Biography - Robert Carlyle

  • I hate that term, "Method". It's definitely been given to me over the years, but I don't know if it's true. My belief is that every actor's got their own "method", and as long as it works, that's OK.
  • People like Jim Jarmusch or Spike Jonze make the kind of American cinema that really interests me. And working with them has, so far, been the only thing I haven't been able to do. But other than that I'm perfectly happy with where I am.
  • I owe my father everything.


  • "Acting is probably the greatest therapy in the world. You can get a lot stuff out of you on the set so you don't have to take it home with you at night. It's the stuff between the lines, the empty space between those lines which is interesting. That's the dimension of any performance. The script will point you in certain directions and I go the opposite if I can. I try do do one thing and tell a different story with my eyes. I believe what's more interesting is always what's not being said."
    GEAR April 1999


  • "I want to keep audiences off balance, so they don't know who I am or how to take me. If I duck and weave, as Frank Bruno might say, I'll have a longer shelf life."

    "Biologically, I'm lucky - an angular face and dark colouring which shows up well on camera. I'll spare you the actors' pretentious rubbish, but a face reflects experience, so if you concentrate on a character something happens to you physically. Many actors look at the costume before the part, and that seems crazy to me. It's much more fun to be ugly. Not that I think I'm ugly, but I've never considered myself good-looking."

    (Radio Times 9 March 1997)


  • Carlyle's appetite for research has led to his being described as a method actor, inspiring comparisons with Robert De Niro. Flattering as this may be, he rejects any such comparison. Though wary of describing his approach, the word he uses to describe what happens when he enters fully into character is "escape". It is partly for this reason that he has enjoyed his various collaborations with Loach - most recently on Carla's Song - with their emphasis on improvisation.

    "When you work with Ken Loach, more than 60 per cent of it is NAR - No Acting Required - whereas with other scripts maybe only 10 per cent is NAR, and the rest is performance. It's switching off the performance head that attracts me, because it allows me to escape deeper into the real person. There's no gestures, nothing; it's not about actor's pauses, but human pauses."

    Thus, when he speaks of "losing it" once or twice during his screen career, he means the exact opposite of the colloquial sense. It happened on Cracker in the scene when Albie kills the policeman. "When I saw it on screen I didn't know that face any more. It was somebody else who sneaked in there: not a part of you."
    Electronic Telegraph Saturday 13 September 1997: "The full Robbie"


  • "The way a person moves tells you a lot about them. Look at the way I'm holding this coffee mug. If I were to thump it down on the table, I wouldn't be respecting your tape recorder. If I move it gently, it means I am showing some respect. These are the things I bring to my performances
    Scottish Accent, Nov 1996


  • "I'm in four different films this year, and I have four different accents. I sound different in every film. You have to love a character to play it well, and change in my work is what I want."

    CityBeat, Vol. 5, Issue 10; January 28-February 3, 1999


  • "A lot of the characters I play come from the working-class. It's a background I'm familiar with. It's not about being hard. It's just knowing how that society works and what the rules are.I grew up in a working-class area of Glasgow and that experience has stood me in good stead."

    TV Plus, 5/1/98


  • 'I must have done something right because they gave me a grant to the Royal Scottish Academy Of Music And Drama in 1983. But I hated all that stuff they taught me while thumping out the rawness and energy I had. I went off and formed a small experimental, often political, theatre company called Rain Dog to unlearn it.'

    This is London May 1999


  • "I feel with TV you're allowed more freedom. With television there's more time to create something through the episodes. The fact that you're working harder on the surface seems more difficult, but you get into a way of working where if you're not allowed to stop and breathe and think about it, you just go on instinctively, which is the way I prefer anyway. It becomes a more spontaneous thing.

