Telling the story of actor Robbie Coltrane, who talks candidly about his career. Featuring exclusive interviews with JK Rowling, Jimmy McGovern and Keith Allen.
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Real ale? Bah!
He is one of Britain's most loved comedy performers.
He's dry, he can be very crude, he's just a very funny guy.
It's a pleasure.
And also one of the most respected actors in the business.
He creates an electric atmosphere on a set.
# A-wop-bop-a-loom-op a-lop-bam-boom! #
He just brings amazing authority to whatever he does.
And he is known throughout the world for his role in one of the most
successful series of movies the film industry has ever known.
-Sorry about that.
-Robbie does great voices.
Bond, James Bond! Meet Mina and Verushka.
He's got such a naturalism about him,
the camera captures what he's thinking.
This is only supposed to happen in the movies.
Like having a comedian on set.
I think Robbie Coltrane is a total one-off.
-And I think it's his range that staggers.
These are The Many Faces of Robbie Coltrane.
Nim! Nim! Nim!
Robbie Coltrane's career has seen him
go from alternative comedy stalwart in the early '80s to playing
alongside the biggest names in Hollywood.
He could play a Norfolk farmer, or he could play
this sort of alcoholic man having a marital breakdown.
It's hard for a writer to work with Robbie,
because he is so intelligent.
I really had problems, because he was so funny.
Strictly platonic. Keep your hands to yourself.
So, I used to have to... walk away quite a lot.
I know it's going to be hard, there's nothing I can do about that. OK?
It's just hands off.
'A Renaissance man, really.'
He was a jack of all trades, master of quite a few of them.
-Let's get those gays out of the closet!
-Oh, yes, sir!
All right, let's move it out!
-Add to his CV a Bond baddie with a sense of humour...
Can't you just say hello like a normal person?
..and of course, Hagrid in the Harry Potter films,
and you have a diverse and very impressive career.
-Right, then. This way to the boats, come on!
Born Robert McMillan, the former public schoolboy
and Glasgow art student changed his name to Coltrane after
the jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane.
While working at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1978,
Robbie Coltrane got his first big break,
when he bumped into trendy New York arthouse director, Amos Poe.
We started talking about films, and we talked for about, I think,
three days, and suddenly realised we were brothers, of a sort.
Recognising the enormous talent of the young Scot,
Amos Poe asked Robbie to New York to play the lead in his latest film.
The first one I made was Subway Riders,
which was about a psychopathic saxophone player, who played
so beautifully that people gathered round,
and then he took his gun out and shot them all, and then got on the subway.
That's it, the guy's a saxophonist!
Shot guerrilla-style on the subways of New York, Subway Riders
had a limited budget and Amos Poe was not only the director,
but the writer, producer and health and safety officer as well.
I said, "So, if I pull this thing out and run down and bang him away
"and he gets winged, what are the security systems?"
He says, "Don't you worry about that.
"That's all going to be OK." Of course, the thing is, New York,
how many off-duty cops are there who've got
a 38 Detective Special or a 45?
He says, "10 seconds, 10 seconds of your life, Robbie,
"how likely is it that someone will shoot you?" I'm going, "Erm...
"Quite likely indeed."
I think my fee was endless roast beef sandwiches on rye.
I think that's what all of us got, because we just wanted to make movies.
You know me, high on crime and feeling groovy.
Having survived New York, Robbie returned to the UK in 1982
to make a short film with former Monkees drummer
and now TV director, Micky Dolenz. He loved Robbie so much,
he also used him in a kids' show he was making for ITV, Metal Mickey.
-Hello, my little fruit bat.
While it can't be considered the high point in Robbie's career...
I don't have to grovel, do I?
..it did lead to a meeting that would change his life.
About 1982, we were casting our first Comic Strip film,
Five Go Mad In Dorset.
And who should be in the room next door, but Micky Dolenz?
Who was in America's answer to The Beatles.
And he said, "I've just worked with this larger-than-life,
"fantastic guy called Robbie Coltrane,
"you should see him for your film, he's very funny."
I went, "Oh, yeah, what does he know?"
So I came down to meet the guy, and he said,
"Erm, the main parts, obviously, have gone to The Comic Strip."
He said, "Well, there's two parts, there is
"an inappropriately randy gypsy, there is a really horrible,
"middle-aged woman in the sweetie shop..."
There's been a lot of strange comings and goings in this village.
Secrets and signs and...threats...
I thought, "Well, if you give me them both, I'll have it."
He went, "You're on."
-You really are a brick!
-It's a pleasure. Right down nice, you are.
Shown on Channel 4's opening night,
this was The Comic Strip's first film and made Robbie one of the faces
of a new and groundbreaking movement, alternative comedy.
MUSIC: "White Riot" by The Clash
Never mind Norman Bates, you wouldn't want to get in a shower with her, would you?
Yes, musical satire, yes!
It was just fun, it was, you know, that energy, that wonderful energy.
And to be involved in that, it was just fantastic.
Sorry, guv'nor, apples and pears, tit-for-tat,
I love London Town, and I was at Violet's funeral.
'Well, the Young Ones were my pals.'
And they threw me in, occasionally.
Appearances on the revolutionary Young Ones,
and Behind The Green Door With Kevin Turvey, Rik Mayall's other comedy creation,
cemented Robbie's credentials as an alternative comedian.
Telly's crap today.
What do you mean? There's a war film on in a bit.
