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Chat Flashback:The cinematic debut of Rubeus Hagrid

Robbie Coltrane, who plays the role of Hagrid in the new "Harry Potter" movie, talks about the life of an actor in the season's hottest  film.

Actor Robbie Coltrane took time out from the "Dateline" special, "Behind the Magic of Harry Potter," to visit the chat room.  Coltrane, who plays in the role of Hagrid in the season's hottest movie, answered chatters' questions via phone and his remarks were transcribed by a typist for this edited transcript, which contains a few surprises, including a special appearance by comedian Dan Ackroyd.  Chat Producer Will Femia moderates.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Welcome, Mr. Coltrane

Robbie Coltrane: Thank you very much.  Sorry for the delay, we've been terribly busy.

MSNBC-Will Femia: I understand you're on a marathon pace.  This should actually be pretty easy going compared to other interviews you've done.

Robbie Coltrane:  I'm trying to work out how it works.  Do you have like 20 people typing questions?  I mean, how many lines do you have?  How does it work exactly?

MSNBC-Will Femia: Well, on the phone with us is Pamm.  She's going to be typing your answers.

Robbie Coltrane:  Gotcha.  I hope she's a better typist than I am, we'd be here for two hours. Hahaha!

MSNBC-Will Femia: And we have crowds of people in the chat room now, and many others who have visited the Web site submitting questions, so I have a big list of questions.  And we'll just work through that list until we run out of time.  At the end we'll have a resulting transcript that we put up on the site.

Robbie Coltrane:  OK.  And how can I…  I've actually got my laptop with me.  You must give me your address.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Sure.  If you go to, you'll see your own photograph on there.

Robbie Coltrane:  MSNBC…. Dot com… forward slash … chat…. Let me just write this down…. Why do I never have a pen when I need one?

MSNBC-Will Femia: Also, if it's all right with you I'll record the audio as we go, so I can double-check the transcript later before we put it on the site.

Robbie Coltrane: I'm glad of that, yeah, in case there's a mistake.  But I'm not going to sing.  OK?  That's the deal.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  That's fine.   OK then, welcome.

Robbie Coltrane:  Thank you very much.

Question from Madelinn: How big are you really? My Dad is a big man, but I don't think he's as big as I think Hagrid is!

Question from Your muggle pal, Penny: Exactly how tall are you?

Robbie Coltrane: In real life, I'm 6'1" -- each way pretty well, north and south and east and west, unfortunately.

Question from billm: How big are you in the movie?  The book sounded like 9 or 10 feet tall.

Robbie Coltrane: In the movie, the official height is 8'6".  And I asked Jo Rowling why not 9 feet and she said "Well, I think 8 foot 6 is a more interesting height." And I think she's right, in a funny way.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Were you on stilts?

Robbie Coltrane: Oh, I can't tell you that.  Y'know why?  Because if I told you that, you would be looking out for something.  It's one of those things where you just have to trust me.  If you knew what I knew, you would immediately say, "Gee, I wish I didn't know that."  It is magic, you know.  And it'll have to remain magic for the sake of the children I think.

Question from Blaire: I haven't seen the movie yet, but "your" creatures in the book were simply astounding -- did you find them so, in the movie? -- or should I lower my expectations?

Robbie Coltrane: Blaire!  Good Scottish name!  You shouldn't lower your expectation at all.  One of the highlights of the film is the moment where Norbert the Dragon is born.  It's one of the sweetest, funniest things you've ever seen in your life.  Fluffy the three-headed dog is absolutely wonderful. The troll is absolutely wonderful and totally believable.  And the Quidditch game, the three-dimensional game they play on the broomsticks, is one of the most exciting…. No! I take that back, THE most exciting bit of CGI I've ever seen in my life. 

It's all CGI obviously, because as we all know, people can't actually fly on broomsticks. But one of the guys who designed the program told me the scale speed, which is the speed at which it would be if it was actually happening, is 150 mph.  It's absolutely fantastic. I'd always envisioned it from the ground when I read the books.  I'd always imagined that your point of you would be from standing on the ground looking up, in other words.  What they do is take you into the air as if you're one of the players, so you yourself, the audience themselves, is flying around at 150 mph. It's absolutely breathtaking.

Did you get that?  I wish I could type that fast.  God! My life would be so much easier!

Question from billm: Do you ride motocycles in real life?  If so what kind?

Robbie Coltrane: I do. I have a 1950 Sunbeam S7 which is kind of like the British Harley Davidson.  It's very big and heavy, and was always known as the "Fat Boy."  So you can see why I have one.  Haha!

Question from Dusty: Was it hard to work with the dog who played Fang?

Robbie Coltrane: Well, they're terribly well-trained, those animals. Some of them have done more movies than I have.  And what they do is..

