Robbie Coltrane Was Always The Big Beating Heart Of The Harry Potter Franchise

It's impossible to talk about "Harry Potter" these days without addressing the elephant in the room. No, sadly, I'm not referring to Hedley Fleetwood's wooly mammoth Patronus. I mean Wizarding World creator J.K.Rowling and the way she's destroyed her own legacy over the years, culminating with her now well-documented transphobia. But unlike the "Harry Potter" books, there was always much more to the movies about The Boy Who Lived than Rowling — not least of all their outstanding adult actors.

Today brings the sad news that another alum of the "Harry Potter" films, Robbie Coltrane, has passed away at the age of 72. The actor famously starred in all eight movies about the Boy Wizard as Rubeus Hagrid, the amiable half-giant gamekeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and ardent defender of fantastical creatures big and small. It was Coltrane's Hagrid, with his huge stature and wild bushy facial hair standing in stark contrast to his well-mannered, often sensitive demeanor, who rescued poor Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) from his abusive upbringing at the hands of his relatives, the Dursleys, in 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." And Hagrid would go on to become a caring ally and occasional teacher to Harry and his friends in the films that followed.

Yer a good one, Hagrid

As inherently lovable as the Hagrid character is, it was Coltrane who infused him with the air of a gruff yet caring uncle. Where many of the grown-up actors in the "Harry Potter" films only had to do the occasional bit of heavy acting, Coltrane consistently had the heaviest load to bear. It's not just the serious moments like when Hagrid struggles to tell Harry the truth about his parents' death in "Sorcerer's Stone" or breaks down upon revealing his hippogriff Buckbeak has been unfairly sentenced to die in "Prisoner of Azkaban." Even the character's light-hearted scenes, like when Hagrid flirts with Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour) in "Goblet of Fire," only really work thanks to the earnestness with which Coltrane handles the role.

Over the years, as Radcliffe and the other young actors grew up and came into their own, Coltrane saw his screen time dwindle in the "Harry Potter" films. In the early movies, however, he would help carry scenes his costars simply weren't ready to handle on their own just yet. At the same time, Coltrane evolved and deepened his performance in the later movies, mirroring the way Hagrid would interact with the ever-maturing Harry. Radcliffe, in particular, would get better and better at playing off of Coltrane as he grew up, as seen in the Aragog's Funeral scene from "Half-Blood Prince" (a deceitfully tricky moment where the two actors juggle very different tones).

Coltrane's defense of Rowling

Coltrane was never one to take his involvement with the "Harry Potter" films lightly, telling The Guardian in 2012 (via Far Out Magazine), "Kids come up to you and they go: 'Would you like to sign my ['Harry Potter'] book?' with those big doe-eyes. And it's a serious responsibility." He also defended Rowling against the press coverage that emphasized her wealth over the role she played in encouraging people to read more:

"...You just think, she's so much more than that, and she deserves to be rich because you think of all the millions of children she's encouraged to read who'd never have opened a book in their lives and how good the books were, and how good the films were..."

That said, I would be remiss to go without mentioning that Coltrane was dismissive of those who criticized Rowling for perpetuating harmful misconceptions and inaccuracies about the transgender community. "I don't think what she said was offensive really," Coltrane told Radio Times in 2020 (via The Independent). He added:

"I don't know why but there's a whole Twitter generation of people who hang around waiting to be offended. They wouldn't have won the war, would they? That's me talking like a grumpy old man, but you just think, 'Oh, get over yourself. Wise up, stand up straight, and carry on.'"

I would be lying if I said Coltrane's comments (which, one could argue, seem more like a case of misplaced empathy and a failure to listen than a defense of transphobia) didn't put a damper on my admiration of the tender love and care he brought to his performance as Hagrid. But again, the struggle to reconcile the art with the artist is par for the course for the Wizarding World these days.