The Legend of Barney Thomson is a movie Robert Carlyle was almost destined to make. The Once Upon a Time star not only plays the lead character, he directed the Scottish black comedy about an awkward barber who unwittingly becomes a serial killer.
“I was offered this four or five times purely as an actor over a period of five or six years,” he says. “I was over here in Vancouver working and a friend of mine said he had a Scottish script that I might be interested in. I said, ‘Of course I’ll read it,’ and it was that again. I can’t get away from it.”
The script is based on The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson by Douglas Lindsay, a novel The Scotsman described as “gleefully macabre.”
Carlyle, a Maryhill, Glasgow native, liked the screenplay but says, “there were certain aspects of Glasgow culture that were missing from it.”
“In Glasgow we have a way of speaking to one another that is kind of harsh. That was missing.”
He drew from personal experience to find Glasgow sites that “fitted in with Barney’s life.”
“A lot of the locations you see in the film like the Barrowland Ballroom are places that are kind of dying and might not be around for much longer so I thought this was an interesting way of documenting some of these places.”
Initially he signed on only as an actor but soon found himself doing double duty.
“Believe me when I say, it certainly wasn’t my idea. I don’t know if (the idea) came from the financiers or not. I can’t remember but from whichever source it came from it seemed to be an interesting hook to hang this on that not only was I going to be in it but direct it also. That enthused the financiers.”
The first time feature film director says he took his lead for the tone of the movie from the book and the script.
“Let’s not have the camera moving around and spinning around in circles. Let’s spend the time on the performances and not the camera angles, which you end up cutting anyway.”
He recruited an all-star cast, including Sir Tom Courtney, Ray Winstone and his old Trainspotting cast mate James Cosmo. In a casting coup, he hired two time Oscar winner Emma Thompson to play against type as Barney’s monstrous mom.
“Many, many years ago at the beginning of my career she did a piece on Scotland TV called Tutti Frutti,” he says. “She’s played a Scot in that, from Glasgow. I thought, ‘She’s remarkable. I thought she was English.’ Then suddenly I realized, she is English and just did this terrific accent. There’s not many English people who can do a Scottish accent that well.”
The Legend of Barney Thomson has already won Best Picture at the Scottish BAFTAs and Carlyle is keeping busy on the small screen as Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon a Time.
It’s his next project, however, that has the Internet buzzing. In May he’ll reprise the role of the pint glass-wielding psychopath Francis Begbie in the sequel to Trainspotting alongside the film’s original director and cast.
“We were all very emotional when we read it,” he says, “even Danny (Boyle), because these four characters have followed us around for twenty years. Where ever I go people are talking about Begbie. It is very close to us.”