HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
A Roundtable Interview with Robbie Coltrane
Azkaban press junket, May 24, 2004, New York City
How is it doing this film the 3rd time around?
RC: Well, it’s very similar in the nicest possible. It’s like going back for Thanksgiving. You say, “Hi, how are you doing? What have you been doing? Blah, blah.” So, it’s all very nice.
How was working with Alfonso (Cuaron)?
RC: Nightmare (Laughs). Talentless. No sense of humor. I don’t know how he got the job. He must have slept with somebody. (Laughs). No, I adore him. I think he’s a wonderfully talented man. He’s exactly the way I expected him to be having seen his films. He’s crazy, and rock and roll, and adolescent, but phenomenally focused about what he wants to do.
Having worked two difference directors on the Harry Potter films, what’s the key thing you noticed that’s different?
RC: Well, it’s kind of hard to say. I don’t want to dis anyone and say that anybody is better than anybody else. Every film is a year in the life of the children. This film had to be dark and rock and roll and immediate and getting that feel of immediate through a A big budget film, if you’re not careful, is a huge cumbersome beast you know. With 1500 people and the crew, it’s very hard to keep that level of agility and vitality going, but I thought he did it wonderfully. He kept the camera going moving all the time. I’m sure you noticed that, which the CGI people surely hate. Every move of the camera goes into a computer, and when they start using the CGI, all those moves are used as points of view. It’s mind blowing complicated stuff and real state of the art.
How is it to see your character grow as well as the children?
RC: Well, it’s quite easy really. It was quite instant that he wanted Harry’s approval. Did you notice that? And the children sort of rescued him this time. It’s a great turnabout. That’s what happens as your children get older. They do things for you and it’s quite shocking when they do. Your son suddenly says, “Would you like a cup a tea? And you’re about to fall off your seat. “What, you’re making me a cup?” and he says, “Yeah, why not.”
Do you see Hagrid as a father figure to these kids?
RC: I think Dumbledore is more like a father figure. I think the role is divided between Dumbledore and Hagrid. I think the geography of Hagrid is very important. There’s the main building, and there’s Hagrid. Although Hagrid is part of that, he’s actually away from it. He’s like the good janitor at school; the one who wouldn’t tell on you because he’s on the side of the kids but he’s still part of the thing. In the early days, he was the one who told Harry how the hogwarts worked, where you could go and where you couldn’t; where trouble lies if you weren’t careful, and blah, blah, blah. And now the children have a grasp of it. They are more like equals.
Do you find your job a bit easier now that the kids know the art of filmmaking?
RC: Absolutely. Much quicker. Getting competence with anything; what happens when you get to know how anything works, you works out the bits you don’t have to worry about. You work out the bits you can discard. They are much more focused I would say.
What are you happy to see go away?
RC: You can tell when people worry about things that don’t really matter. For example, you should never worry about the level of performance you has given in that particular scene because there’s going to be ten takes, which is wildly over the top, it would end up on the cutting room floor. When you are new to the business, you think if you give a really bad performance, that’s one they will print. You will be judged. You just have to be brave. I remember saying to Daniel one day, “Look, don’t hold back. If you are absolute dreadful in this, it will end up on the cutting room floor.” It may however, need what’s needed and it works. Alfonso mentioned that he’s not impressed with close-up, the wide shots goes into longer scenes.
Did you find that the younger actors could sustain the characters with this way of filmmaking?
RC: No problem. Those three could sustain their characters through a two hour play. That’s never been a problem. Not a problem at all.
Did you find that surprising for their age?
RC: It’s astonishing for their age. Usually for a movie, if you want a 13 year old, you get a 16 year old who looks 13 because 13 year old don’t have that level of self awareness.
How was it wearing the makeup?
RC: Hell. It’s hell with that big beard and stuff. That’s the one bit I don’t like. Either you take out at lunch or you don’t eat. So I opted not to eat cause having to put it on twice is horrific.
How long does it take to put it on?
RC: They are down to an hour now. They put it on sideways with a glue and it’s 1,2,3 and it takes me awhile to get psyched up so I would come in a half hour early and go, “Um, it’s coming on.” It’s was very hot too. It was 100 degrees when we were filming in the park in London where we did some of the outdoor stuff. It was a nightmare.
Have you read the books to know where your character is going?
RC: Yeah. I’m not really a plumber you know. In the next film, Hagrid gets the girl.
Was there a change in how you were shot because you really appear as tall as the character?
RC: Alfonso thought that in some of the shots it wasn’t obvious that Hagrid was 8’6. If you saw someone that tall, it’s the size of one of those statues in the square. That was one the things he was quite determine to show, how big he was.
Does it ever feel a burden to feel so important to the series?
RC: No, not at all. It’s an acting job and that’s all you have to think about. If you start to worry about that, then you would be able to go on the stage. I still get that feeling whenever I’m standing in front of the camera and whatever I do the next five minutes is going to end up on the big screen and all over the world, it better be good. I find that concentrates the mind.
It's not counterproductive or makes you oversensitive?
RC: no, you have to fight that. That’s really what they pay you for. To overcome that. Ninety percent of people’s nightmares is standing in front of 1000 people. Did you know that? And having to speak. You would have thought it would have been a madman tying you up and taking your eyes out.
How was it being on Frasier?
RC: That was such fun. It would have been nice to have more time but I couldn’t do it because of this. ”It the very last one, you must and come and do something” and I was like, “What would I do?” and they were like, “I don’t know, just come over.” So we kind of made it up.
I remember your lines being unintelligible. Were there any lines in the script?
RC: We made up it. It a Yorkshire dialect and it had to sound a lot worse and it had to sound like an American trying to speak it. Every third word you had to throw in a word that people would recognize cause it isn’t funny. It’s someone talking rubbish. It’s a great show. God, I love that show. It’s heartbreaking that it finished. It’s all very emotional. 11 years. Talk about family. The last line was even “Goodnight, Seattle”. I wasn’t even in it and I got choked up.
Do you see yourself staying part of this series for all 7 movies?
RC: I don’t know. I just can’t answer that. I’ve signed on for 4 movies and I’ll do 4. That’s easy. No complications there.
Do you think that growing artistically will have you involved behind the scene?
RC: I’ve already felt that I want to direct. Being an executive producer is like the best job in the world because you make all these executive decisions and then you leave the money to other people. You don’t have to be on set all and counting beans. What you do is get the right director and the right screenwriter and the right cast. It’s a fantastic job.
Do you think this is the way to combat reality TV and lack of attention span by taking control as an artist?
RC: It’s a very bad time for genuinely creative people to do television or anything now. There isn’t a huge audience anymore to get the big budget which you need to make good drama unless you get sponsorship or unless you get teen stars to be in them. That sort of ties in with marketing and Coca Cola and all that stuff. For example, I don’t think you would get to do “Cracker” now. “Oh, it’s difficult”, “Is there someone that used to be in Eastenders?” (Laughs)
RC: “Ocean’s 12”. I play a guy called Matsui. I’m also in “Van Helsing” doing voice for a horrible creature.