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How Alan Rickman brought a most evil Christmas movie character to life

Some find it hard to think of Die Hard as a Christmas movie, but few would argue that its bad guy was not the ultimate movie villain.

'We just want to know if he's going to get away with it or not'

The late Alan Rickman, seen appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014, was the actor who brought the villainous Hans Gruber to life in the original Die Hard. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
Before Die Hard came along in 1988, the Grinch was one of the most memorable malevolent characters to show up in a Christmas movie.

But the villainous Hans Gruber, the bad guy who takes over a Los Angeles skyscraper in Die Hard and plans to blow it up, is a lot more dangerous than a green-haired grump who steals Christmas presents from Whoville.

It was the late Alan Rickman who brought Die Hard's iconic and dastardly villain to life. He talked about the process of doing so with CBC Radio, a few years after the film came out.

As a side note: For those who may find it hard to believe Die Hard can be viewed as a Christmas movie, the film's screenwriter, Steven E. DeSouza has repeatedly stated on Twitter that it is.

No cares about 'the inner workings of his psyche'

The way Rickman, a classically trained actor, saw it, his job in Die Hard was to be a convincing bad guy.

"We don't want to know about the inner workings of his psyche, we just want to know if he's going to get away with it or not, really," Rickman told CBC Radio, just before Christmas in 1991.

In 1991 the British actor recalls how he broke into Hollywood movies and created the memorable villain of <em>Die Hard</em>. 14:48

"Is he interesting and do we want to watch him? And is he the right sort of bookend to Bruce Willis," Rickman added. "So that's the job, is to, you know, make another bookend."

He carried that thinking through to the way his character needed to dress, in order to stand out from the on-screen hero-cop character played by Willis — and he advocated for that and made it happen.

"Eventually, I got a suit and that was the right bookend to Bruce [Willis] because he was going to be in a T-shirt and sweat," said Rickman.

'It was risky'

And while Rickman would go on to be a very high-profile film actor in the years to come, Die Hard was, surprisingly, the first movie he had worked on. 

"I hadn't ever made a film before. You know, I was like a child in FAO Schwarz, it was great fun," said Rickman.

Die Hard was clearly a major departure from his previous work on television and the stage.

"It was risky, you know, you're seeing all this violence and mayhem going on and you're thinking: 'Oh, my God. What am I in?'" Rickman recalled, when thinking back to his work on the film.

"But actually, as it turns out, I think it's a really, great film, it's really well-made."

Rickman would go on to appear in further blockbusters, like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and eight Harry Potter movies. Indeed, his career on the big screen lasted until his death, at the age of 69, in January of 2016.