    With Begbie, Trainspotting is a 90 minute movie and Begbie has a certain amount of screen time within that. It's about maximum impact in a sense, so the performance is larger than life, bigger than it would normally be. But when you're dealing with a character like Jo Jo McCann you've got four hours to tell the story, so you can relax and back off a little bit. There's much more detail involved, so that gives me much more scope in which to work"
    Scotland on Sunday January 1998
  • "I must have been dreaming about Albie. I spoke in a Liverpool accent all the time. It becomes second nature. It’s much easier like that. It seems to me common sense rather than extraordinary."
    The Independent (The Eye) 22-28 March 1997


  • "I wasnae too sure at the beginning, because I knew the book very well, and I saw Begbie as this huge monster, you know?"

    "If you take Begbie as he is in the book," he muses, "I would say the character would possibly be unplayable. The audience would be turned off by the guy. You couldn't possibly watch it for that amount of time. But, the way I'd seen the script going, the first half hour of the film is actually quite funny. So what I wanted to create was a sort of cartoon caricature of a Glasgow hard man - well, actually, an Edinburgh hard man, because Begbie's from Leith," - which is to polite, educated Edinburgh (where "sex" is what you put your coal in) what the South Bronx is to Manhattan.

    "So, at the beginning, there he is in his pink Pringle jersey and his red stay-pressed trousers and his moustache.

    "Then, as the film progresses - the crucial point, of course, is when the baby dies - it gets quite dark. So the clothes become darker, the Pringle becomes black, the suit goes on. And, by the end, you're left in no doubt whatsoever that the guy isn't funny at all, that he's actually extremely dangerous and probably insane."


  • "I felt like a parasite on that one. 'What did you feel like when you were told that you have this disease?' -- it's a deathly question to have to ask people. I was regressing people back to that moment. It was awful."
    'Time Out', Issue 1334, March 13-20, 1996


  • "Looking after Jo Jo was far more psychologically draining than The Full Monty. "There's more to TFM than meets the eye, obviously, but something like JoJo is in a different darker mould. That's something I enjoy." "By the end of it, it's a terrible spiral that happens withthis guy. If Looking After JoJo was a Shakespearian play it would be considered a tragedy, a fantastic beautiful, horrible tragedy. In a sense that's what this is. The redeeming quality in a sense is that it's almost inevitable what's going to happen to this guy. It's human weakness. In the first episode I've tried my best to make him as attractive as possible, as interesting as possible, so that by the time three and four come you think, well there was someone in there originally. As he says at one point, you take your chances in life. He's just taken the wrong chances. In a sense he's as big a victim as anyone else."
    Scotland on Sunday January 1998


  • "What I thought interesting was the idea of gender politics. "Suddenly, these guys were forced to look at themselves the way they had always looked at women. They had to re-evaluate their place in society because the women now had jobs and they didn't. It's funny, it's charming, but there's a lot of sadness and tenderness there too."

    Electronic Telegraph Saturday 30 August 1997


  • WHEN Robert Carlyle was preparing for his role as Ray, leader of a gang of ram-raiding crooks in Antonia Bird's new film Face, he arranged to meet some former bank robbers. Sitting quietly in a corner, letting others ask the questions, he watched in fascination as one of these veteran thugs ate a packet of crisps. The man sifted the contents carefully, demolishing each crisp with tiny, neat, methodical bites.

    For Carlyle, who likes to research his characters by direct observation, it was a useful insight: "Here was a guy who was a bank robber, a very violent man, a man who would stop at nothing. I found it very interesting - the precision. That level of containment is quite frightening, and that precision runs right through their work."

    "The darker the character, the more interesting," he says - though Ray, a one-time political activist, proves capable of redemption. "Ray is probably a mild sociopath," he says, choosing his words carefully, "and he goes off on a path into something very brutal. But no one is sheerly black and white."
    Electronic Telegraph Saturday 13 September 1997 - "The full Robbie" by Hugh Davenport


  • "The one thing about him is that he'll eat your leg and tell you why he is doing it, which is double dangerous in a sense that he's not just a crazy guy. My way into the whole thing though was to try and have as much fun as possible because I thought he would be enjoying himself immensely. You could go many ways with the lines of dialogue we had in there but I tried to put the tongue firmly in the cheek and play him with a kind of sense of humour. You really want to make him three dimensions and layer it with all these things. It's also great working with Antonia. She gives me a great deal of freedom to create what I want to create."

