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‘Begbie’s a madman but, 20 years on, I’ve grown fond of him’: Robert Carlyle on Trainspotting’s return

Robert Carlyle as Begbie in T:2 (Tristar Productions)
Robert Carlyle as Begbie in T:2 (Tristar Productions)

IT’S the film fans have waited two decades to see.

And Robert Carlyle, one of the stars of T2 Trainspotting, has told iN10 how a restaurant rendezvous provided a vital bit of buddy bonding.

It saw him reunited with Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Ewen Bremner who, like him, were propelled to stardom by the iconic original movie back in 1996.

“We went out for a meal in the week before the filming,” reveals Robert, 55, as the stars get set for tonight’s big premiere in Edinburgh.

“Ewan and myself hadn’t seen each other in about 15 years. Jonny was about the same, while Ewen B. I’d seen a bit.

Robert in Trainspotting
Robert in Trainspotting

“We were smiling at each other and thinking: ‘How did all these years go by? How have we not been in touch?’

“And we were looking at each other’s faces. I’m sure the boys were doing the exact same thing as me – looking to see how much we’d aged. How much grey hair or nae hair we had!

“It was like long-lost friendships, very warm and cosy.

“It was a lovely experience that continued all the way through the film.

“We got really close during the first film, but even closer during this one.”

Danny Boyle is directing again with Ewan back as Rent Boy, Jonny as Sick Boy and Ewen as Spud.

Robert is, of course, much-feared Begbie, the on-screen nutter to rival them all.

The sequel has taken what seems like forever to bring to the screen. And had it been much earlier it wouldn’t have held an appeal for the Glasgow-born star who has played everything from loveable Hamish Macbeth to a memorable Bond villain.

He can’t help but smile as he admits Begbie is adored by fans despite having “almost no redeeming features whatsoever – a madman”.

He confides: “For the first few years I deliberately didn’t want to speak about him too much.

“I didn’t want this to be a rod for my back, for people to think: ‘This is what this guy does, these psycho-type parts’.

“Then I began to warm to him until this point in my life, 20 years later, I’m very fond of the character. I’m very grateful.

“More good has come out of it than bad, that’s for sure.”

The Tournament, 2009
The Tournament, 2009

His T2 incarnation might be the guy whose pint you’d least like to spill, but Robert couldn’t be more different.

He’s affable, open and down-to-earth. Having caught up with him in interviews on and off for the best part of the post-Trainspotting 20-or-so years, he’s a Hollywood name who’s about as un-Hollywood as they come.

For nine months of the year life for Robert, wife Anastasia and their three kids Ava, 14, Harvey, 12, and Pearce, 10, is in Vancouver.

It’s the filming base for his big US TV fairy tale series Once Upon A Time and before that he was there for a couple of years with sci-fi blockbuster Stargate Universe.

But Scotland runs through his veins, and those of the kids, too.

“They’re very much Scottish,” he insists.

“Ava’s like a wee chameleon and her voice changes when she goes over there. She doesn’t go completely Canadian, but there are wee things in her voice that make you go: ‘Who are you?’ The boys slag her off.

“Pearce is amazing. At 10 he’s been out there nine months of the year for the past eight years, so if anybody has a right to change his voice it should be him. But he’s more Scottish than me.”

Robert Carlyle and his wife Anastasia Shirley
Robert Carlyle and his wife Anastasia Shirley

It’s not California-style sunshine that keeps Robert on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Vancouver is a lovely city, although I never thought I’d find anywhere that rained more than Glasgow,” he says.

“In October it rained 29 days out of 31 and in November it rained 27 days out of 30. So there’s no real glamour.”

But, come on, there must be a bit of A-list diva-ness somewhere?

“Anybody that knows me – and you know me a bit – knows nothing could be further from the truth,” he laughs.

“There’s no starriness in my life ever and there never will be. The one thing I really miss out in Vancouver is that there are no jokes.

“You’ll walk a long way before you find someone who can tell you a joke. It’s the craic, as the Irish say. I miss that and just chatting to people in shops.

“That’s why I’ll always come back. There are the wee restaurants here I like to go to and the butchers I like to go to for my sausages.”

Square, of course, Robert?

“I’m actually a links man. I’ve changed out in that Vancouver!

“James Allan butchers nearby Clarence Drive is my favourite place to go.”

He got his breakfast staple when he was back at his nearby plush Glasgow West End home over the festive period.

And his regular trips back from Canada mean he gets to see the changes in his home city.

He admits the political landscape has changed, too. But having seen the trolling that goes with political pontificating, he’s keeping his counsel.

“I see people talking about this or that on whatever side of the political divide and they get shouted down.

“I don’t want to listen to an actor spout on about this or that. I’m just no interested in that myself so I’m no’ going to be one to dae that.

“I don’t think it ever goes down very well.”

Robert as Hamish MacBeth
Robert as Hamish MacBeth

Fairytale series Once Upon A Time is in its sixth season, no mean feat in the cut-throat world of network telly. With on-demand services like Netflix changing the way we view – “People like to watch in bundles. They don’t want to watch a show every Sunday for 22 weeks and who can blame them?” – it remains a hot hit.

“I’m a lucky man as an actor. I get to do Trainspotting, which is an entirely different audience, and at the other time I’m doing stuff in a fairytale land for kids.”

T2 is obviously not for kids, but those who can still quote every line from the original, as well as a whole new generation, will be counting the hours until it opens on Friday.

And even as the wisest old hand in these things, Robert concedes it’s the most hyped project he’s ever been involved in.

“The build-up has been happening for the past couple of months now and it’s a bit like the start of an avalanche,” he adds.

“You can see it coming down the hill and it’ll engulf the film and the cinema-going population.

“But hopefully it’s no any false bravado. It’s been done for the right reasons.

“It’s a dangerous thing to do because the first film was so loved. But if anybody can pull it off Danny can. I’m hopeful that’s what he’s been able to do.”

T2 Trainspotting is at cinemas from Friday, January 27.