PAUL Samson, River City’s Raymond Henderson has two “stand-out” memories of his time in Shieldinch, and they’re both crackers.
“There was a Christmas special for which we did our own take on It’s A Wonderful Life; Raymond was feeling suicidal and accidentally knocked himself out. Then there was a dream sequence in which he saw what Shieldinch would be like without him. That was an incredible honour, to be playing the James Stewart part in that,” recalls the 50-year-old.
“The other highlight was the tenth anniversary in 2012. I had this massive story all to myself; I was involved in a murder... The Tall Ship got blown up. I was tremendously flattered that they chose to commemorate that anniversary with a storyline that I was front and centre in.”
Samson’s River City alter ego was killed off last week after 12 years in the soap, but as he prepares to return to the stage tonight in Kill Johnny Glendenning, at the Lyceum, the actor is clearly excited to be back on the boards and surprisingly upbeat about his exit from Shieldinch.
“I don’t regret a minute on River City but it was the right time to go. I miss my pals, but jobs move on. The show has changed and it was the right time to change personnel. So no, I don’t miss it.”
Not that he’s had time. After the success of Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson’s Dark Road last year, it comes as little surprise to find the Lyceum’s 2014/15 season opener is another crime caper. After all, audiences love a good thriller, and director Mark Thomson was quick to snap up Samson – but then they have worked together before.
“The last time I was on a stage in Scotland, was in 2001, in a production of Moving Objects at The Brunton, in Musselburgh, and Mark Thomson was directing,” reveals Samson, adding, “We won an award for that at the Fringe too.”
Although he admits that after so long on TV it is “a wee bit nerve-wracking” to be returning to live theatre, Samson reasons, “Do you know something? That’s what we do.
“Sometimes actors who have been on the telly for a long time say they are all dead nervous, well, my feeling is, don’t do it then. We’re actors. I came into this business on the stage and will probably go out on the stage. The stage is where it’s at.”
In Kill Johnny Glendenning, DC Jackson’s tale of Glasgow’s underworld, Samson plays Andrew MacPherson, a man with many legitimate business interests: a security firm, taxis, a couple of Renfrewshire bus routes, several pubs and even a secret share-holding in Rangers.
Meanwhile, Johnny “The B*****d” Glendenning is the self-styled Tony Blair of Ulster loyalist gunmen.
In a farmhouse far out in the wilds the pair are on a deadly collision course. Caught between them are a farmer, his mother, two thugs, a sleazy tabloid hack and some pigs with a taste for human flesh.
Described as a murderous comedy the play takes aim at the tabloid celebrity and macho glamour of the gangster life.
It’s Samson’s third time at the Lyceum, he appeared in Joe Orton’s Loot in the mid-90s and before that in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. A reunion with director Thomson made another return an attractive proposition.
“It’s a brand new play, very urban, concerning an ex-terrorist who gets involved in organised crime in Scotland and a gangster. We run in to each other and let’s just say, we have a wee disagreement,” he says, giving little away.
“When you are playing a part like this you can really cut loose. MacPherson is a spectacularly bad person. It’s a cliché, but the bad guys are always ten times better to play, it’s the old ‘good guys always finish last’ carry on,” he adds.
“What’s great is that DC Jackson’s writing is almost Tarantino-esque; you have some horrible violence going on but you are laughing at the same time.
“And the part of MacPherson really is a gift for me.”
No stranger to the Capital, Samson loves working in the city. In 1993 he played local boxing legend Ken Buchanan in a play at The Traverse, and he reveals that the highlight of his career happened here too.
“I did a production of The Bruce, at St Bride’s, as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. In theatrical terms that was the high spot for me, playing Robert The Bruce.
“It was such a great company. I felt like I had my very own army with all the gang on stage with me.”
But it is as Raymond Henderson that millions will know him, a role he accepts was life-changing.
“Particulalry in terms of security, the one thing you very rarely have as an actor,” he reflects.
“It afforded me a little bit of security, although it still had its issues because you are only ever on a yearly contract. It wasn’t as secure as working in a bank or as a teacher, but was as good as it gets in acting terms.”
Going was a wrench he concedes, but is philosophical.
“It’s huge when you go, but the way I look at it is that River City owes me nothing. It has given me far more than I have given it. It changed my life for the better.
“However, enjoyable as it is to work on a big show like that, you are essentially going in every day and doing the same thing. It’s the same stories over and over again.
“You are doing a heavy schedule, just getting it.
“So it is great to come out and once again have a wee spring in your step as you go to work.”
Kill Johnny Glendenning, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, tonight-11 October, 7.30pm (matinees 2pm), £12.50-£29, 0131-248 4848