August 3, 2004


Deconstructing Robbie: The search for meaning in a Godless universe is easier when you’ve got a ’72 Buick, a full tank of gas and George Clooney’s attention. (Peter Ross, 8/01/04, Sunday Herald)

“DID you hear about the woman who went into the cocktail bar? The barman says, ‘What will you have?’ She says, ‘I think I’ll have a Double Entendre.’ So he gave her one.” Robbie Coltrane is cracking jokes. He’s always cracking jokes. He’s a cracker. Sometimes, quite blatantly, he’ll say something funny if he feels the line of questioning is getting too serious. Sometimes he just wants to hear you laugh. The double entendre gag comes midway through lunch at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar, which Coltrane has chosen as the venue for our interview. [...]

I have interviewed Coltrane once before. It was Hallowe’en, 2001, shortly before the first Harry Potter film came out. On that occasion I was astonished by his ability to wheel around a vast range of different subjects, making frequent diversions, exploring conversational sideroads; because interviews with film stars are usually strictly limited in terms of time, they tend to be linear affairs, with journalist and subject choosing the fastest way from A to B, but a journey into the mind of Coltrane means always taking the scenic route. He does this, in part, as a way of avoiding revealing too much about himself, but also because he has so much stuff in his brain that if he didn’t leave the chatter valve open, his head might explode. “Why is it trivia?” he demands. “People call it trivia because they know nothing and they are embarrassed about it.”

Within one minute after setting off from the car park, he was holding forth on the history of a certain hut. In the hour that it took us to drive to the restaurant, he discussed – among other subjects – geology, memory loss (his mother, who is 87, has such good recall that she is occasionally visited by “young men from Cambridge University” desperate to understand why), the difficulties facing farmers, the link between Donald Rumsfeld and the artificial sweetener Aspartame, the life and work of Elliott Gould, the decline of the British Labour Party, the history of the British pub as influenced by the construction of cathedrals, the evil that is conifer trees, his daughter, my son, Le Mans, the internet, primitive cave paintings, the Battle of Agincourt, and the erotic misadventures of Leslie Grantham.

Inevitably, there were jokes – “Have you ever been up Glen Douglas?” he asked with a sly grin – but there were less silly accents than there were three years ago. Coltrane is a gifted mimic, and I think the less he knows someone, the more he puts on voices as a way of keeping his distance, which can be fun but frustrating. That said, he did treat me to a beautiful Marlon-Brando-watching-Benny-Hill that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

PULLING up outside the Oyster Bar, Coltrane kills the engine, unleashes a tsunami of grey-black waves from beneath his Cadillac baseball cap, and heads inside. He’s dressed down in a blue check shirt and black jeans, but you can see the heads turn when he enters the room. Some children having lunch with their parents look particularly delighted – Rubeus Hagrid in the flesh! – but we are shown to a booth without being approached. He’s limping a little, the result of a fall in his garage while carrying a box of car bits, and has a sore-looking graze on his chin. Still, he has undeniable presence. It’s those look-at-me-but-stay-away pheromones that stars secrete whether they mean to or not.

We order lunch. He rhapsodises over a lobster, I have a symphony in fish. “Kippers as a starter?” he asks, channelling Terry Thomas. “Ding-dong!” During the Eighties, his party trick in restaurants was to bite chunks out of a wineglass and chew it round his mouth. Today, mercifully, he settles for sips of fizzy water.

He's one of those guys--like Belushi or John Candy--who you're afraid is going to die too soon because of how enormous he is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 3, 2004 5:47 AM

We call it "trivia" because it usually doesn't matter whether we know it or not.

Robbie Coltrane is much taller than either Candy or Belushi, and so his weight, although not optimal, isn't as unhealthy.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 3, 2004 5:52 PM

We call it "trivia" because the Romans used to put little signposts with all the news where ever three roads (tri via) came together.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 3, 2004 7:46 PM

Which is both enlightening, and proves my point.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at August 3, 2004 10:37 PM