Still in psychopath's shadow after 20 years

British actor Robert Carlyle has excelled at playing characters who are on the edge or are outsiders.
British actor Robert Carlyle has excelled at playing characters who are on the edge or are outsiders.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Robert Carlyle thought he had finally stepped out of the shadow of Begbie, his memorable psychopathic character from 1996's Trainspotting, when he acted in the 2015 black comedy The Legend Of Barney Thomson.

Now that he has revived the role in the Trainspotting sequel, T2, he says with a laugh: "He's going to be following me around for another 20 years."

When the original Trainspotting first came out, Carlyle purposely avoided interviews. "I really didn't do an awful lot around the Trainspotting release because I could see that this was maybe going to follow me around," says the 55-year-old Glaswegian. "I worried that people wouldn't see me as anything else."

That said, he has no qualms about his decision to bring Begbie back. "I had often wondered where Begbie would be now," he says. "People have come up to me and talked about him for the last 20 years. So he has always been there, in a sense.

"I had always thought about this guy and these other characters as well, so to get the opportunity to do it again was like gold dust.


"When I read the script, I thought all these guys are exactly where I wanted them to be," he adds. "Spud (Ewan Bremner) is still a junkie; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is still a chancer. And, Begbie, of course he was bound to be in prison."

After Begbie engineers his escape from prison, he returns to a life of crime. And when he sniffs the chance to get revenge on Renton (Ewan McGregor), his simmering violent streak erupts.

"He has been in prison and he is hopeful for parole," Carlyle says of his character in T2. "But when he is told that it is five more years inside, that's it for him. We see him in a bad place, physically and mentally. Therefore, when he does make his break out, we see a very, very dangerous man."

Throughout his career, he has excelled at playing characters who are on the edge or are outsiders - a down-and-out steel worker from 1997's The Full Monty who organises a male striptease act, a drunk driver in 2012's California Solo, and a serial killer in Barney Thomson.

Begbie, though, is something else.

Carlyle says: "He is much more dangerous and psychotic in this film than he was in the first one. And, strangely enough, the quieter he gets the more worrying he gets."

But he gets to show Begbie's other side - the character is suffering in the bedroom department and he also cannot engage with his son.

"You can see that he doesn't understand his son and his son certainly doesn't understand him," says the actor, who has three children with his wife.

"As a father myself in real life - and I am very much a family man - that is just devastating. If you have ever been in that situation where it's your own flesh and blood and you don't know him, there'd be nothing else to say. I loved the opportunity I had to show that."

Will Lawrence

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2017, with the headline 'Still in psychopath's shadow after 20 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe