The legend that is Carlyle

Raised by his father after his mother left when he was four years old, Carlyle left school at 16 without qualifications, and for the next few years he worked as a painter and decorator. He credits his dad with instilling a love of cinema.

“He used to take me to the movies four, five times a week. Back in those days, you could sit down and watch it again and again, and that’s what we used to do if we liked the film. So I became a wee film student at a very early age,” he said.

At 21, he became involved with community theatre, after reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Robert Carlyle

But when asked if he wanted to take it further and go to drama school, he didn’t know what to reply as he didnt know such a thing existed.  

A short while later, he gained a place at the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama (now known as The Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland).

He and four of his mates formed theatre company Raindog (“Theatre was all I was going to do,” Carlyle continued), but then the director Ken Loach walked into his life, and offered him a role in 1991 movie Riff-Raff.

He went on to play the gay lover of Linus Roache’s Father Greg in 1994 film Priest, a serial killer in Cracker alongside Robbie Coltrane, and the title role in TV series Hamish Macbeth.

Then, along came Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, the cult 1996 movie where he starred as psychopathic Begbie, followed by The Full Monty, which earned Carlyle a Bafta.

“I was so lucky to have those films practically back-to-back, which helped to establish me as an actor. There are very few things you can say were a phenomenon.”

Although he calls Glasgow home, his base for the last few years has been Vancouver, in order to shoot the TV Show, Once Upon a Time, in which he plays Rumpelstiltskin.

“It was a big decision to move, but British film wasn’t in a good place and there wasn’t an awful lot of stuff being made, especially the kind of stuff I like,” he explained.  “I thought, ‘I can sit about doing nothing, or I can actually do something else’.

“Throughout the nineties, a lot of the film stuff I was making were small, independent movies, which is fantastic for your mind but rubbish for your pocket. I thought, ‘I have three kids and a wife  –  I can’t leave this industry with nothing’. I needed to make some money, and wanted to try to do it in a way which was also going to be satisfying.”

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thomson

This week Carlyle’s career takes another turn with the release of his big screen directorial debut, The Legend Of Barney Thomson, which is receiving rave reviews. But despite the success, he admits he’s had a tumultuous connection with the project.

“It was offered to me purely as an actor four or five times over a 10-year period. I was doing other stuff, and I said to my agent, ‘Listen, the next time this thing comes through my letterbox, I’m going to be waiting with a gun because it’s beginning to annoy me’,” the 54-year-old Glaswegian said laughing.

When pushed, he admits it wasn’t only because he was too busy that he felt that way.

“There was always something not quite right with it. It was a Glasgow setting, but it wasn’t a Glasgow I knew,” explained the married father-of-three.

Then, when Carlyle was in Canada shooting the fantasy TV series Once Upon A Time, he got talking to a producer friend who said there was a script he should read.

But this particular screen adaptation of Douglas Lindsay’s novel The Long Midnight Of Barney Thomson, penned by the Canadian writer Richard Cowan, struck a chord with him.

“I said I could help ‘Glasgow-fy’ it, and so myself and Bafta-winning Scottish screenwriter Colin McLaren started cobbling it together.”

The story is a darkly comic tale, which follows Barney (Carlyle), a hapless barber devoid of charm or patter, who accidentally, and quite literally, stumbles into serial murder.

Despite having directed in the theatre, it was never Carlyle’s intention to helm the movie.

“I was just thinking about getting the characters and the script worked out so if it did ever happen, it would be in a good place. Meanwhile the producers, the sneaky people, were behind the scenes going, ‘This could be Robert Carlyle acting and directing’, and the financiers thought this was a great idea. Suddenly I was like, ‘Hold on a minute, I never said I’d do this’.”

But then in June last year, with no director on board, he thought, “I guess I know this piece better than anybody by now, so why not?” And that’s how it happened.


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