The Scottish comedy legend is back to scare the Dickens into us.
You’re playing Mr. Jaggers in the new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. What attracted you to that role?
It’s an interesting character, because he manipulates everybody else in the story. Jaggers is pretty much a real character, because he was around before advisors and financial accountants and people like that. What you wanted in life then was a really good lawyer, who was going to manage your money and help you make decisions. They were also very powerful people, and then of course, they take a percentage, so they were also very rich. It was quite fun playing the bad person. Well - I would say he’s amoral, really; psychologically, he will basically do anything for money. That is his bottom line, and he justifies it by doing what he’s instructed to do. He uses that word “instructed” a lot. “As instructed, as instructed.” He says he’s just being a good lawyer, and that affects how he makes moral judgments.
There are several people in this movie that Harry Potter fans will recognize – yourself, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, director Mike Newell – are you hoping this will help turn a younger generation onto the works of Dickens?
I feel like that’s a good point. One of the central themes of the story, of course, is of two young people that may or may not fall in love, so it’s a very good date movie. Seriously, that’s something not to underestimate. Movies that a boy and a girl can go see, because so many of the blockbusters now are targeted for 14-year-old boys - lots of action and car chases. Girls don’t want to go to the cinema with some 14-year-old that’s going to leap up every time a car flies over a building. I certainly wouldn’t.
Talking of Harry Potter, when you first took on the role of Hagrid, did you know how enormous that series was going to be?
I did. People say it was a huge surprise, but I could tell by the response of my children just when it was announced that a Harry Potter film was going to be made - they were going berserk.
Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Hagrid seems like the adult character kids would identify with the most. What was it like to suddenly have all these very young fans?
I get lots of little letters from children who want me to sort out their violent dad, and things like that. Heartbreaking stuff. Everybody would like a Hagrid in their life. I would like a Hagrid in my life. Somebody who is eight foot six, who could sort out people that are giving me a bad time.
You played Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky in a couple of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies. Was it as much fun to play him as it looked?
Definitely. I ate it like a slice of chocolate. You were never quite sure whether he was a goodie or a baddie, just shooting lots of people. You eventually learn he’s a gangster on the right side, which is pretty much what Russian politics is about. When Russia went private when the wall came down, nobody knew anything about money; money was something the government gave you, whether or not you were good at your job - a job for life, like being a civil servant. Suddenly everything was competitive, and the only people that understood that were the gangsters. Zukovsky was a pretty realistic character - a buffoon in many ways, but probably worth several million pounds. I mean, he did drive a Roller, after all.
There’s a certain generation of British men who spontaneously hit puberty during the shower room scene from Nuns On The Run. How awkward was it to film that scene?
You have no idea how difficult it was. It reminded me of that wonderful scene with Jack Lemmon in bed with Marilyn Monroe [in Some Like It Hot], going, “I’m a girl. I’m a girl. I’m a girl.” So that’s the way I kind of played that scene. They were dead sweet, those girls. They were all absolute physical beauties, girls that do that for a living. So they’d be sitting there absolutely bollock-naked, having a fag and going, “Having a good day, Bob?” And I’m going, “Don’t look. Don’t look. Look at the face. Look at the face.” It was very funny.
AND NOW, ROBBIE COLTRANE ANSWERS THE SAME 10 QUESTIONS WE ALWAYS ASK EVERYONE!
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
Oh God! How long have we got? The last thing I had to apologize for was how long it took me to get out of the car, because I have a painful arthritic knee. Getting out of the back of big SUVs - which is what they drive you around in when you’re doing press junkets - is very difficult, because they are so high off the ground. I feel like a really awkward bugger. People are dead sweet if you have an injury, but their patience is not infinite – they’re like, “What the hell is he doing?”
It’s very British to apologize to people for something that isn’t your fault.
Exactly. It’s in our nature. They always say, when two British people bump into each other in the street, they both say sorry. Whereas in New York, they’ll both say, “What’s your problem, asshole?”
What’s your favorite curse word?
My favorite swear word? That is fantastic. That’s a brilliant question. “Away and fuck yourself.” When I was in Hong Kong, I learned that the Chinese don’t consider that an insult - they say, well, that might be quite fun. If they want to insult someone, they say, “I hope the next time you have a fuck, you can’t get it up.”
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
Oh God! The worst hangover I’ve had, I was in Mexico at this retreat place to get away from all the distractions, because I had to learn this one-man play. When it finished, there was a Hollywood producer there I knew, and he said, “Lets hit the town!” I’m not sure if it was the amount I drank, or the fact that I hadn’t had a drink for a month, but the next day…my God. You know when it’s not even physical, you just feel like the world’s going to come in on top of you? And of course the only thing that will fix it is another tequila, so we had one or two days of excess.
Photo by Aaron Adler
What was your first car?
My first car was a 1976 Austin 7 Ruby. I found it on the beach in St. Andrews [Scotland], because someone drove it on the beach and got sand in the carburetor. It wasn’t in very good shape, but I managed to get in touch with the woman who owned it. She said, “Oh God yes, you can have it. But you must always call it ‘Bumble’.” I said, “I’m a guy. I can’t have a car and call it ‘Bumble’.” She said, “Well, it’s your decision…”
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
Oh Jesus, I’m covered in them! I’ve got one on my left hand, from when I went through a window once, in the middle of the night. I tripped over a TV cable and this huge shard of glass was coming out of the middle of my hand - there was blood pouring out it, so I went to the hospital. The nurse says, “Place of birth?” I said, “Glasgow.” She goes, “Oh, knife wound, is it?” [Laughs] I was like, “Excuse me? I’m sorry? No, it’s a window.”
Do you have a party trick?
I can do engine noises.
Can you give us a demonstration? My party trick is typing noises phonetically…
No, no! It’s over the phone, and it’s not a party. But people love it. Children in particular, they can’t believe that you can do an engine noise, such as a really fast car. My kids always ask for me to do a diesel.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
Isn’t that the sort of question you ask girls? And they say, “Arthur McNulty, 1975.” What’s the biggest thing I ever put in my mouth..? I was in a play once about a guy who used to eat a pound of marshmallows, so I had to put a whole pound of marshmallows in my mouth on stage, every night. I’ve never eaten a marshmallow since. It’s disgusting and not to be recommended. Next time you’re in a store, look at a pound of marshmallows. It’s a lot bigger than my fist.
What’s the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
The most important thing to do is keep your hips sideways, so that you can’t get kicked in the balls, because otherwise you will be completely useless. Also to cover your face, particularly if you’re an act-or.
I’m astonished to hear a Glaswegian not say “headbutt.”
Yeah, well, you have to get that right. You could injure yourself as well as the other bloke. Just cover your balls, keep your hips sideways, and protect your face.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
Well apart from me, it would probably be my ex-girlfriend. We broke up this past summer. I’d like to tell you it was the audience at The Naked Pussy Cat, a gay bar that I strip at, but it was my girlfriend.
Finish this sentence: “If I ruled the world for a day, I would…”
Well, I would certainly shoot one or two people. I’m sure most people say that, don’t they? In 1936, you’d have shot Hitler and Stalin, wouldn’t you? If I ruled the world… [starts singing] “Every day would be the first day of spring…” Now, are you talking about having absolute power over everything that happens?
Yeah – you control the world.
Oh my God. What would I do? That’s such a huge question. I suppose I would just take all the money off the bankers and give it to people that are doing research to cure cancer. That sort of thing. I mean obviously, if you were in total control, Cate Blanchett would fall in love with you, but that’s just a wish list, isn’t it?