On the eve of the ‘Trainspotting’ sequel, the actor talks about playing one of British cinema’s most monstrous – but weirdly lovable – creations
Begbie is a monster, but everyone loves him. What’s that about?
‘I know, it’s really weird. He’s got absolutely no redeeming features, but audiences seem to love the guy. Wherever I go. Literally wherever I go, people talk about Begbie. A few years after the film came out, I was in Bulgaria. I thought I’d have a wee look around. I got two steps out of the hotel and heard: “Oooh, Behgbbie!” Every country I go to, people love this maniac.’
Are you fond of him?
‘Yeah, of course. When “Trainspotting” first came out I was reluctant to talk about it too much. I thought: Ach, I don’t want to be saddled with this. But as the years have gone on, it feels okay to enjoy this character. He makes me laugh. He’s such an idiot. There’s not many characters like him. He’s so big.’
Have you been surprised by how much people want to see ‘T2 Trainspotting’?
‘I don’t want to sound arrogant, but no. People have been asking me about it for 20 years: “When are you doing the next one?” ’
We last saw Begbie getting arrested after Renton ran off with the drug money. Where’s he been?
‘He’s been in the nick for 20 years, thinking about Renton. But the strange thing about Begbie and Renton is that there is kind of a bromance going on. I would say that friendship is the big issue in the film. These four guys have known each other since school. Everybody’s got people in their life like that. You think: Why am I friends with you? Does this friendship mean anything?’
Physically and mentally, how did you prepare yourself to become Begbie again?
‘I put on a little bit of weight. He’s been in jail, eating all that stodgy prison food day after day. And I don’t think Begbie’s the kind of guy who gets into gym culture, working out. He’s happy with his bacon, eggs and potato scones.’
You cut off the Begbie mullet. Why?
‘In every picture I looked at of prison life, the hair is short. I toyed with the idea of going completely bald. In the end I settled on a number six. And the moustache is still there – it’s his signature.’
What about the missing teeth?
‘That was a strange thing. I got a tooth removed. On my bottom set of teeth, I’ve got an implant. I took that out and then the tooth next to it was suddenly very shaky. I thought: Fuck it. And I got the dentist to take that one out too. So Begbie’s got his teeth missing. I thought: That’ll be various altercations in the nick.’
You’re a mellow kind of guy. Does it affect you, playing such a violent psychopath?
‘I am. And yeah, it takes its toll. There’s a level of anger that you need to hold on to, so you don’t have to find it every day. It does take its toll on your private life. You find yourself being short with people. You get a wee bit louder and a wee bit more snappy. You think: Where the fuck’s this coming from? Then it hits you: of course – Begbie’s sitting there in the back of your head. My family were in Glasgow, but I stayed in Edinburgh, because he’s not the kind of character you want to take home with you every night.’
Did you get back-to-school nerves the night before filming?
‘Aye, definitely. I haven’t been nervous in years, to be honest, but the nerves were back.’
Are your kids old enough to watch ‘Trainspotting’?
‘No, but they know about it. My wee boy is ten. He puts on a false moustache and flicks me the Vs. But we draw the line at swearing.’