Although he made his name playing ruthless, genteel villains like Die Hard's Hans Gruber and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' Sheriff of Nottingham, Alan Rickman has proven himself equally remarkable in romantic, comic, and good-guy dramatic roles. An actor of brooding charisma who intones his lines in a deep, milky baritone, Rickman began his career on-stage, building up a sizable resumé before embarking on a film career.
Of Irish and Welsh parentage, Rickman was born in London's Hammersmith district on February 21, 1946. His father, who was a painter and decorator, died of cancer when the actor was eight, leaving behind Rickman, his mother, and three siblings. After winning a scholarship to West London's Latymer Upper School, Rickman began acting at the encouragement of his teachers. He also developed an interest in art, and he went on to study graphic design at the Royal College of Art. He founded a Soho-based design company, but after deciding that his heart was in acting, he abandoned the company when he was 26 to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He spent three years there, serving as a dresser to such actors as Ralph Richardson and Nigel Hawthorne. After leaving RADA, Rickman began to make his name on the stage, first appearing in repertory and then landing lead roles in London productions. He gained particular acclaim for his portrayal of Valmont in a West End production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, eventually reprising his role for the Broadway production and winning a Tony nomination.