It’s almost impossible to think of Robert Carlyle without conjuring the image of Begbie tossing that pint glass into the crowd in Trainspotting.
Great actor that he is, whatever roles he takes, he will forever be associated with the grinning psychopath from the film that rocketed him to global stardom.Since then, of course, he has notched up more hit movies than many American stars can dream of – not bad for a lad from Glasgow’s Maryhill.
He’s even been a Bond villain and, let’s face it, it doesn’t get much better than that.
But now the man who can reduce just about anyone to a quivering mess with one angry glare has turned his back on cinema to star in a TV show – a sci-fi TV show. You would be forgiven for thinking we are winding you up.
But no, as you read this, Carlyle is in Vancouver filming scenes for Stargate Universe – the latest spin-off from the original 1994 Rolan Emmerich film about portals into other worlds.
So what happened? Believe it or not, it’s all down to Tim Roth… and Robert getting bored waiting for the British film industry to give itself a shake.
He said: “In a way, Tim probably was the one who told me to do it. About 18 months ago, I decided to come to LA to stick my head above the parapet and see what’s out here because so many of my friends were doing that.
“And, to be honest, back home the British industry is not in the best health at all.
“So it was ‘What do I do? Do I sit here, kick my heels and wait for film projects to come up? Or do I try and make work for myself?’. And that’s the first time I’d ever done that, so I put it about with agents and managers that I was looking for something different, a different challenge.”
Carlyle insists his change of medium – following in the footsteps of Brit actor mates Kevin McKidd and Tim- is no longer the backward step it once was.
Ending up on a TV series was previously the darkest dread of every film star but now with big budgets, incredible viewing figures and impressive casts, many cable shows are more like weekly movies than anything else.
Carlyle said: “I phoned Kevin up and told him that I might becoming to join him soon and he was delighted. So many actors are doing TV. It’s not lack of work- it’s very important to say that – it ain’t about that. I can work anywhere at all in film and television.
“It comes from about four, five years ago, maybe longer now, when the bar was raised incredibly in terms of television product in the States. Stuff that was coming out of here was suddenly far beyond what we were able to produce in Britain.
“Now if you had that conversation 15 years ago, people would have thought you were crazy.
“The writing got better – the advent of cable I think has been a big, big factor- and suddenly the difference between film and television is getting increasingly blurred in terms of the quality.
“Anyway, I don’t think it’s an actor’s place to distinguish between genres. I always find that it’s about the piece itself. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s television, film or theatre. It’s about the part, it’s about the people you are working with.”
Robert famously dipped his toes into the world of big-budget American TV drama with his stint as the villain- obviously- in24: Redemption last year. But he reveals it was earlier US small screenroles which really gave him a taste for telly.
He added: “I tend to always go towards projects where I like the people. Kiefer Sutherland and I are very good friends and he’s always on the phone saying, ‘You gotta do 24’, which I really enjoyed.”
“But more of an indication was when I played Hitler for CBS, and Human Trafficking. Both were very joyful experiences.”
So Robert found himself in LA, looking for a big American TV show role. It’s still a fair old leap from that point to running around Vancouver being chased by aliens.
Carlyle explained: “I was looking for a challenge and something fresh and when this came up, it was completely left field for me. It was completely from nowhere.
“To be honest, I didn’t know much about Stargate. I mean, I knew that it was there, and I knew that it existed.
“I’d never done science fiction before. The first thing I said to the creators was, ‘Why do you want me to do this?’ This is not my thing at all.”
“But the more they spoke and the more they talked about the concept of this show, I began to understand what they were looking for – which was a bunch of actors.
“They were looking to characterise this thing. And the more they presented it to me, the more I felt comfortable with the notion.
“One of the things I thought was quite interesting was when they said they were looking for someone who people dislike but who is quite likeable. I thought, ‘I’m your man for that’. So that’s what kind of drew me to it. The notion of living in Vancouver for nine months each year, rather than LA, was also a plus.”
Not keen on the plastic, glitterball world of movieland, the reluctant star was keen to escape the doom and gloom of the recession in Scotland and find somewhere to relax with his family- wife Anastasia and kids Ava, Harvey andPearce.
He said: “I’ve got three children, a three year-old, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. And they’re the most important thing in my life. I want to settle down.
I have not left Scotland – I am going to go back in November and I don’t start this again until next March so I’ll have a good five months at home.
“Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I am a very patriotic guy, in terms of my Scottishness and my roots.
“But, to be honest with you, at this point in Britain I’m quite happy not to be there at the moment because economically it’s f*** ed.
“I get depressed by it. Listening to the news, watching TV and newspapers… it’s constant, constant. It brings you down. So if you had an opportunity to step outside that, would you not take it? And that’s what I’ve done.
“The kids love Vancouver. Again, to be honest with you, had the offer of this been in Los Angeles, it might have been a different answer. It’s not my favourite place to be.
“Vancouver is a different place, it’s a different vibe and a different buzz to the work.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. You’re five minutes from a beach, anywhere. Anywhere at all. You’ve got the sea, you’ve got the beach.
“Vancouver’s a very child friendly city, there’s.. no doubt about that. There are fantastic facilities for them so they’re having a great time.”
Importantly for Carlyle, he is also left to his own devices, with none of the overt attention from paps or fans which plagues celebs in LA.
Yet he insists he is always happy to talk to fans, saying: “I can lead a totally normal life here. What happens in Vancouver is that I’ll go into a shop, go in again, and then the third time, they’ll say ‘Hello Robert, how are you doing?’
“They’ve known me all along but they don’t let on. It’s very, very nice. Easy. I like the anonymity of that.”
However, he feels people can sometimes be scared to approach him.
He explained: “Part of the reason for that is I have never done a chat show in my life. I tell a lie, I did the Letterman show once, way back and that was only because there was a gun at my head and I had to.
“That’s not my world, that’s not my kind of thing. I don’t like sitting there as a celebrity giving it that chat. I hate that.
“People don’t really know who I am so they’re a little bit wary, even to come up and say ‘Hello’.”
In the show which has brought Carlyle to his new life in Canada, he stars as Dr Nicholas Rush, a highly intelligent but extremely untrustworthy type. In other words, yet another baddie.
He said: “It’s been very, very easy for me, everyone on Stargate Universe has been very welcoming from the beginning and kept me up on the plot and they’ve given me a great platform to express myself and I’m enjoying it.
“I just want to say that the only sets I’ve worked on like this are the Bond sets. It’s that good.
“The workmanship and the sets are absolutely stunning. It’s like a major budget feature set.”
But it’s not all plain sailing. In fact, Carlyle reckons the role could be his toughest yet. Why? because of those ridiculous technology-related lines.
He admitted: “My most difficult thing has been what I refer to as the ‘techno-babble’ that Dr Rush occasionally has to say – and that’s more difficult than Shakespeare.
“I had a line in one particular episode which was the very first line walking into a scene and I say – and I’m hesitating because I’m going to get it wrong – ‘Orbital insurgence trajectory’.
“What does that mean? I don’t know what it means. It means something, it was explained to me about 55 times – I still didn’t get it.
“Give me ‘To be or not to be’ any day of the week.”
Robert Carlyle stars in Stargate Universe starting on Sky 1 on October 6.