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Chicago Tribune Interview with Robbie Coltrane



Robbie Coltrane's Comic Background Leavens The Grimness of Cracker


Scottish actor Robbie Coltrane has been cracking up movie audiences for years in such comedies as "Nuns on the Run" and "The Pope Must Die(t)." But what's so funny about "Cracker," the British TV series about an ace criminal psychologist with a knack for getting under the skin of criminals? After all, Dr. Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald drinks way too much, has a serious gambling problem, endures strained relationships with his wife, family and colleagues and really isn't well-liked. Doesn't sound like a laugh-a-thon. But one of Coltrane's strong suits is his ability to bring his comedy background into play when creating the character, whom American viewers have enjoyed on the Arts & Entertainment cable channel. "I think it's important, really," Coltrane said in a telephone interview from New York where he was doing publicity for the CableACE-award winning show. "It attempts to make things realistic. And people in the worst situations make the worst sorts of jokes, as we know, don't they?" 


A hallmark of the show is the interrogation process that Fitz conducts with a criminal, and "those huge, long interview scenes are very difficult just to learn and to pace right," said Coltrane. Sometimes there are as many as 12 pages of scripted dialogue, he added. And that scene can be done 10 or 15 times a day, just to get the right camera angles. "It's pretty tiring," Coltrane admitted. "It's not that much fun at the time, but it's nice to see it cut together, I must say. And the response has been fantastic, just amazing," he said. Still, we've got a tough shooting process, a character who is not endearing to the other characters on the series and sometimes depressing subject matter. On Tuesday, the third season of three "Cracker" movies premieres at 8 p.m. on A&E. "Cracker: Brotherly Love," the first of three new mysteries A&E will show this summer, picks up from last season's finale, where Detective Jane Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville) was raped. She thinks her attacker was another detective, Jimmy Beck (Lorcan Cranitch), and is still feeling the effects four months later. 


Meanwhile, Fitz is working on a homicide involving a prostitute and the man who police think is the killer, when he gets some tragic family news. Coltrane is scheduled to work on a new "Cracker" mystery set in Hong Kong, and a long-rumored plan of making a big-screen version of "Cracker" is getting closer to reality. Coltrane insisted however that "the script is still pretty much in the outline area." If the show is such an emotional drain in both the making and the watching, what is the appeal? Aside from its high-quality acting and writing, Coltrane said that, believe it or not, it is the character himself. "He does cut people down to size who badly need it," Coltrane said. "He gets to say all the things that we would all like to say but don't because we don't want to be disliked. So in that sense, he's quite a liberating character." And on top of all that, "he's a great psychologist," Coltrane added. "I think he does redeem himself by getting the man. I mean, if he was all the things he is and incompetent, I think we'd be in deep trouble."


The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006