You know, "Kevin Tur-voi", you know, comes from Redditch and I wasn't
quite sure how to do the accent, but Rik gave me lots of notes.
I've got four pairs of shoes, right?
Now, one of them is brown and the rest are black.
Now, I lend him the brown ones, in fact,
I have done on a couple of occasions, but not the black ones.
I know it sounds odd, but it's just the way I like to live my life.
But it was The Comic Strip to which Robbie always returned,
which allowed him to show off his versatility as a comic actor.
One of my favourite characters Robbie ever played
with The Comic Strip was in a film called Gino,
where he plays this sort of desperate character called Max.
Do you want a lift?
Who is careering across the countryside in a Mk 10 Jag.
And he's having a mental breakdown and he's drinking Scotch
and he pulls up and he takes up with this young couple,
Keith Allen and Jennifer Saunders, and just unburdens
himself on them in this kind of monologue, which is just fantastic.
I'm an epileptic. Well, I've been all right since Christmas.
My wife says I'm crazy and ought to be locked up. Perhaps she's right!
God, she's beautiful. Wish I could see her.
She won't let me in the house without a lawyer.
I mean, that's not a proper marriage, is it? Hmm?
-Are you, er, are you married?
It's a great high-energy performance from Robbie
and I think it is still very funny.
Probably a part he understands quite well, really.
I admit it, I am a bit of a mess just now. I haven't slept for seven days.
'I remember sitting in the car thinking,'
"This is a bit unbelievable," you know, the dog-ends, the whisky.
And I remember thinking, "It's a little bit over the top here,"
and Robbie going, "Am I all right? Am I mad?"
If someone doesn't start to understand me right now,
I'm going to kill us all, and I mean it!
But many years later, I remember being that person, being Robbie!
Because The Comic Strip was sort of this troupe, you know,
was sort of this gang, who took on loads of different roles
and actually churned out the product, you know,
they did a lot of stuff, it was almost like, I guess,
being in a sort of travelling theatre troupe where you have
to do all the roles and you have to really put the work in,
and that's great experience
and you really learn your craft by doing that.
Who are you?
I'm Ken Livingstone, I live upstairs.
Not Dr Livingstone, I presume?
No, I'm not a doctor, well, not in a medical sense.
Robbie played Charles Bronson as Ken Livingstone in a film we did called GLC.
Which was kind of like a spoof of the Death Wish films.
It's a story about an ordinary guy whose wife
and family gets wiped out by these creeps.
So naturally, he has to follow them
and wipe them out one at a time in a prolonged and very cruel way.
I see, thank you.
I just thought it was a great choice, actually.
Because an awful lot of these films are about revenge,
about people going, "You think you know my family?
"I know YOUR family."
OK, those of you that don't know, my name is Ken Livingstone.
I'm looking for councillors who ain't afraid to get their hands a little dirty. You, what do you do?
London Transport, trains and buses, sir.
-Halve the fares, old people travel for free.
-You heard me.
-Joan, go to the bank, borrow some money for CND.
-I want those cruise missiles out by Christmas.
I want you to take care of the black minorities.
-Set up theatres, sports centres, recreational grounds.
And equalise some women. You...
'Robbie does great voices.'
And he just seemed to me to be... a Renaissance man, really.
He was a jack of all trades, a master of quite a few of them.
Start a new movement, call it Gay Pride.
-Let's get those gays out of the closet!
-Oh, yes, sir!
All right, let's move it out! Come on, let's shake this city up!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'The only people who were doing anything
'that could be held as a drama was The Comic Strip.'
I'm not bigging myself up here when I say that.
DEEP VOICE: Or perhaps slightly!
No, I think it was great.
No-one else was doing it. Who is doing it now?
During the early '80s, as well as being a Comic Strip member,
Robbie was also the go-to man for more mainstream comedy sketch shows.
Starring in Laugh? I Nearly Paid My Licence Fee, The Lenny Henry Show
and A Kick Up The Eighties, among others,
Robbie was given the freedom
to create dozens of new comedy characters.
Oh, hello. No, don't, please, you'll spoil it, the pills will wear off!
You'll love this.
What's the difference between a snowman and a snowgirl?
Nim! Nim! Nim!
'In many ways, it was kind of like rep.'
Repertory theatre, where one week,
you'd be playing the gorgeous 18-year-old - some chance there -
um, and then, the next week, they'd make you up
and play an 85-year-old person.
But even in more mainstream shows, Robbie was keen to stretch
traditionally held values to the limit.
# Mason Boyne on the march, once again... #
We invented this character called Mason Boyne. So controversial!
# Mason Boyne, Mason Boyne, Mason Boyne! #
It was very incendiary at the time.
We got a lot of very unpleasant letters, I have to say.
But we also did the Pope the next week.
"Give me some talcum powder," you know what I mean?
He says, "Sure, Your Holiness.
"Can you walk this way?" I said,
"If I could walk that way, I'd be in Brideshead Revisited!"
In 1983, he was asked to join Alfresco, a new comedy sketch team,
which contained some kids just out of university.
They said, "There's a bunch of smarty-pants young people
"coming down from Cambridge, who have done the Footlights.
"But I think they need a steadying influence..."
HE LAUGHS "..of an older performer."
I just thought... Well, the F word was involved.
The question, surely, sir, is why the only totally blind officer
we have gets the job of forger!
You heartless swine, Kuryakin!
You know perfectly well that man went blind recreating the minutest
-detail of 1,000 Nazi documents!
