Hans Gruber Was Alan Rickman's Most Popular Role

Alan Rickman Brought Hans Gruber’s Real Origins To Life

The entertainment world and its fans are mourning the unexpected loss of actor Alan Rickman to cancer this week as reported by The Inquisitr; a man who not only seized some of the most memorable roles in film history, but also the fictional Nakatomi building as Hans Gruber in the original 1988 movie, Die Hard.

The American Film Institute (AFI) who considers itself to be the main preserver of the heritage of the motion picture industry has a list of the 100 greatest heroes and villains and puts Hans Gruber at number 46 on that list.

According to the AFI, in order to make the list they have specific requirements.

  • Villain: For voting purposes, a “villain” was defined as a character(s) whose wickedness of mind, selfishness of character and will to power are sometimes masked by beauty and nobility, while others may rage unmasked. They can be horribly evil or grandiosely funny, but are ultimately tragic.
  • Cultural Impact: Characters who have a made a mark on American society in matters of style and substance.
  • Legacy: Characters who elicit strong reactions across time, enriching America’s film heritage while continuing to inspire contemporary artists and audiences.

When Alan Rickman was asked about his Hans Gruber character, he responded in defense of being referred to as a villain in a rare clip of an out take from the making of the movie, which is available to see on YouTube.

“As far as I’m concerned I’m not playing the villain, I’m just playing somebody who wants certain things in life, has made certain choices and goes after them.”

His admitted approach to Hans Gruber is not usually the center of focus during promotional periods, but it is common among actors. Such as with Micheal Keaton, who during his interview in the popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron, admitted that his character, while considered a villain in the remake of Robocop, is a person motivated by doing what he thought was the right thing.

When Die Hard was released in 1998, in the then popular film review show At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert, the two film critics are in agreement with Alan Rickman’s performance as Hans Gruber.

From World War II To West German Insurgent

Hans Gruber is based off of character with potentially realistic origins
Thorpe – Nothing lasts forever” by Derived from a digital capture (photo/scan) of the book cover (creator of this digital version is irrelevant as the copyright in all equivalent images is still held by the same party). Copyright held by the publisher or the artist. Claimed as fair use regardless.. Via Wikipedia.

Many Die Hard fans of the movie will know that the film is originally based on the 1979 serial thriller Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, whose character Anton “Little Tony The Red” Gruber, lays the foundation of the movie’s Hans Gruber, but with much less dialogue, as he’s only referred to from the perspective of the protagonist named Joe Leland, who John McClane is based from.

But the producers of the film reportedly stuck to as much of the original story as possible with the exception of adjusting the narration perspective for the screen and with changing the antagonist’s agenda.

The source of the Hans Gruber character also remains the same in that he comes from West Germany. And in the book, Hans Gruber is the son of an S.S. officer, 20 of which the older protagonist Joe Leland had killed during that war.

This realistic setting certainly helped the writer to establish the common connection of duality made between the hero and the villain in order to establish real conflict.

Hans Gruber's Origins Could Have Association To The Terrorist Group RAF
RAF-Logo” by Ratatosk – original WMF-file from http://www.rafinfo.de/archiv/logo.php?pic=logo03.wmf, converted to SVG. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Roderick Thorp’s background as a detective and a news writer likely provided him with plenty of source material to create characters like Hans Gruber, because there was a violent undertone to the activities of West Germany at the time.

For instance, “Little Tony The Red” is written to tie the character into a very real left-wing radical insurgent group that was likely referred to as the Red Army Faction (RAF) — considered a terrorist organization — which kidnapped and murdered a union leader and were also responsible for the deaths of about thirty people in the late seventies.

In the movie, the reporters uncover Hans Gruber’s previous association with a fictional terrorist group called the Volksfrei movement, who state they had cut ties with Gruber. The group is again, likely the RAF.

Even so, the movie makes it clear that Hans Gruber doesn’t take the ideology seriously, as he’s only there for the money. He still continues to put on the LAPD by making demands to release “comrades” languishing in prison as a distraction.

“The following people are to be released from their captors: In Northern Ireland, the seven members of the New Provo Front. In Canada, the five imprisoned leaders of Liberte de Quebec. In Sri Lanka, the nine members of the Asian Dawn movement.”

The character’s origins become even more convincing with the release of the third movie from the series Die Hard With A Vengeance, which reveals Gruber’s younger brother Simon Gruber, who also operates under the same cover of terrorism and seeking revenge on John McClane for killing his brother in order to rob the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Hans Gruber's Brother Simon Was A Thief In Die Hard 3
Gold bars at the Federal Reserve (Federal Reserve Bank of New York) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In fact, it’s later uncovered that his character’s origins are from East Germany, which creates a new back story for why there was conflict between the two brothers.

Hans Gruber’s Theft Of Nakatomi’s Bearer Bonds

Also, in the original story, the name of the company is not Nakatomi but KLAXON.

The group’s leader intends on exposing the corporation’s records and tossing the corporation’s assets out the window. But in the movie when Hans Gruber seizes Nakatomi plaza, in front of the employees and executives he denounces the corporation for its greed world wide and promises to show the company the true definition of power.

As Gruber isolates the CEO of the company, Mr. Takagi, he mentions the PLO leader Arafat as a purchaser of suits that he also owns along with what Takagi is wearing, which could either be a hint at his ideological support towards the Palestine Liberation Organization, which the Red Army Faction favored under the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Again, any association to these groups can be easily dismissed when the group made up of various Europeans means to steal bearer bonds in the original movie and gold bullion in the third movie, both of which are basically hard to trace and used as a last resort in case of public economic failure, but also the official source of financial security.

So it isn’t certain what the purpose is past robbing the company in this case other than the fact that they can. In any case, because Alan Rickman was coming from the theater and Hans was his first major film role, as the Hollywood Reporter mentioned above says, he had to be talked into taking the role that would cement his legacy and advance his career.

While all of the source material does its part to bring the Hans Gruber character to life, there is no doubt that, without Alan Rickman, the story would be very different.

[Featured image by Snape’s True Love via Flickr / CC BY 2.0]

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