In the movie HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, the audience gets to meet Sirius Black. First introduced as a mysterious and menacing character supposedly bent on Harry’s destruction, we later learn that he was best friend’s with Harry father and is godfather to the young Potter. The character of Sirius Black is played by British actor Gary Oldman.
Oldman has played a number of villains in movie roles over the years, and often this aura comes with him to a part. Black’s introduction is as a murderer, and the only person to have managed to escape from the famed Azkaban prison. He is costumed like someone incarcerated for a long time: unkempt hair, unshaven, and a general unwashed appearance. He is also covered in tattoos.
The tattoos appear all over Sirius Black’s chest and torso, as visible through the neckline of his unbuttoned shirt. Tattoos can also be seen on his hands and fingers in some scenes. The tattoos on his chest are larger glyphs and symbols surrounded by tinier writing. The characters found on Sirius are similar to alchemy and rune forms.
The large character just below Sirius’ throat is similar to 18th-century symbols used in chemistry, and yet it is missing a terminating triangle or square that would specifically make it one of those. The large symbol below this image looks identical to the Nordic rune áss (god) or óss (waterfall). The designs on his fingers are shown so briefly and in dim light that they are indiscernible.
Interestingly, these tattoos do not appear in J.K. Rowling’s original story. When asked about the cryptic skin art, Oldman stated in multiple magazine interviews that the decision to make Sirius Black tattooed came from director Alfonso Cuarón. No special tattoo makeup credits are included in the overall movie credits so the actual tattoo designing could have come from any of about a half dozen credited makeup artists and designers.
I visited a variety of Harry Potter fan sites and found mixed reactions to the skin art. Some people felt the tattoos were “cool” and added to the character. Some people argued that it was silly to add them since they weren’t in the story to begin with. My own feeling is that the tattoos are in the movie due to several modern cultural conventions. The first is that tattoos are very trendy right now and having them in the movie would add certain appeal to teenagers infatuated with tattooing. The second is that many people presume that everyone who goes to prison has or will have tattoos by the time they come out.
You can take a look at Sirius Black’s tattoos for yourself with the DVD of HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.