It’s good to be Robert Carlyle, who stars in (and makes his directorial debut with) the new black comedy The Legend of Barney Thomson, out Friday. And next up is Trainspotting 2, the much-anticipated sequel to the hit 1996 film that is set to begin shooting this spring. The Globe and Mail spoke to the veteran Glasgow-based actor from Vancouver, where he is living with his family while shooting the television series Once Upon a Time.
We’ve been hearing a lot about Trainspotting 2 recently. Were are you at, emotionally, with the project?
Ewan McGregor and I had the same reaction when we read the script. We were actually very moved by it. These characters are messed-up figures, but they’re figures who have followed us through our careers. Wherever I go, people want to talk to me about Trainspotting. So, to suddenly come upon this sequel 20 years down the line, to see how these guys have changed and developed and evolved, it’s quite a moving experience. And it’s something we have to get out of our heads before we start shooting, because you can’t play it like that. You have to play it for real.
Without giving too much away, what can you say about the characters, 20 years later?
Well, John Hodge, who again has written the screenplay, has hit it on the head. When you get older, everything gets slower. That is what happened to these guys. But they’re all in a place where you would want them to be, 20 years on.
You’ve got an Irvine Welsh book again, John Hodge back as the screenwriter, and the cast is back together. But would you make Trainspotting 2 without Danny Boyle directing?
I don’t think any of us would do it without Danny. It’s a risky thing to do, because the first film is iconic, particularly back in the U.K. It would be dangerous to try that with anybody else but Danny, because if anybody could pull it off, Danny can. He’s the one who can put this thing back together again.
Let’s move on to The Legend of Barney Thomson which you star in and direct. There’s a line early on, about the story being about what happens when you move chairs. And here you are making your feature-film directing debut.
It’s certainly changing hats [laughs]. The actual directing thing came along out of the blue. Barney had been sent to me purely as an actor four or five times over a six- or seven-year period, from different producers and different companies. It’s something that was following me around.
So why did you finally take it on?
What I liked about it was that it was about Glasgow. But it wasn’t the Glasgow I recognized. [Canadian scriptwriter] Richard Cowan did a wonderful job on it, but we needed to Glasgow-fy it. So I said if I’m going to become involved in it, maybe it needs another draft by a Glasgow writer. And Richard was terrific. He said, “Take it away, do what you want with it.” So I gave it to Colin McLaren, a good friend from Glasgow. Over the next year to 18 months we sculpted together what you saw.
I was struck by the score, a dreamy soundtrack of Link Wray noir and Roy Orbison music. Very evocative.
I’m very proud of it, and I really enjoyed the musical part of making the film. This film is an old-fashioned type of piece. I wanted to shoot it that way – the shots are straight on. So the music had to go along with that, and I thought late-fifties-style music would work well. Link Wray was something that just came to me. And [1960s session drummer] Sandy Nelson was another artist I based the music on. That drumbeat.
There’s another line from the film that sticks out, about every man’s right to reach his full potential. How are you doing, 20 years after Trainspotting and this deep into your career, in that category?
I never think it’s a good idea to stop and think of it too much. But you’re right, I’m 55 next month. To be honest, I’m at a crossroads. I’ve gotten so many directing offers, and things are still going pretty well on the acting front. So, I really have to make a decision here.
Well, I suppose I’m going to start developing things for myself. I have a couple of pots on the boil. So, yes, it is about reaching my full potential. I hope I get there.