-Oh, come off it, Charlie!
We all know that's not the reason he went blind!
'They were quite staggeringly talented.'
It was just astonishing, how productive they were.
'Can you imagine getting those people in a room now?'
So, I started off with this.
And I ended up with...this.
Gentleman, meet Gertie the Woman.
Robbie had had small parts in feature films before,
but in 1985, The Comic Strip moved from TV to the big screen,
and took Robbie with them.
Directed by Peter Richardson, The Supergrass was to give us
one of Robbie's most memorable on-screen moments.
The walk down the breakwater is one of my finest hours, you know.
Playing a complete psychopath English policeman,
who had come to sort somebody out with a chainsaw.
We were shooting in a cove in Devon
and there was a big storm, and I said,
"What would be really good in my film is if you were to walk,
"with your chainsaw, down that breakwater."
"Straight through the waves."
And Robbie said, "Are you trying to make a snuff movie? Are you mad?"
I said, "There are a lot of girls over there who think
"you're a hero and think you're very sexy."
He took a slug of whisky and said, "OK, I'll do it."
MUSIC: "Two Tribes" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood
'It was the most exhilarating, wonderful thing to do.'
Just when the waves hit and splashed over you, it was lovely.
I really enjoyed it, actually. So I had to do it four times.
We did have to walk down there, in that weather,
and it was pretty dodgy.
Yeah, it was good, it was a brilliant image.
'There were two little safety boats.'
He said, "We're going, Rob." I said, "I'm sorry?" "We're going."
And I was actually on the pier when they said it. "We're going, Rob. It's too dangerous now for us."
I said, "But the safety boats have just said they're going away."
And he said, "Rob, I wouldn't normally ask you to do this..."
Which is, as you know, every director's favourite line.
It was quite an impressive moment, really,
Robbie still talks about it as one of his daring moments of cinema.
I think you can really see Robbie Coltrane blossoming,
as those early TV shows kind of morphed into Comic Strip movies
and things a little bit more ambitious.
Because, you know, he had the ability and he had
the versatility and it just needed the right outlet to show that off.
And that outlet came,
as Robbie began to be offered more serious film roles, including
playing alongside Bob Hoskins in the Neil Jordan film, Mona Lisa.
But in 1986, he was given a part in a groundbreaking series
which was to show that Big Robbie could play the lead.
# You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain
# Too much love drives a man insane
# You broke my will, but what a thrill
# Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! #
Set in Robbie's hometown of Glasgow, Tutti Frutti followed
the fortunes of The Majestics, a once-successful rock'n'roll band.
Written by John Byrne, the series served up equal measures of laugh-out-loud comedy, romance...
..and violence, to a classic '50s soundtrack.
I'll give you the recipe!
# You're fine, so kind, I wanna, oh
# A-wop-bop-a-loom-op, a-lop-bam-boom! #
I remember the day I opened it and read it and just laughed my head off.
Right. I vote we take him out and beat the living jobbies out of him.
Nothing personal, pal, it's just you're a jerk.
-Haw, wait a minute here!
-You know what you are, don't ye?
You're a moron.
I think a show like Tutti Frutti, which was just drama,
You couldn't define it as anything other than that, it wasn't comedy...
-Dennis. The name is Dennis, in case you forgot.
Shut up, Dennis!
You are not talking to one of the roadies
of your art college bands now, pal, so watch it!
There was no half measures,
you were either in love or you were oot the windae!
And that's very John Byrne, and I loved that, because people say, "Oh, it was a comedy, wasn't it?"
And you think, well, was it that much of a comedy?
There was a suicide in it and a guy who covered himself in petrol
and set himself on fire. Would that pass as comedy?
I think John Byrne broke the mould with that.
Did I ever tell you that
almost my entire body is one enormous erogenous zone?
-I'm talking to the doll.
-Two 35s, please.
At the heart of the multi-award-winning series
was the will-they, won't-they relationship between Robbie
and his old Alfresco pal, Emma Thompson.
# Well, that'll be the day when you say goodbye... #
People used to offer me money in the streets, you'll not believe this,
saying, "So, do they or don't they? I'll give you 500 quid."
If you don't quit shouting, I'm shoving this toilet bag
and its contents down your stupid throat!
She taught me so much about acting.
She comes from an acting family, I come from a family of doctors,
what would I know about acting? She taught me so much.
Lie down and shut up!
You look sensational when you're hopping mad.
Consider my offer of marriage re-negotiable.
I'm asleep, I'm asleep!
HE PRETENDS TO SNORE
We have that intensity.
There was never any kind of question of, you know...
because we are brother and sister, very close.
The more serious side of Robbie Coltrane
was beginning to emerge on screen.
But even those closest to him were surprised
when he decided to perform a one-man show, based on the life
of the 18th-century man of letters, Dr Samuel Johnson.
I had a friend once who got his happiness from drink.
For exercise, he would walk to the alehouse,
and for relaxation, he would be carried home again.
He had the confidence to know that he could do it. He could do it.
And it was very well received.
Because it was very different from what he was doing at that time.
So, I'd like to take this opportunity to set a few things straight.
For example, my days were not just spent
making one clever remark after another.
The weird thing was that Tutti Frutti was on television at the time,
so I'm playing this slightly manic, Glaswegian rock 'n' roller.
And on stage at night, I'm playing one of the great literary heroes
of, well, of English literature.
