a woman he could never have. That knowledge of Snape’s ambiguity informed Rickman’s performance through eight movies of a character most of us cannot imagine played by anyone else.