Looking back on the life and career of Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane, who has died aged 72. Perhaps best known for his role as Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter.
Anthony Robert McMillan, son of a teacher and GP, was born in Rutherglen, Scotland on March 30, 1950.
However, he would later achieve worldwide success and acclaim known as Robbie Coltrane. A beloved actor across film and television, Coltrane appeared a wide variety of projects in a four decade career.
Coltrane died on October 14, 2022, after two years of ill health. He left behind his two adult children, their mother and his sister Annie.
Perhaps best known as Rubeus Hagrid in Harry Potter, Robbie Coltrane was one of thirteen actors who appeared in all eight films from 2001-2011.
Career & Honours
He also starred as Dr Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald in the long-running ITV crime drama Cracker (1993-2006). His portrayal won him three consecutive BAFTAs for Best Actor between 1994-1996.
In 2016, Coltrane played the lead role in National Treasure, a four-part Channel 4 drama written by Jack Thorne.
He played Paul Finchley, a once-successful comedian accused of sexual assault that took place in his earlier career. Inspired by Operation Yewtree, the series also starred Dame Julie Walters.
Among other honours, Coltrane was appointed an OBE in 2006. Meanwhile, in 2011, he received BAFTA Scotland’s award for “outstanding contribution” to film.
Coltrane started acting after having studied painting at the Glasgow School of Art. He adopted the stage name “Coltrane” in tribute to American saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967).
In one of his earliest television roles, Coltrane appeared in the comedy sketch show Alfresco alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson.
As a matter of fact, Thompson would also go on to star opposite Coltrane in Harry Potter as Professor Sybil Trelawney.
Fry and Laurie were among those to pay their respects to Coltrane on Twitter:
Television comedy audiences will also remember Coltrane for his roles in various UK series, such as Tutti Frutti with supporting/guest roles in Blackadder, The Young Ones, Still Game and American sitcom Frasier.
However, Coltrane also had an impressive film career spanning thirty four years. His most recent big screen role was in Effie Gray, written by frequent collaborator Emma Thompson.
Pre-Potter, he played Bond villain Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky in GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough. He also starred opposite Monty Python’s Eric Idle in Nuns On The Run, released in 1990.
In fact, his diverse range of films includes Ocean’s Twelve, Henry V, Danny, Champion of The World and Van Helsing, among others. In 2012, Coltrane starred as Mr Jaggers in Great Expectations, directed by Potter alum Mike Newell.
Although he accumulated many credits, Rubeus Hagrid is probably Coltrane’s best-known role.
A long-standing rumour states that he was JK Rowling’s first choice to play the half-giant Hogwarts groundskeeper.
As luck would have it, Coltrane was already familiar with the series through his children, as the first three books were published by that time.
Casting Coltrane alongside other established actors such as Richard Harris, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman, among others, helped set a standard. Many of the later cast additions were the creme de la creme of British and Irish actors.
Furthermore, while Coltrane was in all the Potter films, some fans may be unaware that he was not the only actor to play Hagrid throughout the series.
Former England international rugby player Martin Bayfield acted as a body double in each film. Bayfield used his 6’10 frame scenes requiring Hagrid to tower over other characters.
Meanwhile, Coltrane shared poignant thoughts about the franchise’s enduring legacy months before his death.
During HBO Max’s Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return To Hogwarts special, he said:
“I just think it’s the end of an era. My children had grown up during it, of course. The legacy of the movies is that my children’s generation will show them to their children, so you could be watching them in 50 years’ time, easy. I’ll not be here, sadly, but Hagrid will.”Robbie Coltrane (2021)
After news of Robbie Coltrane’s death broke on October 14, many Harry Potter stars paid tribute on social media.
Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter, said in a statement:
“Robbie was one of the funniest people I’ve met and used to keep us laughing constantly as kids on the set,” Radcliffe’s statement reads. “I’ve especially fond memories of him keeping our spirits up on ‘Prisoner of Azkaban,’ when we were all hiding from the torrential rain for hours in Hagrid’s hut and he was telling stories and cracking jokes to keep morale up. I feel incredibly lucky that I got to meet and work with him and very sad that he’s passed. He was an incredible actor and a lovely man.”Daniel Radcliffe (2022)
Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger, described Coltrane as “the most fun uncle.” She further emphasised Coltrane’s kindness towards the Harry Potter cast and that there “was no better Hagrid. You made it a joy to be Hermione.”
With an accomplished career and pivotal role in an iconic franchise, it’s safe to say that Robbie Coltrane’s acting talents will be remembered for decades to come.
So, fortunately, Hagrid and his other characters will live on… always.