HARRY Potter and Cracker star Robbie Coltrane has spoken about his personal demons, how he views global fame and the legacy he will leave behind.
The actor, who plays gentle giant Hagrid in the Potter movies, gives a rare insight into his personal life during an interview with Melvyn Bragg on tonight’s South Bank Show.
Robbie, 56, has also portrayed 18th century literary legend Dr Samuel Johnson several times and said he can identify with his hero’s terrible depressions.
He is asked by Bragg: “Did you find some kind of succour, some kind of identity with the depressions?”
“Yes. Definitely yes,” replied Robbie. “He was visited by the old dark dog quite a lot. He did have weeks on end where he could not get out of bed.”
Bragg: “Do you think sometimes, when you’ve been down, that work’s been a salvation?”
Robbie reflects: “The thing about being visited with depression – and I’m not saying that I’m suicidal or anything like that, but I do get down sometimes – I would say that if somebody says, ‘You’ve got to be on set tomorrow at six o’clock’ and there’s going to be, well, Harry Potter, there’s 1500 crew – you’d better pull yourself together before six o’clock tomorrow and know your words and know why you’re there and be convincing, because it’s going to be on a bit of celluloid forever, probably. So it does have the effect of pullling it together.”
He talks about the worldwide fame that roles in two James Bond films and the Harry Potter movies has brought him.
“I’m pleased to be there in the sense that I get considered for bigger parts and more interesting parts and parts that expose me to a lot of talented people who otherwise I might not meet.
“In terms of the famous thing, being famous has been so devalued as an achievement in life in the last 10 years, that it certainly wouldn’t be anything that I would aspire to now if I was starting out, because there are just so many magazines devoted to trivia about people who are in the public eye for one reason or another.
“You have money but you can’t do all the things with it that you would like to do. You can’t go to Spain for your holidays. You get leapt on and mobbed by people. I find it very odd because I don’t understand what they want for you.”
Harry Potter author JK Rowling tells the ITV1 documentary. “When we came to the point where there was even a possibility of Hagrid appearing on screen, I do remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s Robbie Coltrane.’
“Because Hagrid is very loveable but he must, if he’s to be plausible, have a centre of menace as well. Hagrid is physically very intimidating and, as the stories go on in the books, he has to be capable of real anger. And I felt that needed someone with real range, to give that sense of suppressed power.”
Robbie comments: “It is a fantastic idea that you might actually leave something that’s worth leaving. Two billion people saw the Bond movies. The same sort of numbers watched the Harry Potter films, and they’re good films. It’s beautiful writing, it’s beautifully imaginative stories, it’s positive about being young. Nothing could be nicer than that.
“All these little children, you sign little pictures for them, they have them above their bed and wish their dad was more like Hagrid, because maybe their dad’s not very nice. That’s a fantastic thing to be involved in. And the residuals will put the kids through college.”
Robbie, who is back on screen a week today as Cracker criminal psychologist Fitz (left), also talks about the period in his life when he first became famous, via the 1987 BBC1 comedy drama Tutti Frutti. Robbie played Danny McGlone, lead singer of Scottish rock ‘n roll band The Majestics, co-starring alongside Emma Thompson as Suzi Kettles.
Coltrane confessed he enjoyed what he would describe as “a few lotions” – but was soon put right by Emma.
“Because she was brought up in a theatrical family, she was much more professional than I was. I’d been doing sketch shows and I was over-confident, I would say, in those days.
“I’d decided it was all rock ‘n roll and that whatever it was, I had it, and Bob’s your uncle. And the whole business of study and behaving yourself and going to bed at night had not entered my…”
Bragg interrupts: “Were you in the era then of, ‘I’ve made it, I can get sloshed all the time and go for it?’”
Robbie: “Kind of. Yes, there was a bit of that. I am Jimi Hendrix and I can play when I’ve been smoking a joint the size of a drainpipe. There was that kind of feeling. You do get a bit of that.
“It doesn’t last for more than about a year, I would say. Well, it lasts for a lot longer in some people. They tend not to last to the end of the game, shall we say.
“And she taught me about professionalism. It is 99 per cent perspiration and the rest is inspiration and so on. Which you would have thought would be quite obvious to a moderately intelligent person. But I needed a telling and Emma gave it to me.”
He is asked by Bragg about going through “a period of excess in various ways”.
Robbie: “Excess is always interesting. It’s always interesting to know what the parameters of your mind are and your behaviour are.
“I suppose, to be honest, what happens when you become successful in any endeavour, it does start to compensate for the fact that you always felt you were a bit odd when your were younger, that you didn’t quite fit in, you didn’t quite think the way people behaved made much sense.
“And suddenly you feel justified – ‘I know why it was. It’s because I’m a seriously talented person, so now I can do what I like.’ Almost everybody does that.”
Actor friend John Sessions said Robbie came to a crossroads in that period of his life and faced a dilemma. “Should he be this Belushi-ish, roustabouti guy who’s just got this foot flat on the floor? Fortunately, that wasn’t the course he took, because I think if he had done, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about current work.”
Robbie also talks about his return to Manchester to film the new Cracker story – Nine Eleven – which will be screened on ITV1 at 9pm a week today. The South Bank Show is on ITV1 at 11.10pm tonight.
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