Tuesday 16 April 2019


HAVING starred in a string of blockbuster films and smash-hit TV shows, his status as one of Scotland’s most talented and celebrated actors is now established beyond all doubt.
But Robert Carlyle has revealed that, in the earliest days of his career, success seemed far from certain.
In fact, his dad was so worried about the young actor’s prospects, he started a savings account to buy him a set of ladders and brushes so he could set up as a painter and decorator in case it all went wrong.
In an emotional Q and A at Belfast Film Festival  Carlyle - whose screen credits include the Bond film The World Is Not EnoughThe Full MontyTrainspotting and the Netflix drama Once Upon A Time - has spoken for the first time about the contingency fund his labourer father set aside.
The 58-year-old, from Glasgow’s Maryhill, has described the hardships of his childhood,
explained that he and his father went to the cinema as much for warmth as for entertainment - and joked that he only went to acting classes as a way to meet girls.
Carlyle was brought up solely by his father Joseph after his mother Elizabeth, a bus company employee walked out when he was only three.
Speaking recently at a film festival event in Belfast Carlyle fought back tears as he revealed how his father had supported his surprising decision to try and make a living as an actor.
He said: “My dad was great. He was shocked because I was a painter and decorator. That’s what my father had done, and my grandfather, and everybody did, so when I broke this to my father he said ‘OK, alright son, I’ll back you up to do what you want to do.’ 
“I don’t think he was entirely sure. Cut to years and years and years later and I’d done Bond and everything at this point and my dad said to me ‘You’re doing alright son eh?’ I said ‘Aye.’ He said ‘So things are fine?’ There was something on his mind. And he said ‘Look’ - and he went into this drawer and he pulled out a bank book. He said: ‘When you told me you were going to become an actor I wasn’t sure how that was going to go, so I put a wee bit money away for you just in case it wasn’t going to work out.’ He said: ‘I thought it would get you a wee set of ladders and brushes.’
And he showed me this bank book and there was three hundred quid. Now for my dad that’s a lot of money and he showed me this £300 and I said ‘Dad you’re going to spend that tomorrow.’ So my dad had a wee contingency for me.”
In the moving interview, former Hamish Macbeth star Carlyle revealed that he first showed an interest in film because he was so poor it was warmer to sit inside the cinema than it was at home.
He explained: “My mother left when I was a wee boy. I was only three and my father brought me up on his own and that period from three years old to ten we would go to the cinema three, four, five times a week. Back then you’d go into watch the movie and you could actually watch it all over again. They wouldn’t even throw you out.”
“Our living conditions were dirt poor so it was always cosy and warmer in the cinema. I grew up in places like this. I grew to love it. I had no notion of being an actor, maybe a notion of being a cowboy. Acting came an awful lot later.”
In fact it was Robert’s interest in girls that eventually prompted him to seek out theatre groups where the number of female performers outweighed the boys.
He laughed: “A friend of mine was getting involved in drama when I was probably round about 18 or 19 and he was going to this place called Glasgow Arts Centre. I know it’s not a very PC thing to say but he said ‘There are a lot of good looking women here and you should go’ - and he was right, so I went. It was filled with girls who wanted to be actresses and very few guys so there was little competition which was great. I sat there for three or four months in this place.”
Robert who attended twice a week was happy to ogle, but reluctant to join in with the workshops, and was so adamant that he wasn’t going to actually act he threatened to walk out during an ultimatum with his drama teacher Maggie Kinloch to whom he owes his career. 
He said: “Maggie came up to me one of those nights and said to me ‘What are you doing? Why don’t you join in?’They were doing improvisation and I said ‘No, I’m not interested and she said ‘Well you have to leave then.’ It was kind of harsh but probably true and I was chippy back then and said ‘Ok f*** it’ and walked towards the door and she said ‘Hey, are you just going to walk out?’