But this Johnson that Boswell wrote about was his hero.
I just thought, "Now I really am an actor." I thought, "Yes!
"Samuel Johnson. I really am an actor now."
Spying an opportunity for some new comic material,
the Blackadder writers, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton,
made sure they saw Robbie's Dr Johnson.
They came, I'm sure, out of loyalty, as I'm sure a lot of chums did,
and, erm, I don't know if they had the idea to put
Johnson into Blackadder before that, and they just came to check me out.
I wouldn't have put it beyond them!
-Dr Johnson, your Highness.
-Ah, Dr Johnson! Damn cold day.
Indeed it is, sir, but a very fine one.
For I celebrated last night the encyclopaedic implementation
of my premeditated orchestration of demotic Anglo-Saxon.
No, didn't catch any of that.
And he just thought, "Let's have a scene with Blackadder
"upstaging Johnson." I just thought, fantastic idea!
"So, would you like to do it?" I said, "Bring it on, boys."
I believe, sir, that the Doctor is trying to tell you that he is
happy because he has finished his book.
It has apparently taken him 10 years.
Yes, well, I'm a slow reader myself.
The one thing we know about Dr Johnson is that he wrote
the first dictionary, and so forth.
And then, out of pure spite, er, Rowan gives him
a word that he knows that he can't have...
that he can't have seen before, because Rowan has just invented it.
I hope you will not object
if I also offer the Doctor my most enthusiastic contrafibularities.
Contrafibularities, sir. It is a common word, down our way.
Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I am adyspeptic... frasmotic...
..even compunctuous to have caused you such pericumbobulations.
What, what, what?!
He walks on set with the absolute comic genius that is
Rowan Atkinson and he is surrounded by all these amazing comedians...
I'm sorry, sir, I merely wished to congratulate the Doctor
on not having left out a single word.
And then he just walked in and played this perfect Dr Johnson, this
huge, Scottish guy, effete and comic and whimsical, and it was perfect.
There is certainly a fieriness in him, there is
a passion in him, when actually, I think
that's partly why he works so well in a lot of historical dramas,
which he went on to do later on in his career,
because often in historical dramas, certainly comedic ones,
you want that sort of Dickensian caricature, don't you,
you want someone a bit over the top.
-Tell me, sir, what words particularly interested you?
-Anything, really, you know.
-I see you've underlined a few.
Bloomers, bottom, burp...
-Fart? Fiddle? Fornicate?
Sir, I hope you are not using the first English dictionary
to look up rude words!
I wouldn't be too hopeful,
that's what all the other ones will be used for.
By this stage of his career,
it seemed Robbie Coltrane could play any part.
His fearlessness and versatility made him a casting director's dream.
But even Robbie felt he was way out of his depth
when Kenneth Branagh asked him to take the role of lovable old rogue
Falstaff in his version of Shakespeare's Henry V.
So, I walk onto the set and there's all these Shakespearean actors,
you know, like Robert Stephens and, well, Branagh, for God's sake,
and Em and all these people. Oh, my God!
'But actually, once you get into it,'
it is like rapping.
If sack and sugar be a fault, then God help the wicked. Mm?
If to be old and merry is a sin, if to be fat is to be hated...
No, my good lord.
He was so encouraging, he said,
"You can do this, Robbie, you can do this!" And so, he got me to do it.
When thou art King, banish Pistol,
banish Bardolph, banish Nym.
But sweet Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff,
and therefore more valiant, being as he is, old Jack Falstaff,
banish not him, thou had his company.
Banish plump Jack and banish all the world.
You expect Falstaff to be a silly old, fat old, bumbling old coward.
And Robbie is none of those things.
And so again, you know, you cast somebody who is
a very, very unexpected route into a character.
And Robbie will always satisfy you with that,
You are so fat, Sir John,
that you must indeed be out of all compassment!
Do thou amend thy face and I'll amend my life.
There is a great line about Falstaff, they talk about,
"The grave opens wider for a big man."
Which means that big men tend to die earlier than thin men.
But I think generally, history has been quite good to Falstaff.
Upon my troth, the King has killed his heart.
Robbie returned to doing a one-man show,
but this time in a series of one-act plays for TV,
originally written by the Italian and Nobel Prize winner, Dario Fo.
Revised and updated for a '90s audience, the plays were
a modern take on perennial religious and political issues.
Right, ladies and gentlemen, that's your culture for tonight. And offski!
'The important thing about Mistero Bufo'
is whatever your theories
are about God and religion and so forth, you have to play it
absolutely as though it's happening, as if you were there.
What about the holy family?
Do you think they'd have got a mobility allowance?
Well, there they are, there they are,
a family on their way to Bethlehem to register for the poll tax...
Come with me, why don't you, while we see how the Nativity might have been.
The monologues had Robbie playing dozens of different characters,
which director Morag Fullarton stage-managed in a very clever way.
I don't care if they are swaddling clothes, madam,
they're bloody unhygienic!
She said, "All you have to do is establish where the characters are on the stage."
And I guess, my doubt was, if I'm honest,
could the audience keep up with that?
Right, sir, you'll be the father?
'She said, "No, no, no. All you have to do,'
"you have to do one character there..."
It's a big stage, you're just on your tod.
"..and do another character there, another there."
And you, madam, are you the mother? Oh, that's nice.
"They will know, when you run to that position,
"that you are the old wifey, you are Jesus, you are whatever."
I think I'm getting the picture here, yes.