Hey, hiya!  I'm actually in the middle of a phone interview here.

Dan Akroyd:  I'll take over.

Robbie Coltrane:  Yeah, go on.  Dan Akroyd just walked into the room, he wants to take over.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  Cool.  Can he do the accent?

Robbie Coltrane: Yeah.

Question from Ashlynn: How do you feel about being a part of this movie? I am greatly excited for the premiere November 16 I am a big Harry Potter Fan, are you?

Question from Kaitlin: Have you actually read all the Harry Potter books? If so, which one is your favorite?

Robbie Coltrane: Before we started? I was a huge Harry Potter fan.  I was recommended by friends. The big attraction about Harry Potter for us as parents is the Harry Potter books are something you can read to your children without dying of boredom because there is as much interesting stuff going on for adults as there is children, if you know what I mean.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  So you've read all the books then?

Robbie Coltrane:  I've read them all, yeah.  Actually, I haven't finished Book Four yet, I have to confess, because I've just been a bit busy, as you can imagine.

Question from Jamison: As a 26-year-old American female who found the first book back in the 90's and is also sporting a golden snitch tattoo, I consider myself a huge fan. What do you think it is about the books that touches all of us? Also what do you think of those in America who wish to ban the books? by the way...LOVED you as Cracker!

Robbie Coltrane: That's a huge question. A lot of people ask me that and I end up with a fairly dull answer, which is that I think it contains a lot of interests that parents and children share but don't really talk about. I do think children think about an awful lot of things that they don't tell their parents about.  And vice versa. 

MSNBC-Will Femia: How about that part about the tattoo?

Robbie Coltrane:  A golden snitch tattoo sounds pretty cool to me.  Did she mention where it was?  Or am I too young to know?

MSNBC-Will Femia:  Speaking of tokens of devotion…

Question from Joshua: How do you feel about having an action figure toy?

Robbie Coltrane: I don't like it because it doesn't look like me. That's an ego thing, probably. I'd rather it looked like me but there are a lot of contractual problems with that.

MSNBC-Will Femia: What do you make of the whole "cult of Potter?"

Robbie Coltrane:  Well, I must say, y'know, you quite often see movies and there's a huge fuss about them and a lot of pre-publicity and blah-de-blah going on, and when you see them it's a huge disappointment because they don't really deserve it.  But I have to say in the case of this movie it deserves all the publicity and play it gets.  Maybe I shouldn't say that because I'm in it, but I do think it deserves that. 

(Crunching sound) I'm munching on a Pringle.  Try and put that on the Internet.  Maybe a little "p" for Pringle-crunching.  Hahaha!

Question from Meghan: How were you offered the role of Hagrid?

Robbie Coltrane: Oh yeah, well, there's no mystery about that. Jo Rowling did an interview and she said that I was the only guy to play Hagrid.  So that saved a lot of humble auditioning and being nice to people I don't like. I just had the part, really. 

The process after that was, to be honest, I was checking out the director and the producer to make sure they were going to make the right film.  Because for anyone who's a big fan of Harry Potter, the worst thing you can imagine is a bad Harry Potter movie.  So I was going to check them out, but then we had a power breakfast in London (I'm using that word ironically, obviously), and as soon as I spoke to David Heyman and Christopher Columbus, I realized they were absolutely the right guys for the job because they were complete Harry Potter fans and it was quite clear that what they wanted to do was put the book on the screen.  They weren't going to muck it about and make anybody cutesy.  Besides me, obviously.

Question from Carol: Robbie: Why do you think that JK Rowling was so adamant that the whole Harry Potter production be "British"?

Question from Kaitlin: How did you like working with an all-British cast compared to an American cast?

Robbie Coltrane: I'm used to working with all British casts. It worries me sometimes that people go on about the Britishness of it. I think most of the qualities that the books have in common with all good literature, be it Russian, French, German, whatever, I think what they wanted was a unity of feel to it.  They wanted a sort of consistency of texture, as it were. Of course people were worried it would end up with the worst aspect of Hollywood, that it would all become dead cutesy.  So Rowling made all the selections there.  She made sure it was all the right people.

But it's certainly not exclusively British. I would really disavow anyone of thinking that.  At the heart of it is a very deep message about human nature which should be universal.  Funnily enough, I've been doing a lot of interviews you know, and it's the best selling book in Taiwan.  So I wouldn't want anyone to feel excluded because they weren't British.  That's absolutely the antithesis of what the book's about.

Are your typist's fingers burning yet?  How's she doing?

MSNBC-Pamm:  I'm just fine.  I'm loving all of it.  I'll let you know if you get too fast for me.

Robbie Coltrane:  Ok.  Hahaha.  Alrighty.

