HAMISH MACBETH FEATURE
yells: ‘Ah’ve just stuck a fuckin’ boatle on ma chist.’ it’s difficult to know whether to cry at his anguish or laugh in recognition. There’s someone like Nosty living on the streets ofevery British city. but Carlyle created a character. not a caricature.
Hamish Macbeth is a different kettle of kippers. While Safe used violence. squalor and salty language to sketch out the raw emotions of the street. this is a gentle story of everyday Highland folk. It’s a Sunday tea-time. ten—ﬁfteen million viewers. family entertainment sort of series. And that‘s where Carlyle‘s amazing ironic eyebrows come in to
‘It you went looking for an actor to play a conventional cop, Bobby Carlyle would be the last person you went to. Most television detectives are driven by something. They’re hard-edged, hard- bitten, hard-nosed - hard-something. This guy is none of those.’
their own. ‘I don‘t expect you to take this at face value.” they say. ‘but play along and let‘s see where it takes us.’
So how did Robert Carlyle. an actor who was brought to the attention of a primetime lTV audience as the psychotic Hillsborough avenger in Cracker. come to be playing a handsome policeman called Hamish in a BBC comedy set in the picture-postcard village of Plockton‘.’ He does nutters. surely. not romantic leads? ‘Yeah. a fair share of nutters.‘ says Carlyle. ‘Well. I‘ve done two actually. Two. but they were strong parts.‘ He mentions his role as Linus Roache’s gay lover in Antonia Bird’s second movie Priest (now at a cinema near you) as proof of range. but he will concede that part of the attraction of Hamish Macbeth was the chance to stay clear of the wee hard man routine.
he character Hamish Macbeth started life in the pages of easy-read novels by unknown Scottish writer M.C. Beaton. Unknown. that is. in her own land. but the Macbeth books sell well in America. which adds to the suspicion that the whole enterprise is about selling a romanticised image of Scotland abroad. Nearly everything in the books has been junked. however. with only Hamish and the fictional village of Lochdubh remaining. In the hands of lead writer Daniel Boyle (best known for Inspector Morse) the character became a maverick. law-bending cop who sorts out village disputes the Wyatt Earp way. ‘I know the producers and they wouldn’t do anything that was twee. kitsch Scottish crap.’ says Carlyle. Macbeth was born in Lochdubh. though brought up in Glasgow where he followed his policeman father into Strathclyde’s finest. But his distaste for city aggravation took him back to the Highlands. where his street savvy comes in handy. The series uses this contrast to play off the Scotch myths of Highland life against the urban experience with the playful humour of Local Hero. When TV John. the first man to own a television set in Lochdubh. says: ‘it’s hard to clean out your ferret’s cage without it being reported on CNN’. the joke has a similar feel to Bill Forsyth‘s oil-crazed crofters discussing the relative merits of a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce. Macbeth looks on. enchanted and exasperated in equal measure by the villagers‘ way of life.
Payback time: Robert Carlyle as the skinhead psycho brought to justice in Cracker.
‘What attracted me to it in the first place is that he’s a totally unconventional type of policeman.” says Carlyle. ‘If you went looking for an actor to play a conventional cop. Bobby Carlyle would be the last person you went to. Most television detectives are driven by something. They‘re hard-edged. hard-bitten. hard-nosed — hard-something. This guy is none of those. What really appealed to me is he has no ambition. he‘s happy and content.‘ Macbeth’s easy-going manner is partly down to his fondness for the occasional off-duty spliff. Sneaking a stoned policeman onto our screens before the watershed suggests that this may be series with some. ahem. substance after all.
Hamish lilac/wilt could be a career turning point for Carlyle. So far he‘s been a character actor; now he's the star around whom a whole series revolves. If it's successful. there will be another series. it will be sold in America and Carlyle will be famous for playing a policeman. He will become Hamish. Surely he must have reservations‘.’
‘l'd be lying if I said it wasn‘t a worry.‘ says Carlyle. ‘But the stuff that I‘ve been doing
over the past three years has been. for want of
a better word. the arthouse circuit. I‘ve got a certain reputation for doing films like Riﬂ- Raﬂ’l Ken Loach‘s gritty building-site drama]. Safe. Cracker. I felt that the canon of work I‘d produced so far was strong enough to do this. that I could survive it.‘
However Carlyle points to another. earlier moment in his career which he believes marked a more significant turning point. As Albie in Cracker. he was likened to Robert De Niro‘s Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver. The head-shaving scene before Albie started his killing spree was an obvious nod to Bickle’s tonsorial preparations for his street- cleansing exercise. But it was not the De Niro
comparison that pleased Carlyle; it was the fact he was cast as a Liverpudlian in the first place. (To keep the accent on track. he reportedly spent the entire two months of shooting talking Scouse. which is rather a De Niro-ish touch, though Carlyle plays down any ‘method’ . interpretations of his work.)
‘I at last made the breakthrough. and I think every Scottish actor should try to make this distinction. that there’s a difference between being a Scots actor and an actor who happens to be Scottish.‘ he says ofthe Albie character. ‘That is absolutely crucial — don’t get sucked into that Scots actor stuff.‘
Carlyle‘s beef with the Scottish acting establishment is well known; four frustrated years at drama school in Glasgow almost put him off the whole idea of being an actor. However the experience of working with social realist director Ken Loach on Ri/f-Raff showed him a way to act from within. rather than playing out parts as the script dictates.
A couple of bad experiences on the Scottish stage provided the spark to form Glasgow's Raindog theatre company. Carlyle co-founded the group as an outlet for the different. improvisational approach to acting he wanted to develop. ‘1 could never leave the company because that‘s what grounds me. that’s what gives me any inspiration that 1 might have.’ says Carlyle.
Finding the time to devote to Raindog’s long. intensive workshop sessions may be increasingly difficult for Carlyle. as television and film roles pile up. In the revived Wasted. Raindog’s study of a drug-addicted underclass which recently finished at the Tron. Carlyle fans had to make do with a video image of the actor projected onto a backdrop. Was this the first sign of a star outgrowing his Glasgow roots? C]
Hamish Macbeth starts on Sunday 26 March at 7.30pm on BBC].
The IN 24 Mar-6 Apr 1995 7