Robbie Coltrane, best known for his role as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter movie franchise (2001-2011), passed away on October 14 2022. He was known to be facing an unknown health condition in the two years prior to his death, along with an ongoing battle with osteoarthritis that caused him “pain 24 hours a day”. We reflect back on his life, career, and legacy.
Born Antony Robert McMillan on March 30 1950 in Rutherglen, Scotland, he was a natural on the screen. He was head of the debating society at his school, and went on to study painting at the Glasgow School of Art. After university, Robbie decided to take to the stage and performed in many theatre productions in the 70s. During this time, he took on the stage name Coltrane, after the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, and it was used throughout his whole career.
First seen on tv in The Comic Strip Presents… (1982-2012), he took to the industry easily, starring in, and writing, many tv comedies during the 80s. Some of the most influential British comedies of the 80s had Robbie guest star in more than one episode. The Young Ones had Robbie star as three different characters over the two seasons, and Blackadder the Third (1987) had him playing Samuel Johnston in a comedic sketch that leaves the English Oxford dictionary containing words such as “contrafibularities” and “interfrastically”.
Robbie broke onto the big screen with Flash Gordon (1980), but didn’t receive a significant role until GoldenEye (1995), the 19th film in the James Bond franchise. During the 90s he starred in Cracker (1993-2006), a British crime drama series set in Manchester, where Robbie plays the main criminal psychologist (or “cracker”), Dr Fitz. He received five awards for his role, including three consecutive BAFTA best actor awards (1994-1996), only topped by Michael Gambon who received four.
When the books were first transformed into films, J.K.Rowling, author of Harry Potter, said that Robbie Coltrane was the first and only choice for Hagrid. Although Robbie was already tall, standing at 6’1″, the directors had many interesting ways of making him seem a lot taller than he actually was to play to gentle giant. Two separate huts were made for Hagrid, a regular-sized one and a much smaller one in which all the furniture was shrunk. All scenes were filmed twice with Hagrid only seen in the smaller one so as to seem a lot larger than his surroundings. He also wore a prosthetic head and shoulders in scenes with other cast members that made him 8’3″!
The longevity and influence of the Harry Potter movie franchise meant that all the actors became intertwined with each other’s lives, and when the recent news of Robbie’s death circulated, many old colleagues from the films expressed their sadness. Emma Watson (who played Hermione Granger in the movies) stated “If I ever get to be half as kind as you were to me on set, I promise I shall do it in your name and memory.”
Robbie was given an OBE at the New Year’s Honours in 2006 by the late Queen Elizabeth II for his services to drama, and later received a BAFTA for Outstanding Contribution to Film in 2011. His death is a tragic loss here, and in the wizarding world, and he will be surely missed by all.