And this will be the son of God, is it? Yes...
'We had a few runs, and it works.'
The audience were so ahead of you, you could literally
stand in one position and go, "Oh, dearie me,
"he's coming oot the grave, and look,
"look at the little beasties coming out of his eyes!"
And then, you'd run over there and go, "Want to rent yourself
"a very nice little deckchair to watch the miracle?
"Cost you 12-and-a-half pence."
This could be seen as Robbie's religious period,
as his next two feature films both had ecclesiastical themes.
Nuns On The Run was a slapstick caper comedy, co-starring Eric idle.
Robbie's other religious movie, the slightly more incendiary
The Pope Must Die, was made by his old pals, The Comic Strip.
I mean, it just caused a lot of fuss, this film,
you know, the title alone.
It was based on the book, The King Must Die, it wasn't,
"The Pope must die, because he's a Catholic."
The Pope's dead and that's the big news story here in Rome today.
We're gonna see him get buried, live on CNN,
right after these messages.
Originally, it was written for Steve Martin, years before,
and he didn't want to touch it.
Robbie is playing this pope who gets selected by mistake
and then gets embroiled in this sort of Vatican corruption.
You got the wrong guy.
They all say that.
It was quite determined to play him as a good man, as an honest,
decent Christian man - which he was -
who's suddenly... The big finger pointed at him,
because of a mistake.
I was so impressed, actually.
It was the first time I'd seen Robbie do a serious role
and he suddenly had this aura of sort of innocence
and holiness about him that I just thought was...
I totally believed that he was that person.
Oh, what's out here?
I really do have to speak to somebody who's in charge.
While The Pope Must Die had a cinema release in the UK,
when the film was taken to the United States,
fear of offending the large Catholic population
meant a slight change of title.
The Pope Must Diet, as it was renamed,
was called that for the American audiences.
I think in terms of movie title changes,
actually it's one of the best ones. It really works.
I mean, all they had to do was put a T at the end
which I think on the poster they probably put
in the shape of a crucifix,
and it all sort of tied in and it was all very neat.
In 1993, Robbie went from the confessional box
to the psychologist's chair,
when he took on a role which would change his life.
Dr Fitzgerald is now ready to give us his lecture.
When I first conceived of Fitz, I was very thin and wiry
and full of nervous energy.
I also admired an American actor called John Cassavetes,
who was much the same, and that's the kind of character
I had in mind - you know, a thin, wiry guy full of nervous energy.
He always imagined Fitz to be a small, wiry man
who'd been in the army for most of his life.
I remember going home and I said to the wife and kids,
"Oh, God, they've only cast Robbie Coltrane as Fitz, you know."
My lad and two daughters, who were young then, very media savvy,
they said, "That's a brilliant idea."
Cracker certainly changed British drama.
You know, American cop shows
had started to change into something quite bleak.
They weren't just about getting the bad guy any more,
they were also about the issues that the lead character had.
I rehearsed the death of my father for years.
I even got a little bored.
I knew all my lines,
but he was still alive and I never got my opening night.
You had the crime story going on,
that he was part of and investigating,
but this guy also had major issues himself
and was arguably more troubled
than a lot of the people he was trying to catch.
It was a long way away from the smooth, suave detective
like a sort of Bergerac-type character,
from around the same time.
You know, this was someone with serious issues.
How are you fixed, Eddie?
No chance, Fitz.
What about cashing a cheque, yeah?
30, 35, 40...
Am I speaking Urdu or something?
'He was not a lovable guy. He wasn't a great father,'
he drank too much, he smoked too much, he was a gambler...
Come on, you lazy...
I've got an expression now -
if I'd known I was going to last this long
I'd have taken better care of myself, you know?
I'll give that to Fitz one day hopefully, you know what I mean?
He's gambling that he's not going to live that long,
so why take care of yourself?
Everything in his life's a gamble.
How bad this time?
Over the limit on both cards. Two grand overdrawn at the bank.
Such a damaged character, and yet he's not a cliche in any way.
Such an incredibly bright person
who can't see his way through his own problems.
Women love that tortured stuff.
I raised five grand of the mortgage. Told them it was for a new bathroom.
To hell with all your conventional political philosophies,
you know, your anti-racism, your anti-sexism,
your anti-homophobia, all that political stuff
I will now ignore and I will speak what's in my heart.
So, he came from that as well.
There's a great sadness in your life.
'It kind of broke new ground, really.
'I mean, it was the forerunner'
of the psychology of murder as opposed to
the detection of murder and it was brutal, you know?
Underneath it all there's blood, and filth, and stench,
and hair - tatty, matted, disfiguring hair.
'In a way, the audience knew who'd done it'
and how would anybody else find out who'd done it,
if only by understanding the psychology
of the bad person who'd done it,
'which was a hugely new idea.'
I'm saying I understand, yes?
There were all kinds of influences on Cracker,
but I think the biggest was the first episode of Prime Suspect,
where the prime suspect was there right from the beginning, you know?
And that seems to me to be an obvious thing to do,
because the most interesting person in a crime story is the criminal.
Is that how it was? Is it?
It's you who needs the psychologist.
'That's the essence of Fitz -'
a man adept at examining his own conscience
and thus able to examine other people's consciences.
You're paying some poor, downtrodden cow
-£2 an hour to look after your child.
-That's enough, Fitz!
Your child, a thing that means most to you in the world,
£2 an hour and you've got a cleaner.
