NPR logo Producing Robbie Coltrane

Producing Robbie Coltrane

We've had a small rash of Harry Potter film alums on Weekend Edition lately. A few weeks ago, Daniel Radcliffe, who portrays young Mr. Potter, joined Liane Hansen to talk about Equus, a recently-revived play in which he appears. (Perhaps that's a bit of an understatement: there are definitely some full-frontal nude scenes for the boy wizard.) And this week, Liane spoke to Robbie Coltrane, best known to U.S. audiences as Rubeus Hagrid, Harry's oversized mentor and instructor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Of course, in the U.K., Robbie Coltrane's reputation tends to stretch a bit further. He's done Shakespeare, James Bond films (anyone remember that portly Russian fellow from GoldenEye?), and plenty of television programs which Brits would remember and Americans like me may be able to namedrop — Blackadder and Cracker being the best-known. And of course, the Scotsman is also known as something of a funnyman — he got his start in stand-up and sketch comedy.

His latest gig was a series of three hour-long documentary(ish) programs in which he drives a red Jaguar convertible from London (work) to Glasgow (home) — via the scenic route. Incredible Britain (called B-Road Britain overseas) follows our hero through the English backroads as he visits small towns and the rather offbeat traditions of folks who inhabit them. These traditions: they are rather awesome. Highlights:

—the annual public weigh-in ceremony of a town's elected officials

—the world's only motorcycle funeral service

—popping wheelies with a 20-ton fire truck at the Shakespeare County Raceway

—a rugby match contested by hundreds of people over 2 1/2 miles

—at least two otherwise unpalatable vegetables

—at least three things that blow up spectacularly

Anyway, Robbie looks like he's having tons of fun throughout it all, jawing with locals, driving a sports car, cheating at cooking contests. And judging from the interview, not a second of it was anything less than exhilarating. Maybe it wasn't all fun, per se — in a bit we had to cut for time, Robbie admits that his fear of heights wasn't exactly helped by a visit to the tallest freestanding tower in England. But it was all in good fun, however. "I'm like most actors," he said in another bit left on the cutting room floor. "If you put a camera in front of me, and say we're filming this, I'll do almost anything, so long as it's not definitely going to kill me."

Now, I must confess, 'twasn't really all my doing. Northern England native Gemma Watters, whose Harry Potter fandom should by now be obvious, coordinated our recent Coltrane and Radcliffe conversations; I merely helped stitch this one together. But I did get to watch the DVD of Incredible Britain (and call it "work"). And it struck me: The fictive magical world occupied by Harry Potter et al is certainly captivating. But documenting that local color still exists — at full strength — in an increasingly globalized world? That's real magic right there.