‘You can either take that one way or the other. You can either use it as a challenge or you can walk out the door’ and I thought ‘I fancy a challenge’...so I did and I went back after that and I got up and improvised something, and it was funny, and I spoke and people laughed, and it was like a drug. I liked it, and I thought ‘This is good’ and there was some kind of acceptance for me.”
 Carlyle’s passion for acting took him to the RSAMD or Royal Conservatoire as it is now known. After graduating in 1991, he and some friends set up Raindog Theatre Company and shortly after he starred in his first film Riff Raff by Ken Loach, who later directed him in Carla’s Song. 
 Robert revealed that the entire success of the film about a Glaswegian bus driver who woos a Nicaraguan refugee for which he won two best acting awards - relied on his ability to drive a bus. 
He said: “I found out if I hadn’t passed the test, the film was no more because Glasgow council had said ‘There is no way we are letting an actor jump on a bus unless he knows he knows what he’s doing’. So all the stuff of me driving about the streets is real.”
Following a high profile role as a murderer in Cracker with Robbie Coltrane, Carlyle was offered his starring BBC TV role in Hamish Macbeth as a Highland Policeman from 1995-97.  
Lifechanging movie roles in Trainspotting in 1996 and the Full Monty which earned Carlyle a BAFTA in ‘97 soon followed. And the proverbial icing on the cake came when he was asked to play the arch villain Renard in the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough
Carlyle said he had to pinch himself when he got the villainous role. He said: “007 was a privilege to be involved in the franchise. There are things that happened that would take your breath away. My very first day was filming in Pinewood on the 007 stage which is like Hampden Park.It was a big deal for me because Sean Connery was huge and the only guy that spoke a little bit like me in films in the sixties.”
Carlyle also revealed that  Danny Boyle had to persuade him to play the psychopathic Francis Begbie in Begbie in Trainspotting with Ewan McGregor, a role he was initially unwilling to take because of his size. 
The slim built five foot nine actor explained: “Danny said ‘What about Begbie and I said ‘Forget it, no way’ and he said ‘Why not? and I said ‘Because he’s a monster, a big monsterous beast of a guy’ and - I wish I could claim this line - Danny said ‘Nah, small psychos are the best.’”
 During Full Monty, a movie about amateur strippers which saw him stripping off in the final scenes , Robert made a new penpal in the form of English born Emma Thompson who would later co-star in his Scots film The Legend of Barney Thomson in 2015.
He said: “At the time that Full Monty was around I got a postcard through my agent from Emma Thompson. I’d never met her but she sent this beautiful card saying ‘I’ve never met you but I’m so proud of you’. It was unsolicited. I’ve still got it.”
When Robert was looking to cast a Scots mother in Barney Thomson, a film he directed many years later, he recalled the postcard and decided to contact her. He smiled: “I scoured around and remembered Emma doing Tutti Frutti year’s ago and thinking she was Scottish. It was the first time I’d seen her.
‘ I thought ‘This is maybe the ‘In’ here.’ I sent her a script and said I’d never forgotten her kindness and asked her to have a look at this bizarre thing - to play my eighty year old mother - and two days later she accepted.”
The Scots talent has been inundated with roles over the years and says he has turned down a few that he later regretted.
One such part was for time travelling seventies TV cop show Life On Mars in 2006. Robert lamented: “I wish I’d done it. That was a decision that went back and forward and they said I could play either of these parts so I got in touch with my pal Ray Winstone and he was looking at it, and we were both going to do it. I can’t remember what happened to make us knock it on the head but I turned it down and regretted it. I think it would have been really good.”
Robert, who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada with his family after moving there to make globally loved Once Upon A Time where he played Rumplestiltskin aka Mr Gold admits that he is very lucky.
He said: “It’s difficult to know what to do now. The show finished this time last year and we were packed up and ready to go and the kids said ‘We want to stay.’ We are there for a bit and will let them finish their school there. Who knows what will happen next?”

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