‘Cracker’ Jack Robbie Coltrane

Photo: Courtesy of Granada International

Y ou may recognize him as Hagrid from the Harry Potter follies, but in England, Robbie Coltrane is revered for Cracker, the series of TV movies in which he played Fitz, a ferocious police psychologist. The last installment aired in 1996, but now, like a gift from the gods, Cracker is back—with a complicated plot that takes a harsh view of the U.S.-led war on terror. Hugo Lindgren talked to Coltrane about reviving Fitz and loving New York, especially the pastrami.

Fitz is a cranky bastard. What’s made him so popular?
He has a forensic understanding of people—that the only difference between you and me and a psychopath is about 10 percent. Yet despite his razor-sharp perception of others, he has no knowledge of himself.

Why bring him back now?
I always said that if Jimmy McGovern [the show’s creator] had a brilliant idea and I had the time, I’d come back.

So what’s the brilliant idea?
He wanted to make a film about violence. He said the world is absolutely filled with it. He wanted to say something about how violence begets violence. Not a new idea, but one that he thought bore repeating.

The gist of this show is that American hubris turns a troubled veteran into a killer.
Well, not only that. The film also deals with the British in Northern Ireland in a way that doesn’t quite cast them in the best light. The thing about McGovern is that everybody’s not going to hug in the end. But Jimmy is coming from … Jesus, I nearly said “a good place.” I must be watching too much daytime television.

Do you worry how the show will be received in the States?
I don’t think so. The criticism of Americans isn’t about the people themselves—it’s about the belief that you can fix things through violence.

There’s a line in the show about someone: “He’s not American, he’s from New York.” What does that mean?
That’s a line me and Jimmy agreed on, and well, you know perfectly well what it means. Do you want me to say what I think it means?

I’ve driven all through America and I know there are a lot of clever people between the coasts. But they have a slightly old-fashioned view of the world. Whereas New York is one of the most multicultural, multiracial, tolerant places on Earth.

Do you know the city well?
Don’t tell the immigration people, but I practically lived there in the late seventies. The filmmaker Amos Poe used to have a place on East Third, and he wanted to do a remake of Alphaville with me and Debbie Harry. Being friends with Debbie Harry in 1979 was kind of like knowing God. Wait—is it true that Katz’s closed down?

No, you must be thinking of the Second Avenue Deli. Katz’s is still open.
What a relief. Oh, the smell when they’d take the pastrami out of the oven. They put my photograph up, three down from Frank Sinatra. Proudest moment of my life.

BBC America, Monday, October 30, 9 P.M.

‘Cracker’ Jack Robbie Coltrane