    "For me it wasn't so much about cannibalism for me and the character. There are so many elements contained in the film to be honest I think it takes a second viewing of the film for you to get past the cannibalism and see what's really going on underneath the surface. There's a lot more that the film contains. It wasn't a prerequisite for me to go 'yeah, I want to play a cannibal.' I'm not really interested in the splatter part of the movie. It's an absurd piece, but it's a challenge for me to try to submerge myself to a certain extent that it becomes believable to me and I think that's maybe the difference in this film. I think the characters and performance are actually played for real."

  • Eon magazine on line, March 1999: Tandem Interview
    When the script first came to me I read a few period dramas and nothing appealed to me about them because they seemed a bit too BBC, too clean. I felt that there was a murkier role out there for me. So when this came in, one major thing that struck me about it was the potential to do something kind of original. It was obviously tailor-made for a mixed-genre film.

    Q: Your character seems to crave only food and not power. That's unusual for an immortal.
    I don't think it's necessarily just for food. I think there's a scene where he's talking with Boyd about all the people traveling through there. It's 1848, so the suggestion is that they can build a stronghold and conquer the world. So there is a domination theme there. But I think it's simpler than that. He can't understand why Boyd doesn't want to do this. He lists all the illnesses and diseases that he had during his trip, and these things have all gone now. So there's this sense of well-being coming from the guy. I think it's because it makes him feel powerful and confident.

  • Sunday Times Feb 1999:
    "It's very, very funny to me that the film is set in California, because the themes that come up, in terms of this kind of relentless pursuit of eternal life and physical strength and vitality and virility, are what's going on in Los Angeles as we speak. Nothing much has changed, really.

    "I think maybe the film is best seen in two viewings -- get over the initial shock value of it and underneath there are some very relevant and very interesting points to be made."


  • TANDEM interview, March/April 1999:
    "Yes. That's a story that's incredibly sad, also very beautiful. There's a beauty within the poverty. I play Malachy McCourt, the father. It's interesting to do that part because most people I talk to say 'That bastard', so the more I held out the more I examined the facts. The children never had a bad thing to say against him, and neither did his wife Angela. They never fought. He was never physically nor verbally abusive to them and his one crime was that he couldn't face up to his responsibility. I felt that to paint Malachy McCourt as a villain is completely wrong. He's not the villain, it's society that let that situation exist. So I was trying to find some warmth in that character as well."

  • Sunday Times Feb 1999:

    "We filmed in Dublin in the latter part of last year and it was a fantastic experience for me. It was also traumatic in its own way - I spent a week burying children on screen. But most actors will say that when you're dealing with that kind of subject matter you laugh quite a lot, because you have to.

    "It was fundamentally the same type of stuff I did with the director Ken Loach, that social realism."


  • Eon online, March 1999:

    "Renard is strange in the tradition of Bond villains. He's the 'blow up the world' one rather than the 'dominate the world' kind. To put it in perspective, I used to go and see the Bond films with my father in the early '60s and early '70s when Connery was Bond. I really thought at the time he was the only Scottish actor around and never saw anyone else around that sounded like me up there on the big screen. So the link between Connery, Bond acting and being Scottish is fundamental. So when I went to see Michael Apted to play this role he said to me 'is a Bond villain something you fancy.' And I'm sitting in his office at Pinewood with all these posters and all these films I've seen and it's like 'yeah, yeah I'll do this' because it's like taking part in some sort of history piece. A Bond film is for me. It's part of your psyche. You can remember where you were and what Bond film was out at a certain point in time."

    "Renard has a bullet in his head, so he's actually dying from the beginning which makes him very difficult to kill because he doesn't fear it --- he knows he's dying," says Carlyle. "And as a result of this injury his sense of feeling is closing down so his pain senses are closing down as well. So he doesn't feel anything. He's kind of a slippery customer."

    "It's hard when you look at people who have played these parts -- Robert Shaw, Christopher Walken, and to be a part of that -- I'm just trying to make it that memorable because that's what it's all about in the Bond movies and that's my job.”