Question from TampaCC: Do you think you will be typecast in the future, meaning unable to play "bad guys", because of the image that comes with being in a "kids" film?

Robbie Coltrane:  Well, I have to say I reserve the right to play a sleazy pimp in my next movie, I don't want to get typecast as Hagrid at all.  I don't think I will, either, because I'm fairly unrecognizable, y'know? 

Hahaha!  Ackroyd's making sleazy asides here.  He's shelling my pistachios.  How spoiled am I?  I just have Dan around here to shell my nuts for me.

Dan Akroyd:  You can shell your own nuts now.

Robbie Coltrane:  Oh, God love ya, thanks, in a proper wee dish!  What a gentleman you are!

Question from zzuBers: Given your unique experiences, who is your go-to guy? James Bond, or Harry Potter?

Robbie Coltrane: My go-to guy?  What does that mean?

MSNBC-Will Femia:  I think it means, if you're in a pinch, who do you call?

Robbie Coltrane:  Oh! Oh! I see! I think Hagrid could get you out of just as much trouble as James Bond.  He wouldn't, obviously, fit in an Aston Martin, but…

Question from GlasgowRanger: How is acting in a fantasy a different challenge from your previous "real world" roles such as in Cracker and the Bond films?

Robbie Coltrane:  The thing was, I have to say day-to-day didn't seem like a fantasy. Almost all the scenes I have to do, I have to do with the kids, so very real.  Most of the scenes I did day-to-day were quite well grounded in friendship and good advice and comedy and fun. I didn't have to stand in front of a green screen and leap around like Star Wars or something.  I didn't really have much do with the special effects.

Question from Allegra: J.K. Rowling has said you were one of the actors to whom she gave inside info on your character; how much did this info (without revealing it!) affected how you portrayed Hagrid?

Robbie Coltrane: Well, what she has is she has an encyclopedic knowledge of all the characters.  She knows the shoe size of every single goblin.  She knows all… it's quite extraordinary how well she knows all the characters.  In a way you'd think, "Well,she wrote it, obviously she would" but she has a very good background knowledge of all the characters. 

She told me bits and pieces about Hagrid.  You know he's half-man and half-giant. The part of him that's a man is, I would say, a nice, big kindly man.  But the part that's a giant has darker sides to it which are not revealed until much later, so she told me all about that.  And of course, I could tell you, but then you'd have to die.

Question from billm: Are you planning to be Hagrid in future movies?

Robbie Coltrane:  Yes. We've started the second one. I'm definitely going to do the first two. That's as far as I can see really.

There's all sorts of people kissing silently in the room.  It's wonderful.  It's like a French mime movie going on here.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  Where are you? At the Warner Brothers offices?

Robbie Coltrane:  No, I'm at my hotel, with my chums.  It's very nice.

Question from Joshua:  Do you believe in magic?

Robbie Coltrane: It's quite a big question. Do you mean do I think some people can wave wands around and make things happen? Well, there is such a thing as magic insofar as children's imaginations are full of magic.  I think that's the truth.

Question from TampaCC: Dan Radcliff didn't seem to get the fact that he is a huge star now, at the British Premiere he looked like he was about to have a panic attack, do you think he will get used to the publicity?

Robbie Coltrane: Oh no, he wasn't going to have a panic attack. He's just a wee boy you know.  He's only 12. I keep telling him, I said, "Do you know when I was your age Dan, I couldn't walk on a film set."  Imagine a wee boy that age who's not a show biz brat walking onto a film set that used to be an aircraft factory and finding yourself the center of attention.  I think it says a lot for him that he does find it all very awesome.  Because the alternative would be that he is blasé.  No twelve year old should be blasé at that level of attention I don't think. It scared me, I tell you. I've done 49 movies and walking onto that set with 150 crew and six cameras, it's pretty awesome.

I hope he doesn't lose that.  He's not frightened, he's just a wee bit overcome.  I have to emphasize that.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  Did you have to do a lot of "mentoring" for this movie?

Robbie Coltrane:  I'd like to say that performances are entirely due to my wise counseling but I can't say that. The level of naturalness in their performance and their confidence and their happiness on the set was entirely due to Christopher Columbus and David Heyman, and also, I should say, to Chris Careras, the first assistant.  Because when you do a film with that amount of investment in the sets and so forth, it can become a bit industrial.  Do you know what I mean?  It's a wee bit like working in a factory.  But Columbus is a very, very clever man.  He managed to keep a very nice relaxed atmosphere so the children could just express themselves in a natural way.  I think it shows on the screen.  You've seen it have you?

MSNBC-Will Femia:  Oh no, it doesn't open here until the 16th.

Robbie Coltrane:  Ah!!!

MSNBC-Will Femia:  I have my ticket already though, for Saturday.

