He made his name as a psychopath in Trainspotting and is famously intense off screen, too. So why has Robert Carlyle taken up yoga?
How do you imagine the wiry actor Robert Carlyle – serial portrayer of psychotic hardmen and Bond baddies – likes to keep in shape? Bare-knuckle boxing, perhaps?
Or furiously climbing mountains? Well, no. His physical exercise tastes are a little more girly, it seems. ‘I do a bit of yoga, regularly when I’m doing it regularly, if you catch my drift. I love it, though, and it’s certainly the only exercise that works for me. I hate gyms, weights, anything macho.’
Heavens. There is more. When it comes to diets, this is also a man in touch with his feminine side.
‘I do try and look after myself, although, like most people, my diet starts off brilliantly at the beginning of the day and then goes downhill by the end,’ says Carlyle. ‘When I’m tired I have a huge tendency to eat rubbish. I probably eat far too much chocolate.’
While we are on the body beautiful theme, has he embraced the ageing process?
‘Embraced it? Mmm. That’s an interesting word. I don’t think anyone gets to 40 and feels happy about it, but then you get to 42, 43 and beyond and you come to terms with it, and then actually it’s quite liberating. You realise there’s lots to enjoy. You have less to apologise for. At 47, I can certainly say I’ve enjoyed my 40s. And I can also see myself becoming a grumpy old man.’
Perhaps, but it’s clear the Glaswegian actor has mellowed somewhat. He has always been a rather tricky interviewee, not given to opening up about himself. As a method actor, immersing himself in his roles, he has also had the reputation of being pretty intense – some would say obsessive – when it comes to his work.
His research into the myriad of nutters, murderers and deranged characters he has played has taken him into decidedly dodgy territory. He once slept on the streets near London’s Waterloo station for five nights to prepare for playing a homeless man. And he has, believe it or not, sought out prostitutes for research purposes. ‘I always go direct to source,’ he laughs. ‘But for that you need a degree of anonymity and that’s a wee bit more difficult nowadays.’
His most famous ‘headcase’ remains Begbie, star of the cult classic Trainspotting.
For years Carlyle was irked at our national obsession with Begbie. Today, though, he laughs about it. ‘People constantly come up and do impressions of him,’ he reveals. ‘And they do it beautifully. I might start giving out awards for the best ones. They tend to use the same line, the one about a girl being glassed in the pub. [Alas, its stream of profanities makes it unrepeatable here.] They have people doing it on YouTube now, and it’s fascinating how Begbie’s turned into this kind of cult figure. I’d never have predicted that.’
He could never have predicted, either, how his career would take off after that film.
Since then there have been acclaimed performances – Carlyle won a Bafta for his part in The Full Monty, and who can forget his Albie, the murderous football fan in Cracker?
He has also seen success in Hollywood, most famously with the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough, in which he played Renard, the baddie driven mad by a bullet lodged in his brain. His latest role is another biggie.
As a rule, Carlyle doesn’t adhere to the ‘art imitating life’ theory when it comes to his work – understandably so with all those crazy guys and, er, Hamish Macbeth.
He admits, though, that there are strains of the familiar in his latest project, working alongside Kiefer Sutherland in Sky One’s film version of 24. Like the TV series, the movie chronicles a day in the life of Jack Bauer (played by Sutherland), a ruthless agent for the US government’s Counter Terrorist Unit.
‘There is actually some similarity between the characters’ friendships in the film and the one between me and Kiefer in real life,’ he admits. ‘We made a film together ten years or so ago, and got on so well we kept in touch. We always had this vague notion I might get involved with 24, and when the role of Carl Benton came up, it seemed ideal.
‘In the film, Benton – who is Bauer’s old friend and mentor – has not seen him for ten years. But they used to work together, as we did, so there was a nice correlation. Kiefer’s a great guy. He’s fun to be with.’
There are rumours that the two might be on for a longer-term pairing. Are we to believe that Carlyle will carry the role over into the next series of 24? He grins again. ‘I couldn’t possibly tell you about that, otherwise Jack Bauer would appear and would probably have to kill us both. And we wouldn’t want that.’
With his level of professional success, you might have expected Carlyle to be living in Los Angeles, with the obligatory swimming pool. He can’t think of anything worse.
‘Scotland is where my heart is,’ he says. ‘It’s only when you travel away that you realise how good home is. When I was younger, I was desperate to get away, but, as time went by, I realised that Scotland was where I wanted to be.’
The country of his birth holds bittersweet memories. He had a particularly difficult childhood, with his mother leaving the family home when he was just four. He was raised by his father, to whom he has always said he ‘owes everything’.
Joe Carlyle, who died two years ago, brought up his only child alone in a rough district of Glasgow. A painter and decorator, he would take his son with him to work, and there was a time when it was thought that Carlyle would follow in his father’s footsteps. His father did influence his career choice, but not in the traditional sense.
On Saturday afternoons, the pair would go to the cinema to watch westerns – and Carlyle fell in love with the bad guys. ‘That’s kind of where it all started. I just felt for them; I always wanted them to succeed in some way.’
He has three children of his own now – Ava, six, Harvey, four, and Pearce, two – with his make-up artist wife, Anastasia Shirley. The pair met on the set of Cracker and have been married for ten years. Their celeb-studded wedding took place at Skibo Castle, Madonna and Guy’s venue of choice, but Carlyle is at pains to say that he got there first.
He admits fatherhood has changed him. ‘I suppose it made me a little bit more responsible for my actions. It makes you look over your shoulder a little more, at what you’re leaving behind.
I’m conscious now of leaving a body of work for the children, and that they may not see some of it till after I’m long gone. So that’s a sobering thought.’ And he’s started feeling guilty about the world he’s leaving his children. ‘I’ve started to get little pangs of guilt about all the bottles I’ve thrown out, the plastic I’ve consumed, that sort of thing.’
What he doesn’t feel guilty about is the effort that his type of acting demands. He concedes that he gives 100 per cent of himself while on a film – but says that is precisely why he chooses his projects so carefully.
‘With 24 we spent an incredibly intense 25 days filming in South Africa, then I went home to the kids. It’s not always possible to get that balance, but I do try. Before I had children I just went with the flow, but now I’m a bit more fussy – I turn down more roles than I take.’
So even Carlyle is seeking the famous work/ life balance? ‘Absolutely. I love acting, love the business – anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a great student of it all, and I try and learn a bit more with every role I take. But, at the end of the day, it is what it is – it’s a job and it’s not good to take any job home with you.’ Not for him, then, the kind of 9-5 acting job that so many slip into when they have had some success? ‘No. I couldn’t go off and do a soap, for example, that’s certainly not for me.’
It’s fair to say that Robert Carlyle is keeping his options open. When asked who would win the Bond versus Bauer fight, he thinks long and hard and concludes, with supreme tact, ‘Now, that’s a good question. I couldn’t possibly say, though. I’ve got too much loyalty to both.’
24: Redemption is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday. The new TV series of 24 starts on Sky One in January.