As soon as I left drama school in 1985 I started rehearsals for this Bordeline Theatre Company production of Dario Fo's play, Trumpets and Raspberries, which opened at the 1985 Edinburgh Festival fringe and then toured throughout Scotland.
I played a variety of small parts. After macbeth, Macbeth Possessed and Passin Glory, it was a little bit boring to be Medic #2 etc, but it was great fun. The two leading roles were played by Andy Gray and Elaine C.Smith. My then wife, Hilary Lyon, was also in the cast, so it was great to be able to be on tour with her.
That's me in the boiler third from the right.
Passing Glory was the first film I ever worked on. I was still a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow when I got the part. I had been allowed some time off my final year to make my theatre debut in Macbeth and Macbeth Possessed at the Tron theatre in Glasgow, and whilst I was still performing in the plays I was asked to go and meet the writer/director Gilles McKinnon. He is a really amazing man and I really loved his energy and his script. The character of Rab felt very different to anything I'd played before because in drama school plays I had only swanned around drawing rooms and French windows carrying a tennis racquet doing a plummy English accent. I had never played anyone my age, and never anyone from Scotland. Also Rab was from Glasgow and I wasn't, and I felt at the time a strange pressure that in some way I wasn't going to get those sorts of working class Glasgow boy type roles because I was not viewed that way. I guess I was viewed that way because I actually wasn't that way - I was working class alright but had been brought up in a very rural area in the east of Scotland and had an East Coast/Highland accent due to my parents. Of course now, looking back on it, having played in loads of films doing loads of different accents, I feel stupid for being cowed in this way. But hey, I was 20 and still a student.
The shoot was very exciting. Passing Glory was Gillies' graduation film from the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and so the crew was made up of a lot of his fellow students, who were really interesting and made my first experience on a movie set a special one. Everybody really cared about the film, they were really passionate.
I knew Fiona Chalmers a little bit before the shoot and I had seen Ida Schuster in loads of plays at the Citizens' Theatre (where it was my dream to work one day) so I was a little in awe of her, but she soon made me feel really comfortable and we got on like a house on fire.
The film also taught me a lot about the Spanish Civil War and how so many lefties from Scotland had gone over to fight for freedom, for the very notion of political and social freedom. I wish we had that spirit and fire nowadays.
Passing Glory premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1986, and I remember going to see it and being shocked at how my nose arrived on the screen about 30 seconds before the rest of my face! It was the first time I had seen myself in a cinema and it wasn't easy.
I nearly worked with Gillies several years later when he made a film of a play I had done, The Conquest of the South Pole, but sadly the dates didn't work out. He has made some really stunning films and I am so happy and lucky to have worked with him on my first film, one that I still realy like and am very proud of.
I was allowed time off from my final term at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to play Malcolm in both Shakespeare's Macbeth and a new play, Macbeth Possessed by Stuart Delves. This was my professional theatre debut, and a completely amazing experience for me.
I was only 20 and still a student and here I was working with these really great Scottish actors on this brilliant play, in a new theatrical venue in Glasgow. Michael Boyd directed and he really helped me open up as an actor in a way that nobody had at drama school, by making me look again and again at the text, and questioning it and my understanding of it. I was so eager to learn and to please Michael and I think in a way he made me the actor I am now. But he shouldn't be blamed!
He insisted on putting back the 'England scene' which is often cut, in which Macduff comes to visit Malcolm in exile and we see a side of Malcolm that is not so pure and innocent as we might have been led to believe.
The play was produced by the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. I had first worked at the Tron as an usher in my first term at college, and then Victor and Barry appeared there in the weekly Gong Shows in the bar. In fact we went on to win the Gong of Gongs, hosted by Robbie Coltrane, and I think it was during that time that Michael noticed me and thought of me for Malcolm.
Maureen Beattie was Lady Macbeth, and she had been in Dundee Rep's theatre-in education company that had come to Monikie Primary School when I was a little boy and made me want to become an actor! And also Siobhan Redmond played Lady Macduff and many years later she was Shona Spurtle in The High Life.
When I was in my final year of drama school at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, I was asked along with my class-mates Forbes Masson (who I was already in cahoots with doing Victor and Barry) and David Lee Michael to take part in a short film as part of a training course for directors at BBC Scotland. The director was Justin C Adams and here is his piece, which was all about the first world war. I perform Anthem For Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen.
My professional debut as an actor was an episode of the Granada TV series, Travelling Man, that I filmed in the summer holiday between my second and third years at drama school, and which was boradacst on 12th December 1984. The series starred Leigh Lawson, and I played a boy called Jamie who knew Leigh's missing son.
I had never been on a film set before, I was completely green and utterly in awe of the whole thing. And I was so utterly excited to be doing an episode of a TV show whilst still a student, and trying desperately to act cool. I thought that you had to act really small because it was television and so as a consequence I hardly moved. If it wasn't that I spoke you'd think I was a photo! I met Leigh Lawson again years later because I got to know his wife, Twiggy.
The episode was directed by Sebastian Graham-Jones and shot near Manchester. Here's the letter I got telling me about my schedule!
My friend from drama school, Forbes Masson, and I made up two characters called Victor and Barry for a college cabaret to entertain the final years drama students at the Royal Scottish academy of Music and Drama in 1982.
The act went down a storm and we began to do it outside college, mostly in small venues in Glasgow like Hallibees Cafe Cabaret just off Byres Road.
Then in 1984 we took Victor and Barry to the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. We played in a tiny venue called the Harry Younger Hall, which the RSAMD had taken over for official college shows and other plays and cabarets that students and former students were mounting. Forbes and I did that thing that I see kids doing now and really feel for them: we handed out flyers (in character) on the Royal Mile trying to trick tourists into coming to see us.
The big thing at the Fringe is to get a good review in the Scotsman newspaper. Our review wasn't particularly good, and so when we were invited to the Fringe Club to be part of a Best of the Fest night, we decided to get our revenge. We made up new words about the bad review to the song 'Lucky Star' and the chorus was 'We can thank you, Andrew Marr, that you're not as smart as you'd like to think you are'. Rather hilariously, Andrew Marr is now one of Britian's foremost political journalists in print and on TV. Here I am on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh in 2009, talking about it on Scottish TV, and the experience of being a performer at the festival in general