Robbie Coltrane:  You will love it.  I don't know if you're a parent, but if you are, you know that getting an eight-year-old to sit down for two and a half hours and do anything is a major task.  My eight-year-old son walked out and said, "Do you think we can see it again now?"

MSNBC-Will Femia: Did he sit through it all?  Should I go to a late show to avoid the kids?  Do you advise seeing it with or without kids?

Robbie Coltrane: Oh, you must go with kids, I think it should be 50-50. In fact, I've just done an interview with a girl who went to Radio City which seats what, 3000 or 4000, something like that?  She went with an all-child audience, she said it was insane.  She said it was absolutely wonderful.  She said they were all riveted to their seats.  They all stood up at the end and just screamed, they just loved it.

Question from 2_qute_witches: Do you think that once Daniel or Emma or Rupert or even you leave the filming of Harry Potter, you will still be friends?

Robbie Coltrane: I do hope so.  Well, Alan Rickman and I have been pals for ages. And of course I've been a fan of Maggie Smith's for a long time, she's a wonderful actress. Richard Harris and I have a very similar sense of humor.  We had a lot of fun.  He's a funny guy, y'know.  And Ian Hart and I, funnily enough, made a gangster movie in New York a few years ago, so that's how I know him.

Question from nmgirl98: How true to the book is the movie?  I'm scared that there will be a lot of things going on that didn't happen in the book.

Robbie Coltrane: It's absolutely true to the book.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Did you find that restrictive as an actor?

Robbie Coltrane: Restrictive as an actor?  No, I don't think so. I mean, how often do you do a film and the author phones you up and you sit down and talk for three hours?  I was absolutely certain of how to play the part, to be honest.  I had no doubts about that at all.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  As someone mentioned earlier, there is a degree of controversy about Harry Potter.  You've touched upon a few of the themes of the books in this chat, so I wonder if you could help this fellow and others understand their value.

Question from Gobotstothamax: These books contain absolutely no meaningful material.  There are no meanings or morals in any of these books.  The fact that these books are being used in public schools is ridiculous.

Robbie Coltrane: That's nonsense, complete nonsense. They're talking rubbish. I'll tell you why.  The central theme of all these books is the happiest people in the world are the people who have the moral courage to do what they think is right regardless of how unpopular it might make them. They're about friendship.  They're about loyalty.  They're about the importance of imagining yourself in someone else's position -- "walk a mile in my shoes," as they say over here. They are about wisdom.  How important could that be? That ties in with all the major religions in the world as I understand them.  That's a silly thing to say.

If you compare it with Nicholas Nickleby or David Copperfield, or those other very, very powerful notions tied up with that as well.  The fact that he's orphaned at the beginning and has to find a new family. He has to reinvent himself and reinvent his relationships and relate to all these new people.  These are things children go through all the time.  I don't understand how anyone can say that. I think it's a monumentally optimistic view of human nature.  And I think that's a terribly silly thing to say.

Question from Stasha:  Are there any secret or hidden things in the movie that we should look for while we watch?

Robbie Coltrane: Well, I have to tell you, there's some wonderful jokes on Diagon Alley, just the scripting on the shops and so forth. There are a lot of very funny jokes that the prop guys did. I have to say, I've seen the film three times and I'm still seeing little bits that produce a wry smile. I think it's a film that most people will want to see at least three times.

I can't believe somebody suggested that the books are somehow empty.  I can't think of anything less true.  I'm annoyed by that.  I'd like to have a word with that person.  It so annoys me.  It's like those religious groups who've taken up against them.

MSNBC-Will Femia:  We have a few of those comments on the list too, but I decided to spare you since you didn't actually write the books.

Robbie Coltrane:  I just think, haven't you read the Bible, haven't you read the Koran?  All major religions say exactly the same thing, that wisdom and happiness comes from having the imagination to put yourself in somebody else's position, and that's what all the books are about.  And they would know that if they read them with any intelligence.

Question from Meghan: Did you keep any of the props from the movie? 

Robbie Coltrane: They wouldn't let me! I didn't keep any of the props from the movie, no I didn't.  I mean, I have the movie to watch, if I want a souvenir I can run the tape any time I like. Sorry, I know that sounds like a cheesy answer, but if you're in a film… Like people ask me, "Oh, when you did the Bond film, did you keep the thing that you had at the casino?" and I say no, my souvenir is the film.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Thank you very much for chatting with us today Mr. Coltrane.  Any parting words for us before we have to let you go?

Robbie Coltrane: Nothing except I very much hope everybody enjoys the movie. I'm very proud of it. I think it's a great movie to take your kids to see and I hope it will encourage people to read the book as well because that's a slightly different experience and just as valuable.

MSNBC-Will Femia: We appreciate your time.

Robbie Coltrane: OK, bye.  Cheers now.