How Begbie fell into The Legend of Barney Thomson

Robert Carlyle and co-star Ashley Jensen are all smiles on the red carpet. Picture: Neil Hanna
Robert Carlyle and co-star Ashley Jensen are all smiles on the red carpet. Picture: Neil Hanna
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TO many he will always be Begbie, the psychopathic Trainspotting star.

His four-letter and violence strewn rampage around Edinburgh was the role which catapulted Robert Carlyle to super stardom.

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson. Picture: Contributed

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson. Picture: Contributed

Fitting then that when the time came for the world premiere of his big screen directorial debut, the Capital was chosen as the location .

The red carpet reception for The Legend of Barney Thomson saw the stars flock to the Edinburgh International Film Festival and led to rave reviews.

Now with the film’s release across the country, we will finally all be able to see what the fuss is about.

Despite the success, though, Carlyle admits the project was hardly love at first sight.

Robert Carlyle as Begbie in Trainspotting. Picture: Contributed

Robert Carlyle as Begbie in Trainspotting. Picture: Contributed

“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’,” he reveals.

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,” explains the 54-year-old.

Then, Carlyle was in Canada shooting the fantasy TV series Once Upon A Time, when he got talking to a producer friend who said there was a script he should read. When he received it, he discovered it was “f***ing Barney Thomson! It was following me!” the actor recalls.

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

Robert Carlyle on the set of The Legend of Barney Thomson with Tom Courtenay. Picture: Contributed

Robert Carlyle on the set of The Legend of Barney Thomson with Tom Courtenay. Picture: Contributed

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’,” he explains.

But then 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.

Although he’s known for his intensity on stage and screen, Carlyle makes for great company. Charming and candid, he recalls how he and co-star Ray Winstone – “who I’ve known for too long” – have had a few good drinking sessions in their time.

Carlyle’s humble too, admitting feeling nerves on the first day of shooting Barney Thomson. “I’ve worked with some brilliant directors, and you don’t see the hesitation in the good ones, so you just have to go, ‘Right, this is what we’re doing, let’s all do it together’.”

He notes there were only a few actors in the film that he hadn’t worked with previously. “I always thought that if I ever was going to direct a film, number one, it’d be in my home town, and number two, I was going to get my mates in,” he says.

Carlyle also called upon Emma Thompson to play Barney’s imposing mother Cemolina, despite there only being two years between them.

“I thought we needed someone brave and someone with no vanity. And I’ve always been a big fan of Emma’s.”

He reveals that the two-time Oscar winner had sent him a card congratulating him on his performance in 1997’s The Full Monty.

“I couldn’t believe she’d taken the time out to do that, so when I sent her the script, I said, ‘By the way, I remember you sent this card’, so we had a little bit of a connection to each other.”

Raised by his father after his mother left when he was four, Carlyle left school at 16 without qualifications, and for the next few years 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.”

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

“I was there a couple of years before Maggie Kinloch and Robin Wilson [two of his teachers] said, ‘Do you think you want take this further and go to drama school?’ I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

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).

The experience was “tough at first, because I didn’t understand it”, he recalls.

“I hadn’t seen a play before I went to drama school, and there were loads of people walking around talking like that [adopts a plummy voice]. I thought, ‘This isn’t what I thought it would be’, but I grew to love it.”

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 closely 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 aforementioned TV show, 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 says. “I thought, ‘I can sit about doing nothing, or I can actually do something else’.”

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

With fewer films being made in Hollywood, he noticed that a lot of writers were moving into TV.

He adds: “I was lucky enough to end up in Once Upon A Time, which isn’t bad.”

The Legend Of Barney Thomson is released on Friday.