Oh, we'll talk again when you're sober, OK?
Even in his ordinary life, does he have time to think
and assess what his words will do to people? I don't think so.
Bang, bang, bang.
There's you up on the podium talking about equality and freedom
and feminism, and she's at home with her arm halfway down your lavatory.
I think what we have here is a failure to communicate.
'When I first met Robbie'
I really had problems, because he was so funny.
Strictly platonic. Keep your hands to yourself.
I know it's going to be hard.
There's nothing I can do about that, OK? It's just hands-off.
'And he can just change.'
He can be cracking jokes, absolutely hilarious,
doing all these kind of crazy voices and then literally,
they say, "Action," and he's totally in that zone.
What did he say?
'Fitz could see into people's souls.'
He saw himself perhaps in all of those characters.
I think that was what was so powerful.
You know this man.
It's someone that you know with a very distinctive voice,
that's why he said nothing.
You would wish, would you not,
if somebody you love had been killed, to have Cracker on your side?
People will say he was a killer, he was a butcher, but he did one
decent thing, he confessed so they could bury their daughter.
'There have been times when I've seen descriptions of a murder and I've just thought,'
"God, I'd like to get in there,
I'd love to get Cracker in there for half an hour
and say, "Oi, mush!"
-Did the paper come yet?
-In the bog.
-In the bog.
'The hallmark of Robbie's work, really, is the element of uneasiness.
'You're never really in a safe place.'
As we would say, he never phones in a performance, you know?
HE SOBS Oh, God.
'It was a beautifully written series.
'Those were very good scripts,'
but he took it to a whole different level with that performance.
You all right?
'As a writer,'
what you need is something to make sure you work.
As part of the drive for the first series
they showed me the gigantic life-size poster of Fitz,
so what I did was I got it framed and I put it behind me.
As a writer you're tempted to say,
"That's not quite working, but I've seen worse," you know?
Then you'd go, "Oh, no!" And so you'd have to...
You would never settle for that, you would never settle for,
"I've seen worse."
You know, you'd only settle for "I cannot do any better".
McGovern got it absolutely right, I would say.
End of lecture.
And the winner is... Robbie Coltrane.
Cracker ran for three years and Robbie Coltrane
won the BAFTA for best actor three years in a row
for his performances of Fitz, a first in BAFTA history.
There's a saying in poker that you're only as good
as the people you play with and I was playing with the best.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
But it wasn't just the British TV industry who recognised Robbie's talent.
Big Robbie, not bad, eh?
New Yorkers would come up and say,
"I can't believe it, you're Mr Fitz, aren't you?
"Yes, I am."
Cracker was a cult hit in the US,
so they inevitably made their own version.
And while the American Fitz was slightly more sanitised than our one
Robbie couldn't resist turning up in one episode as the murderer.
I'm not worried about you finding me guilty, Doctor. I know your work.
You'll uncover the truth.
Cracker had made Robbie Coltrane an international star
and given him a passport into the big time.
Walther PPK, 7.65 millimetre, only three men I know use such a gun.
I believe I've killed two of them.
I think not.
HE SINGS BOND THEME
A childhood ambition had been to be a Bond baddie,
and in this remarkable career,
Robbie saw that come true in 1995 with GoldenEye.
The franchise was given a much-needed boost with
the new 007 recapturing some of the old Bond values.
The Bond movies were a very clever move,
obviously because they're huge, and I think it really showed
the status that he had, because you don't get to play
sort of a cameo role or a supporting role in a Bond movie
by being an unknown.
You know, you're Judi Dench if you get asked that, or Sean Bean,
or Robert Carlyle, those kind of people, you know,
familiar faces that we all know and love.
So, it showed that he had reached that stage.
Charming, sophisticated secret agent.
Shaken, but not stirred.
I see you haven't lost your delicate sense of humour, Valentin.
You get sent the script,
it's got 007 feinted on the front and it's got your number underneath
in case you send it to somebody else and then suddenly,
you're on the set and there you are in a beautiful suit.
Who's strangling the cat?
Strangling a cat?
-SINGS OFF KEY:
-# Stand by your man...
That is Irina, my mistress.
'Oh, Pierce, what would it be like'
to wake up in the morning and look as handsome as that?
How different would my life have been?
And then I thought, "Well, I'm here, aren't I?"
So, why did you not kill me?
Call it professional courtesy.
Then I should extend you the same courtesy.
Kerov's Funeral Parlour, four o'clock this afternoon.
'It was classic Robbie'
in that it was another shady character.
He wasn't the worst guy in a Bond movie.
He wasn't entirely evil and actually,
he was sort of a fixer and a middleman but at the same time,
I mean, he's not someone that you'd
particularly want to trust implicitly,
so he was another guy in the shadows.
After you. I insist.
In The World Is Not Enough, Robbie's character, Zukovsky,
a former KGB agent turned gangster, returned with relish.
Bond! James Bond!
Meet Nina and Verushka.
Lose the girls, Valentin, we need to talk.
Bond movies do bring you back and they do widen out your role
if you're a success, if people like you.
You only have to look at Judi Dench in Skyfall
compared to Judi Dench in GoldenEye. You know, much bigger role
and that's exactly what Robbie had in The World Is Not Enough.
I got asked back for the second one, which is a huge honour,
because no-one gets asked back for a second time.
Can't you just say hello, like a normal person?
