‘Harry Potter’ Almost Had a Very Different Severus Snape

The Big Picture

  • Severus Snape’s moral ambiguity is a crucial aspect of the Harry Potter franchise, and Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the character became iconic.
  • Tim Roth was originally considered for the role of Snape, but ultimately turned it down, leading to Rickman being cast instead.
  • Rickman’s performance as Snape was exceptional, as he brought depth and complexity to the character that greatly impacted the series.


The character of Severus Snape and his moral ambiguity are unquestionably a critical part of the Harry Potter franchise. Throughout the film series, the role is played by Alan Rickman, who embodies the character phenomenally. In fact, he played the part so well that many fans cannot imagine the films without Rickman’s Snape. Given Rickman’s history of playing incredible villains, no one should be surprised that he nailed this part. But before landing on Rickman for his now iconic role of Snape, the producers very nearly went in a different direction for the character. Casting can be a difficult process, and it’s not uncommon for actors to come close to parts before another wins out. That is what happened with Snape before Rickman took on the role.

Originally, British actor Tim Roth was in talks to play the character. Roth is now recognizable for playing Emil Blonsky or “Abomination” in The Incredible Hulk and later in the MCU as well. But, before that, he was the studio’s first choice for Snape and was on board for it. Though ultimately, the part went to Rickman, who played it well, the situation raises the question of what Roth would have done with Snape’s character if things were different. Certainly, he is more than capable, but no two actors would play a part exactly the same way. And in this case, it could change more than just the character. With so much of the story riding on Snape, even a slightly different portrayal could have made a difference to the entire Harry Potter film series.

harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone-movie-poster-01

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Release Date
November 16, 2001

Director
Chris Columbus

Cast
Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Saunders Triplets, Daniel Radcliffe, Fiona Shaw

Rating
PG

Runtime
152

Genres
Adventure, Family, Fantasy

Writers
J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves

Tagline
Let the magic begin


Snape Is an Iconic Part of the ‘Harry Potter’ Series

Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) in the Sorceror's Stone staring at Harry Potter
Image via Warner Bros.

Snape may be the Potions Master, but he is more than just another Hogwarts teacher. Severus Snape appears in all eight Harry Potter films and fluctuates widely between hero and villain. In the end, it’s clear that he is neither. Snape shows dedication to Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), though he is the one to kill the Hogwarts headmaster. Snape bullies Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends but also protects them on several occasions, too. It’s impossible to decide if he’s good or bad, and that’s what’s important about the character. The story relies on no one knowing who he will side with at any given moment, and his motivations are unclear until his death.

Everything Snape does throughout the story is motivated by his love for Lily Potter. But, as the fact isn’t revealed until his final moments, his ultimate loyalty cannot be relied on in the earlier films. His hate for Harry’s father also runs strong, giving him complex feelings towards Harry that constantly raise questions about his loyalties. But Snape’s importance lies in his role as the double agent, a job he does so well that even Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) doesn’t question it. Throughout most of the series, Dumbledore is the only one who knows Snape is firmly against the Dark Lord despite his past. Secretive characters can often get lost on screen because it’s impossible to fully understand their role until the last minute. Yet, from his very introduction, Snape is unforgettable, and a large part of that must be credited to Rickman.

Why Didn’t Tim Roth Take the Part of Snape in the ‘Harry Potter’ Films?

Tim Roth in 'The Incredible Hulk'
Image via Marvel Studios

After Rickman’s performance, it may be difficult to imagine anyone else as Snape, but given that he was offered the role, Roth must have auditioned well. Though fans will never see what he would have done with the part, the producers and casting agents were impressed by him. Roth is several years younger than Rickman, which would have been more accurate for the original character, who was only 31 years old at the beginning of the series. Though Rickman’s age was only a minor problem, fans of the books usually prefer accuracy when possible. Before auditioning for Harry Potter, Roth appeared in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Four Rooms, among other projects. As a popular actor in the 80s, Roth was one of the rising British stars collectively referred to as the “Brit Pack.” He shares that distinction with Harry Potter actor Gary Oldman, who played Sirius Black, Snape’s childhood enemy.

Despite expressing interest in the role of Severus Snape, Roth ultimately turned it down. He realized that should he take the role, it would be what he was most remembered for. He explained on an episode of There’s Something About Movies, “I just thought, ‘I’ll be on every lunchbox or whatever it is. I’ll be known for that role.'” Roth turned it down and spent that year playing Thade in Tim Burton‘s Planet of the Apes instead. So, the role of Snape needed a different actor, leading the producers to Rickman. Being such a significant part of a film with the popularity of Harry Potter would have changed the trajectory of his life, yet it seems he never wanted that level of fame for a single role. In a Reddit Ask Me Anything, Roth said he doesn’t regret his choice and went so far as to say that “the better man for the job did the job.”

Alan Rickman Is the Perfect Severus Snape

Losing an actor in such a critical role could have been a disaster for the films, but in the end, it worked out for them. When Rickman received the offer of Snape, he didn’t hesitate. He played Snape for a decade in the Harry Potter films, and nothing in his portrayal ever suggested to the audience that he wasn’t the first choice for the part. In fact, Rickman was author J. K. Rowling‘s first choice for the role. Some even believe she was inspired by Rickman when writing the character in her novel. Being allowed to know the secrets about Snape’s character before the final books made their reveals helped Rickman make Snape memorable. He played up the moral ambiguity, making it easy to dislike the character and yet equally easy to accept him as not entirely evil by the end. Rickman committed fully to the role, commanding the screen whenever he showed up. His unique pace of speaking set Snape apart, built intensity, and occasionally added humor without making Snape a joke. In short, Rickman was essential in turning Snape into the iconic character he is. Unfortunately, the actor passed away only five years after the series was completed. But he will always be remembered as the perfect Severus Snape.

Exactly what Roth would have done if he had played the part of Severus Snape will always be a mystery, but perhaps it’s for the best. As talented as Roth is, Rickman embodied the role of Snape, making the character into the legend he has become. Roth would have very likely made a fine Snape, but there is no denying that Rickman rose to the occasion, second choice or not. Now, it is nearly impossible to think about the Harry Potter films without thinking of Alan Rickman as the iconic Professor Severus Snape.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the rest of the franchise is available to watch on Max in the U.S.

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