Under the wig, a gentle giant

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Harry, Ron, and Hermione have sprouted a few inches over the past year, but they still look small standing next to gentle giant Rubeus Hagrid, who makes his second appearance on the big screen in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets."

For the role of Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane, by no means short at 6 ft.,1 in., wore special boots that made him at least seven inches taller.

"When I donned them, I surprised even myself," Coltrane said in a recent interview. "I became the giant with the huge wig, the special shoulders on the costume, and the boots. I even had to duck my head when I walked through the door."

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To prepare his attire, Coltrane arrived on the set at the crack of dawn. It took at least an hour and a half for makeup and costume artists to transform him into Hagrid.

"First, I had a bushy beard, then this extra-large wig, circa Dallas 1984, plus layers upon layers of clothes," he said.

His costume weighed a heavy, sweltering 65 pounds. "They had special tubes in my vest and sleeves, where they could pour cold water to keep me from sweating," Coltrane says. "Sometimes the heat would cause my make-up to start running down my cheeks or the wig would come unglued.... They would redo it. It'd take two hours, and then I'd be camera ready again."

Coltrane, an avid fan of the Harry Potter books, was hand-picked by author J. K. Rowling. He was the first actor to be cast for the original film.

"I knew the story well, for I'd read it to my young son, Spencer," he says. "I did all the accents, even inventing a few of my own, when reading it, and must say I felt a certain kindred to Hagrid."

Eventually he brought his 9-year-old son, Spencer, to the set.

"I didn't want to be pushing him into acting, but on the other hand, if I were a plumber I'd bring him to work with me, and he'd see what dad did. I asked him [about] it. His eyes grew very large and he said, 'Yes, that would be splendid.' "

Spencer had the time of his life, he says. When they called lunch, he quickly joined the other boys. "He'd formed a little gang with [director Chris Columbus's] sons, and the boys were off to the commissary to eat. So old dad ate alone."

Coltrane was mostly known for his role as TV detective "Cracker" until the first "Potter" film came out last year. In person, he is a little like both characters. His frame is burly like Hagrid, but it's obvious he has a soft heart. On the other hand, he chips away the nonsense, like Cracker, to get to the heart of the matter.

He dons the wig again in March, when filming begins on "Prisoner of Azkaban."

"I'm reading the third book to my son," he says, "and, for those who haven't read it, I hope I can keep it a secret.... Once I remember giving away the whole plot of a detective show to a journalist before it aired on TV, even to the 'who done it.' "

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