Proving that he'd been a success in the franchise,
proving, you know, as is the case in so much that he's done,
that audiences just really respond to him.
They just have a real warmth
and feeling of happiness when he's around, you know?
He seems like a friend, like an old pal.
Running around lavish sets with beautiful girls
while avoiding helicopters customised with giant circular saws
is all in a day's work for a Bond baddie.
Though it was the baddie-turned-goodie Zukovsky
who saved Bond's life in the end.
He was kind of a baddie, but kind of a goodie.
Watching the Bond movies,
You thought, "What a long way this guy has come."
He had sort of moved into a world that actually,
a lot of his contemporaries have still never got into,
they've stayed in TV.
But, you know, he's absolutely conquered movies.
With Bond and Cracker on the CV,
Hollywood came after Robbie and they got him.
From blockbuster action movies with Hugh Jackman,
romantic weepies with Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn,
to historical murder mysteries with Johnny Depp.
Then, in 2004, Robbie was asked to appear in Ocean's Twelve
alongside three of the biggest stars on the planet.
So finally, she slams her vodka tonic down on the tray
and says, "Hey, maybe that's why I've been feeling so warm recently?"
'George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon...'
Would you agree?
In Ocean's 12, Robbie plays Matsui,
a shadowy eastern European criminal mastermind,
an intellectual who likes to talk in enigmatic sentences
to confuse and alienate.
When I was four years old,
I watched my mother kill a spider with a tea cosy.
'Matt Damon's character is trying to move himself into the hierarchy,
'so supposedly, they're having'
a test of sorts to decide whether or not he's up for the job.
Years later, I realised it was not a spider, it was my Uncle Harold.
But while director Steven Soderbergh had worked out
what the dialogue would be,
no-one was quite sure how the scene should play out.
Soderbergh's sitting there, saying, "What do you think, Rob?"
So I said, "Right, have you ever been to a poetry reading?"
"And people look at each other and go... 'Mm. Mm.'
"Like, 'We're all in the know, we understand.' Go for that."
Way out of his depth, Matt Damon's character
is reduced to reciting lyrics from a Led Zeppelin song,
trying to convince Matsui he is an intellectual equal.
Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face
Stars sent to fill my dreams
I am a traveller in both time and space
To be where I have been.
'So, that's the way we played it.'
I think it worked, actually.
While Hollywood had provided Coltrane
with some of his most prestigious roles to date,
it was a job closer to home
which would take Robbie's career onto a different plane together.
Professor Dumbledore, sir. Professor McGonagall.
I was asked by the producer of the Potter films,
before they ever shot a reel,
"If you could have anyone, who would you have?"
Try not to wake him.
And I said, "Robbie Coltrane - Hagrid."
There you go.
'My children, who were about eight and five,'
in this very room came clattering in and went,
"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, you're going to play Hagrid, how fantastic!"
HE SOBS AND SNIFFLES
There, there, Hagrid, it's not really goodbye after all.
It certainly was a career change for him,
someone who had made his name being gruff and tough and angry
and laden with problems in a lot of those,
you know, TV shows and movies.
Now, here he was, cuddly fantasy figure in a kids' movie.
He's extremely good at menace and darkness.
Oh, there's something else as well.
'And then, he plays Hagrid.'
Professor Dumbledore gave me this.
I got her number and I phoned her up and I said,
"OK, Hagrid, what do you know about Hagrid?"
You know, the most stupid question you could imagine.
I shouldn't have said that. I SHOULD NOT have said that.
And then she started talking about a character that he was based on.
It was a guy used to turn up in her pub in the West Country
on a huge Harley Davidson...
..and he looked absolutely terrifying.
He'd walk to the bar and order a pint and sit down...
..and then talk about how his petunias were getting on.
Sorry about that.
I told Robbie the first time I ever spoke to him about Hagrid
exactly what the inspiration for Hagrid was,
and it was twofold, really.
There's this folkloric idea of the man of the words, the wild man
and obviously, Hagrid is that.
Dry up, Dursley, you great prune!
And then, on a more prosaic level, where I grew up in Chepstow, every six months or so
the Hell's Angels used to steam into town
and I can remember being 19 and being in a pub
and getting chatting to one of these Hell's Angels,
and he looked like the scariest guy on earth,
and all he wanted to talk to me about was his cabbages.
I thought, "I know that guy, I know that guy, I AM that guy."
And she said, "I know that, that's why you're playing Hagrid."
Who are you?
Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of keys and grounds at Hogwarts.
There's a really special relationship between Harry and Hagrid
and there's a great relationship between Robbie and Dan.
You're a wizard, Harry.
-I'm a what?
Daniel in particular would always say, "What do you think? What do you think?"
I...can't be a...a wizard.
'I said, "Look, do the brave thing.
"Even if you think it might be over the top or a bit wrong,
"just do it and they will cut it out.
"Do as many takes as you like, just don't be afraid." And he went, "OK."
You're Harry Potter! I'm Hermione Granger. And you are?
-Um, Ron Weasley.
He's such a great person to be on set with,
just constantly telling you stories and doing these voices
and characters and it was just like having a comedian on set.
-Who told you about Fluffy?
'I think he really kind of made'
the character a lot funnier than it was, probably, in the book.
-Yeah, well, he's got to have a name, doesn't he?
Look at you, Norbert, eh? Tickle, tickle!
DRAGON HICCUPS Ooh!
'For the people watching that movie,'
it's the most important thing they've ever seen.
