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The Secret JK Rowling Told Alan Rickman That Totally Changed Snape

Severus Snape is one of the most complex characters in Harry Potter, and the man who portrayed him on screen knew him better than fans could even imagine. Spoilers for Harry Potter to follow!

Beloved British actor Alan Rickman sadly passed away in 2016, but in the decades that preceded his death, the performer became one of the most recognizable big screen staples around, and his most popular role may have been as Hogwarts' irascible Potions master Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films... As it turns out, series author J.K. Rowling made sure that he knew the character inside and out.

In a 2015 interview with ABC News in Australia, Rickman opened up — somewhat — about a secret that Rowling revealed to him that became essential to his performance. As he prepared for the role, Rickman wanted to sit down with Rowling to discuss the challenging character, and he ended up learning something from the writer that changed everything.

"I did talk to [JK Rowling], because I said to the producers, when I was asked to play it, because you have to remember that there had only been 3 books when we started filming, and I said I have to talk to her because I don't know how to play this part because it seems to be travelling down potentially two avenues at the same time," Rickman recounted. "And so they arranged for us to speak and I got put through to her on the phone. She was with her sister at the time and she said 'I can't talk now.' So that's how close she held everything to herself and so, we arranged to speak the next day when she was on her own."

However, exactly what Rowling told Rickman will remain a secret forever. "And then she gave me one very small piece of information which I have always vowed that I would never, ever repeat – even though the books are now done and everything," Rickman continued. "So I won't repeat it. It wasn't a fact, it was just kind of a clue that there's something that meant it was possible for me to think he was other than. [...] It just made him a little, something more human."

Severus Snape is an incredibly complicated character

While we will never know what Rowling specifically said to Rickman, fans of Harry Potter are already aware that Severus Snape is unquestionably the most complex character in the series. Presented as a villain at the outset, Snape seems like a bad guy through and through, especially when beloved Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) dies at his hands in the series' sixth installment.

However, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) ultimately learns that the man he believes is his nemesis has really been fighting by his side the whole time, due to the fact that Snape spent his life in love with Harry's late mother Lily Potter. As it turns out, Snape, despite working alongside the Dark Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) publicly, is a double agent working with Dumbledore to support Harry and bring down Voldemort, as retribution for Lily's murder.

Rowling very likely told Rickman about Snape's real motivations as he crafted his character, but the one little thing he mentions in his interview will stay a mystery. The Harry Potter films, including the late Rickman's beautifully nuanced performance, are available to buy or rent on major streaming platforms now.