Whether you’re a fan of the books or the movies, you feel this inevitable gravitational pull to the lovely, kind, and caringly protective gameskeeper of Hogwarts that is Hagrid from the Harry Potter universe.
Last October, fans of the stories mourned the death of the actor who brought this fun-loving character to life on the screen, Robbie Coltrane, who died from multiple organ failures at the age of 72.
Today, March 30, marks would have been Coltrane’s 73rd birthday, and many fans and news outlets are remembering him for his kind-hearted portrayal of Hagrid and how that truly translated to who he was off camera.
His co-star of the film franchise, Tom Felton, who starred alongside him in all eight movies and played Harry’s Slytherin nemesis, wrote a short essay for E! News on the impact Coltrane had on him from the very beginning, just over 20 years ago.
“In the early days of Harry Potter, the cast comprised two distinct groups: children and adults,” Felton started his essay. “Emma Watson was 9 when we started shooting; Dan Radcliffe was 11; I was 13. Maggie Smith and Richard Harris, by comparison, were in their sixties and seventies. Do the math: You were either one of the kids, or you were one of the grown-ups.
“Unless, that is, you were Robbie Coltrane.”
Felton notes that Coltrane somehow managed to be “an adult and a child at the same time.”
He continues to explain how Robbie was “astounding[ly]” knowledgeable about the world, and that helped him be able to relate to the adults on set. While his brain was that of an adult, Felton remembers him having the “heart of a child”.
“He had more mischief in him than a common room full of Slytherins,” he jokes.
Coltrane’s ability to relate to the children really helped the plethora of child actors feel less nervous and have more fun while on set, according to Tom.
“Robbie was always looking to lighten the mood and make us laugh,” he continues. “My earliest memory of him was at the table read before the first film started shooting. It was intimidating, 40 or 50 of us all sitting around a massive table to read through the script for the first time together.
“Before we started, we all introduced ourselves: ‘I’m Dan [Radcliffe], and I’ll be playing Harry Potter.’ ‘I’m Tom [Felton], and I’ll be playing Draco Malfoy.’ Robbie and Emma [Watson] were sitting side by side. When their turn came, he persuaded her to swap characters. ‘I’m Emma and I’ll be playing Rubeus Hagrid.’ ‘I’m Robbie and I’ll be playing Hermione Granger.’”
Just this one little action he took to make the kids laugh taught them that they shouldn’t take what they’re doing so seriously.
“We all giggled into our scripts as this huge, friendly, charming, smiling man reminded us with that one little joke that we should approach this endeavor with a sense of fun,” he acknowledged. “We were only making a film. We weren’t saving lives.”
Although he was the person everyone counted on to relieve the tension and make their experience more fun than intimidating, he still was a “true professional” and not only taught the kids how to go about their work in a relaxed manner, but how to be the best they can be as actors.
“He set a great example to us all on how to nail the basic skills of being on set, but never in a boring or patronizing way,” Tom admits. “Although he routinely had to deal with a crazy amount of hair and make-up and suits and stilts, he still somehow managed to create an environment that allowed us all to be playful.”
Tom adds that Robbie was “endlessly playful”, “constantly cheeky”, and “always kind”, all characteristics that made him perfect for the role of the mythical creature-loving, guardian-type wizard giant that was Hagrid.
“Without Hagrid, there’s no Hogwarts. And nobody could, would or ever will play that gentle giant half as well as my dearly missed friend Robbie Coltrane,” Tom ends his essay.
For thousands or millions of fans worldwide of the Harry Potter films, Hagrid’s initial impression, more than 20 years ago, still encompasses such a powerful impact on what it means to be a friend and a mentor to this day. So, you can only imagine what it was like to have known the man who so well portrayed this character in real life.
A quote from Coltrane, as published by The Scotsman in honor of his 73rd birthday, reads, “The legacy of the [Harry Potter] movies is that my children’s generation will show them to their children… So you could be watching it in 50 years time, easily… I’ll not be here, sadly… but Hagrid will, yes.”
No one would have guessed that our time without him would come so soon, but his eternal presence will be there every time you hit play to watch your favorite wizards venture down to his little hut just outside the Forbidden Forest.