There’s a lot I’d like to say to you. A lot of things I’ll never get the chance to because, well — you’re dead.
(Sorry if I was the one to break it to you.)
Let’s be honest though, I was probably never going to get to meet you. I don’t live in Los Angeles or New York City (the two cities where everyone seems to have met someone famous.) I’ve been to London and England exactly once.
Anyway, my point is, even if you were still alive (again, sorry about that) I’d probably never get the chance to tell you anything in person.
But you should know how much you were loved.
I don’t remember the first time I saw you act. It might have been in Die Hard? That seems like something my dad would have watched and I would have seen it in passing.
Maybe the first time I saw you was in Sense & Sensibility? I was just five when this movie came out, so I didn’t see it in theaters but it definitely would have been on TV at some point in the years following.
I remember seeing you in Galaxy Quest — a rare comedy for you, such a serious actor. You were such fun to watch. I watched it so many times the summer that movie came out and I loved just listening to your voice and the wit that tripped so neatly from it.
(And Dogma! How could I forget Dogma? When you dropped your pants and were as smooth as a Ken Doll 😂 I like to think you’re up there now, watching that movie and laughing and throwing popcorn at the screen with actual archangels.)
And I watched you in Love Actually, when you cheated on Emma Thompson with your secretary and incidentally, the two of you introduced me to a great love of mine, Joni Mitchell. You shared a scene with Rowan Atkinson that makes me double over in laughter even today. And you doled out such fatherly, friendly advice to Laura Linney that it still makes me cry. (You were good at making me cry.)
I know for a fact that I saw you in Harry Potter, when I was 11. I was — and still am — such a huge fan of that series. It’s said you signed on to do all eight movies even thought you’d only read through Prisoner of Azkaban. I like to think you saw something in Snape that most of us didn’t.
I know you said once that you didn’t really like playing Snape and I think I can see why. Snape wasn’t a good man, and you were. You had to have known when you took on the role that it would be career-defining. So much of him and his character would be indelibly tied to your face.
But you played him with such an emotional fragility that you won over millions of fans to his side. JK Rowling even thanked you after your death for bringing life and justice to her “most complex” character.
You played villains particularly well. And I mean that as a compliment. I think it takes a special type of empathy in a person to play a villain well. You have to truly understand good to understand what it takes (and what it has taken) to make someone bad.
It’s also what made you such a good director. Your first movie as a director was with Emma Thompson, and your second was with Kate Winslet. A Little Chaos. I saw it years ago and had no idea it was your movie, but now that I know, I wonder how I could have ever missed it. It is soft and serious, witty and intelligent and interesting — all at once.
I love watching behind the scenes footage of the Harry Potter movies, because you always seemed to be laughing or smiling. (How funny to see dour Snape smile and laugh!) But I suppose you couldn’t help but let the real you shine through. By all accounts you were wickedly funny, and you were kind.
To be remembered mainly as funny and kind: That is not just a good legacy — that is the best.
We can see it in the characters you played, too. So many people think Colonel Brandon of the novel is a wet blanket. He’s hard to wrap a modern understanding around. In the novel, he’s sort of a deus ex machina — not really fit for much more than moving the plot along. Though he loves Marianne, and we love him for that, Brandon was often forgotten next to the likes of Darcy.
But not since you played him.
In the movie, you brought something more to the character. Brandon became flesh and blood, with a backstory that informs every move he makes. A single twitch or overlong stare from you and we’re captivated by your thoughts — plain as day on your face but it still leaves us wondering what’s unsaid.
When you did speak, we remember the words and how you said them. Sometimes, my friend B and I quote them to each other because it makes us laugh. (I think you would have liked that.) Your deep voice was your calling card — iconic, like you. Sonorous and soft, it was like a deep rumble of thunder that couldn’t be contained.
I wish you could see the reverence when people speak of you to us. It’s always tinged with sadness though, these days. I wish you could see the community of support around Austen — a community that so gladly shares their love and laughter for literature and finding the fun in life. I think you would have liked that.
I know you gave Daniel Radcliffe a copy of Catcher in the Rye once, because he thanked you for it publicly. I like that you cared about your young coworkers enough to set them on the path toward good literature. I wonder what you gave to Rupert and Emma? I hope they confided secrets in you, and thought of you like an uncle.
Emma Thompson certainly loved you. It’s so plain to see, even past the public façades celebrities have to maintain. You worked together so much, and after you died, she said that she’d learned a lot from you. She wrote the role of Colonel Brandon with you in mind, and even though it was your first time acting together, you both brought an easy, natural friendship to the screen. It leaps off the screen and crackles.
I don’t think we can ever know celebrities the way we think we do — or as well as we think we do. They put on a public persona and a private one, and we are rarely if ever privy to the latter. But, if you have to leave a mark on this world, I think someone could do far worse than to follow in your footsteps. To me, you appeared kind, intelligent, witty, and observant — in all the best possible ways.
I hope someone told you all of this while you were alive. Or at least, maybe you can hear it now that you’re not. (Sorry I keep bringing that up…) You were gone too soon, but what you left behind was beautiful.
Sometimes it’s hard to watch this movie, knowing that it’s one of a finite number of works you made for us. I guess that’s sort of like Jane Austen herself, though. Just because someone is a great talent or a wonderful person, it doesn’t mean we get to keep them around longer.
I wish I could have met you though, and maybe, hopefully in my face and many unsaid words, you would have seen deep respect.
(And by the way — Fuck Cancer.)