I mean, they are utterly invested in these characters
and you can't treat it as,
"Oh, yeah, I'm dressing up, putting on a big wig
"and having a bit of a laugh in a kids' fairytale,"
you have to really take it seriously.
He is a trained and experienced actor
and that's why I think he gets that role right.
'Anyone who's a parent knows what it's like to watch'
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins 28 times.
'Wouldn't it be lovely to be involved in something
'that so engaged children that they wanted to watch it 28 times?'
So, Harry Potter would be that for me.
Nobody could have done Hagrid better than Robbie.
The Harry Potter films are
the most successful movie franchise of all time
and they made Robbie's face, albeit with a wig and beard,
recognisable throughout the world.
With an OBE and dozens of Hollywood movies to his name,
Robbie more recently has returned to the small screen
and his first love - comedy.
He appeared as a Scottish Nationalist on the recent remake
of Yes, Prime Minister - a role he feels privileged to have played.
It was just fantastic to do that
because it was so beautifully written.
It's like another OBE - another OBE, do you get that?
ALARM BELL RINGS
He also starred as a violently disturbed prisoner,
kidnapping Jack Dee in his sitcom, Lead Balloon.
Hey, you! Anybody so much as touches this door without my say-so,
laughing boy gets it, right?
-Apologies for raising my voice.
-It's not a problem.
I mean, ideally we shouldn't really have to do any of this nonsense
but, you know, it seems to be the only way you get any attention to your demands in this place.
He's still an active member of the Comic Strip.
When they returned in 2011 with The Hunt For Tony Blair,
Robbie was thrilled to be part of the gang once again.
More recently, in 2012,
the original Comic Strip cast from Five Go Mad In Dorset
reunited for their 30th anniversary with an update -
Five Go Mad In Rehab.
Here you are, here's your slap-up birthday cake -
Stuffed with cherries, vanilla sponge and home-grown marzipan,
hand-picked from our very own marzipan tree.
-Ooh! Well, what a wonderful get-together after 30 years.
'30 years later to where we started -'
it was hilarious!
We're all sitting there and I'm in drag, and Nigel's in drag...
'He'd not read the script, I'd not read the script.'
I just sat and said, "Are you in a frock, Nigel?"
He says, "Yes, I am. Are you in a frock?"
I said, "Yeah, why?
"Well, apparently I'm playing a rather homophobic woman who
"runs a boarding house in Devon."
And he went, "Yeah, well, apparently I'm playing a..."
Women who think they know best,
if you catch my homophobic way of thinking?
And the girls turned up, of course, and went,
"Don't you look lovely, BOYS?"
'The fun with Five Go To Rehab was to see how these'
iconic kids' characters had fared through the '80s and '90s.
Not very well!
'Comic Strip always had its own inner core of naughtiness'
and the whole idea of them going back to rehab, of course,
is just hilarious.
-Well, they've got everything, what do you want?
-I just want my gin back.
-Lovely to see you.
-Yes, you too.
'They're trying to pretend'
that they're still the people they were,
but of course the cracks are showing all the way through the film,
until they finally fall apart.
Don't be silly, Dick, they're alcoholics, they need a drink.
Well, we've all got our problems, Anne. I mean, you're a vegan.
'They're also lying to each other, going,'
"I'm just going down for a walk. Are you going for a walk?"
"Yes, I am."
'Very, very naughty,'
but just the way it should be.
I don't believe it! You can't be the same gypsy we saw here 30 years ago.
Oh, yeah, still got no water, no electricity,
still staring up at that old ruin, with its secrets and signs
and gratuitous unexplained screams in the night.
He moves from paper-thin characters
that are very, very amusing caricatures
right through into incredibly nuanced performances like Cracker,
and he just doesn't seem to break a sweat.
Look at me.
There is a fire inside and that comes through in his work
and he's electrifying.
He is a comedy actor and an artist and larger than life character.
I think he went into those things that he went into
because he was good at it.
I don't care what you say I just want to beat you to a pulp.
A very talented man.
And then he just went into Harry Potter and got lost really, bless him.
He was one of us, really,
always up for a practical joke or just to mess about.
He was just great for that.
Ruthless people, they got what they deserved.
Actually, he's reached a position where he can do documentaries,
where he can do travelogues.
More of a threat than a promise, perhaps.
He won't be presenting Gardeners' World or anything,
although I'd pay good money to see Robbie present Gardeners' World.
God, the embarrassment!
He's not either square or around.
So you're judge, the jury, the executioner too?
If you find the right shape on the board, you can fit him in.
He's got an infinite number of faces.
People who've done well in our business always say
they're incredibly talented
and people who haven't done well always say
they're incredibly unlucky, and I...
I don't know what you say to that.
Hey, Not The Nine O'clock News, ho-ho!
I've been very lucky and I've been incredibly talented(!)
No, I'm kidding, I'm kidding!
Good night, and sock it to me.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
A programme tracing the extraordinary career of one of Britain's finest actors in comedy and drama. Robbie Coltrane talks candidly about his career and there are exclusive interviews with JK Rowling, Jimmy McGovern, Keith Allen, Peter Richardson, Mike Newell, John Sessions, Rupert Grint and Gerladine Somerville. The multi-award winning actor has gone from edgy alternative comedian to performing in one of the most well-known roles in the Harry Potter films. Showing the funniest and finest moments of Robbie's career, this is a rollercoaster ride through the career of one of our most loved and respected performers.