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The big man: Robbie Coltrane dresses down for his role in a new TV adaptation of RL Stevenson’s The Ebb-Tide
engine‘s development from diesel and steam via the ‘noisy. smelly and omnipresent‘ 2- Stroke engine. to the jet engine and its impact in war and tourism.
‘We had a paranoid vision of ending up making an Open University type thing for the middle of the night.‘ explains Coltrane. ‘People travel around in a kind of state of denial as long as they‘re getting from here to there. “Aren‘t you curious as to . . “No. as long as it‘s got Rolls Royce on it and it hums and it shines. I‘m perfectly happy.“
‘Actually. if it had been my programme. it would have been more technical but it‘s very difficult to get someone to see whatever it is that you see yourself. I mean. David
Plane speaking: our Rab in Channel 4's Coltrane's Planes and Automobiles
Attenborough has had a whole nation glued to the telly watching pupae turning into bloody butterﬂies when those people would rather be watching Celebrity Underpants or something. It‘s getting that balance between your own enthusiasm. which can be so boring. and being simply entertaining.’
Simply entertaining is an apt description of
the moment Coltrane nearly does himself a mischief inside a tiny jet. ‘It was like being in a sports car — you felt every single change in the air pressure, it would buck all over the place.‘ he recalls.
‘Then this classic RAF voice told me we were going to try something a bit different. So suddenly. it goes like that (with his hand. he indicates a swallow—dive and flip over) and then you‘re upside down and the ground comes flying towards you and you‘re compressed into Your seat and . . . oh. God.‘
Perhaps more in the Coltrane ‘public- expectation‘ vein. is his part as Captain Chisholm in a television adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s The Ebb-Tide, beginning this month. Starring alongside Nigel Terry and Steven Mackintosh. Coltrane plays one of three down-on-their-luck wastrels who set sail for 07. and a shiny future. Naturally. things go wrong rather quickly through insurance scams. an unseaworthy vessel and a particularly inclement storm.
After having portrayed characters such as Oliver Hardy. a 50s rocker. Mason Boyne and Dr Johnson. does this suggest Coltrane’s comfort with the past and a fear of all things millennial and futuristic?
‘I don’t have a preference for the past. it‘s
'l was a bit concerned they'd have somebody like Patrick Swayze playing Fitz and you'd get some— one coming in saying "put those weights down.
Stop oiling yourself".’
all acting. really, mate.‘ he states in cockney. ‘The script went through a few incarnations but it‘s the tale of a man looking for redemption. There’s no comedy whatsoever. It‘s pretty horrific. actually. There‘s a lot of death.‘
From pirates. Coltrane is moving to the gangster genre with American ﬁlm Frogs For Snakes. ‘Again. there‘s a lot of blood. lots of shooting but the script is very witty and clever.‘ says Coltrane. ‘lt‘s low-budget and non-studio, but terrific. Stanley Tucci (Big Night and Murder One) was delightful to work with and Kevin Bacon came down to meet me as he was a big fan of Cracker.‘
Sp aking of which. how did Coltrane react to the recent American TV transformation of Fitz from the 40 packs a day. whisky and skirt chaser. to a work-out kinda guy? ‘I was a bit concerned they‘d have somebody like Patrick Swayze playing Fitz and you’d get someone coming in saying “put those weights down. Stop oiling yourself". But they didn‘t and it was quite good really.‘
Fans of Coltrane’s portrayal of the emotionally ruptured criminal psychologist will be relieved to hear that he will soon be working again with the same team on Butcher. in which he plays a New York detective with a passion for food. As Coltrane gobbles up many of the meatiest roles around. there will soon be no crumbs left for anyone else. And other grubby metaphors.
The Ebb-Tide is on Scottish on Wed 24 Sep. Coltrane’s Planes And Automobiles is due to be shown on Channel 4 in November.
12—25 Sept 1997 THE UST 9