“I Wasn’t Imagining This. This Is Too Much!” Dawn French Recalls Working with a Hippo on “Prisoner of Azkaban”

Dawn French, renowned in the Harry Potter community for her portrayal of the Fat Lady, has shared a delightfully funny and unusual anecdote from her time on set. She appeared on Off Menu podcast’s Christmas 2023 special and revealed a unique connection with a hippo during her work on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The scene, depicted below, takes place immediately following Sirius Black’s break-in to the Gryffindor common room.


The Fat Lady hiding behind a hippo within a portrait that is not her own

French explained, “I was asked if I was happy to work with animals, and then I was told by the director that there was a hippo. I just said yes ’cause I wanted to be in the film. Didn’t think about it until the day, when I was taken into the great hangar at Leavesden Studio[s] and left in a pen in the middle with sawdust.”

Anyone who has worked with animals, on a film set or otherwise, knows they can be unpredictable (almost as if – gasp – they’re animals!) and the hippo French worked with was no exception. With her usual humorous air, she explained that she was told the hippo might want to mate with her or might “sniff [her] privates” and not to run under any circumstances. Thankfully, the hippo was a pygmy and not a full-grown, adult hippo, as they grow up to five feet tall and weigh upwards of 3,000 pounds!

French recounted the encounter, describing it as a memorable and unexpected interaction. Without giving away too many spoilers or ruining the genuinely perfect comedic timing of Ms. French, let’s say our continued curiosity about the magical and unconventional elements that contributed to the making of the beloved Harry Potter series is bar none. Listen to the episode in its entirety below, with the hippo discussion starting at 15:50.


Kat Miller

I am a 40-something Ravenclaw/Slytherin from Massachusetts. I've been lucky in life and can attribute a lot of that to Harry Potter. Without it, I wouldn't have at least 80% of the things I do today, including my career & closest friends. I truly despise Sirius Black.