Nationality: Scottish. Born: Glasgow, Scotland, 14 April 1961. Education: Acting classes at Glasgow Arts Centre. Career: Founded, with four others, Raindog Theatre Company, 1991; played Hamish Macbeth, Hamish Macbeth TV series, and Albie, Cracker TV series, both 1995. Awards: British Academy Award, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, London Critics Circle Award, for
Riff-Raff (Loach) (as Steve); Silent Scream (Hayman) (as Big Woodsy)
Being Human (Forsyth) (as Prehistoric Shamen); Safe (Bird) (as Nosty)
Priest (Bird) (as Graham)
Go Now (Winterbottom) (as Nick Cameron)
Carla's Song (Loach) (as George); Trainspotting (Boyle) (as Francis "Franco" Begbie)
Face (Bird) (as Ray); The Full Monty (Cattaneo) (as Gary 'Gaz' Schofield)
"Looking After Jo Jo" (Mackenzie) (mini, for TV) (as John Joe "Jo Jo" McCann)
The World Is Not Enough (Apted) (as Renard); Angela's Ashes (Parker) (as Dad); Ravenous (Bird) (as Colquhoun/Ives); Plunkett & Macleane (Scott) (as Plunkett)
To End All Wars (Cunningham) (as Campbell); The Beach (Boyle) (as Daffy); There's Only One Jimmy Grimble (Hay) (as Eric Wirral); To End All Wars (Cunningham) (as Campbell)
McCabe, Bob, Sally Chatsworth, and Philip Kemp, "East End Heat. Robert Carlyle. Face," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 10, October 1997.
Zetterström, Anna, "Kortväxta psykopater är de bästa," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, no. 5, 1996.
Barber, Nicholas, "Talent Spotting," in The Independent , 17 March 1996.
Bailey, George, "Actor: Robert Carlyle," in Premiere (London), February 1997.
Ellen, Barbara, "Carlyle to Hollywood," in The Observer , 24 August 1997.
Johnston, Trevor, "Stealing Booty," in Time Out (London), 31 March 1999.
"Irish Times," in Film Review , February 2000.
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In barely ten years, Robert Carlyle has established himself as one of the best-known Scottish actors in the world, probably second only to Sean Connery. This is all the more remarkable since, with only one or two exceptions, his films have all been low-budget, British-made movies. So far, he seems resistant to the megabuck glamour of the U.S. film industry, and his career apparently doesn't need it in order to thrive.
Not that transatlantic offers have been wanting, especially in the wake of Trainspotting and The Full Monty. But Carlyle, a serious and committed actor with a strong political conscience, has always fought shy of Hollywood, which rarely offers the kind of role he favours. "The most important thing for me," he observes, "is to find a script that has some kind of social comment, that says something to somebody. . . . I can't think of anything worse than being in a film or playing a part with nothing to say." Accepting the role of villain in a Bond movie ( The World Is Not Enough ) might seem to stretch that principle, but Carlyle justifies it in historical terms. "That link between Connery and Bond and the Scottish people is fundamental. Being in a Bond film is like being part of history."
In any case the casting was probably inevitable, sooner or later, since Carlyle has created some of the most memorably terrifying villains in recent cinema. Created them, too, with evident relish: "Those are the parts, aren't they? There's just much more in those characters to get my teeth into." He first came to wide public notice in the British TV crime series Cracker playing Albie, a shaven-headed Scouse serial killer with a grimly single-minded agenda. A year later his talent for acting scary riveted movie audiences in Trainspotting. As psychotic Scots hardman Begbie, with his mad-eyed stare and ferocious moustache, Carlyle plays the only member of his lowlife set with no use for hard drugs: gratuitous violence gives him all the highs he wants. It's a lethally funny performance, hilarious, and unsettling at once.
Physically, Carlyle seems singularly ill-equipped to play heavies, being small and slender with wide-set, soulful brown eyes. But there's an intensity to his acting that can, when he chooses, readily take on a dangerous edge, lending his slight frame an impression of coiled power. The eyes narrow and darken, the thin, arrow-straight nose turns sharp as a blade, the lips tighten and the whole wiry physique clenches, poised to attack. Not even in Ravenous , where he plays a vampiric cannibal gaining strength from those he devours, did he need any extraneous gimmicks or special effects to create a sense of malign, unstoppable force. As the director Danny Boyle told him when casting him—rather to Carlyle's own surprise—as Begbie, "Small psychos are the best."
At the opposite end of his range, Carlyle can play amiable, innocuous types with no less conviction. Simultaneously with his killer-role in Cracker , he was appearing on another TV channel as Hamish Macbeth, a shy, unambitious, pot-smoking Highland cop—causing viewers no apparent confusion. But both Hamish and Albie can be seen as contrasted facets of the outsider figures that Carlyle is most drawn to: society's misfits, whether benevolent or savage, in whom he invests a sympathy that strikes an answering chord in audiences. In The Full Monty the wry warmth of his performance as leader of the would-be male strippers did much to ensure the film's runaway success, and his South-London gangster in Antonia Bird's Face comes across more as victim than predator. Priest , another Bird film, casts him as the eponymous cleric's gay lover; Carlyle gives an appealingly vulnerable performance, cocky and streetwise but sensitive, with a touching tenderness in the love scenes.
Carlyle rejects the term "method actor." But he always seeks out a level of emotional identification with a role ("It's not about acting, it's about being "), aiming to find a core of humanity in even the least promising material, such as his Bond villain, Renard: "I tried to make him a character who's staring into the abyss. He knows he's going to die, so there's a gentleness about him because of that, a relaxed quality." Likewise, his take on the feckless, drunken father of Angela's Ashes avoids demonising the man. "No doubt he did terrible things, but the kids adored him, which says a lot for what he was like."
As yet, Carlyle seems set on sticking to his roots. He remains committed to the Rain Dog theatre company that he founded in Glasgow, and followed up his Bond stint with a $3 million film in Manchester ( It's Only Jimmy Grimble ). "I always try to go as far away from what I have just done as possible. If you can do that, you get a longer shelf-life. And it's more interesting." Even so, once or twice lately there's a sense—as with his deranged druggie in The Beach —that he may be in danger of repeating himself, falling back on a few well-tried mannerisms. But if he can avoid that trap, and resist the glitter of Tinseltown, Carlyle looks set to inherit Connery's crown—and more than likely surpass him as an actor.