Today: March 1, 2024

Robert Carlyle On The Legend Of Barney Thomson

Theatre, film and television actor Robert Carlyle has won eleven major awards including an RTS Award (Hamish MacBeth, 1998) an Evening Standard Award (Carla’s Song, 1996, Face, The Full Monty, 1998), a SAG award (The Full Monty), two BAFTA Scotland awards (Cracker, 1993 and The Unloved, 2009) and a BAFTA award (The Full Monty). His other notable credits include Riff-Raff, Trainspotting, The World is Not Enough, Angela’s Ashes, The Beach, 28 Weeks Later, Summer, 24 and California Solo among others. As if that wasn’t enough, he makes his feature film directorial debut this week with The Legend of Barney Thompson, in which he also stars. The film, which features Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone and Tom Courtenay and – yup, you guessed it – has already been nominated for another award. Looks like Mr Carlyle will be needing more space on his mantlepiece soon.

FilmJuice caught up with the Robert recently to chat about fate, films and that all-important debut.

The Legend of Barney Thomson marks your feature film directorial debut.   Why this particular film and why now?
I’d been offered this film purely as an actor about four or five times over the last ten years. It just kept coming back, but I was always doing something else.  Then I ended up in Canada working for American TV and there was a producer out there, John Lenic, who told me that there was a Glasgow script that I might be interested in – and it was Barney again.  I thought, ‘I can’t get away from this thing!’ Myself and John were working on it as a kind of potboiler project, it was nothing we were thinking of doing imminently, when suddenly the finance started to come in. We got closer to the shooting date we still and didn’t have a director and my producer said well why don’t you do it?  At first I didn’t think it was a good idea but actually I probably know this script better than anyone now.

You’ve worked with Ken Loach and Danny Boyle – have you been influenced by them?
Well I would never ever think of putting myself in that category but you hope so. You hope you learn from the good people around you, in any walk of life, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate to see Ken Loach, Danny Boyle, Alan Parker, people like that at work.  You take little things from them all.  Particularly Danny Boyle in terms of this film, his enthusiasm, the way he directs. It is a wonderful experience to work on his set because he is so enthusiastic with every single person. So I had always thought I would try and take that bit of Danny with me.

Did you enjoy the challenge of directing and would you do it again?
I directed in the theatre for many years – that was what I was going to do. Then Ken Loach came to town around 1990 to do Riff Raff and after that all this acting work came in.  So it wasn’t entirely new to me, but certainly new to me in terms of film work.  To answer your question, I don’t know, I really don’t know. I enjoyed the five or six weeks filming in Bridgeton Cross last June, the rest of it was very difficult.  I had no idea, the work that actually went in to it, which sounds ridiculous but you just don’t know until you do it. You’re responsible for every single nut and bolt in this thing.  So it took up an awful lot of time. I’m quite private with my time, when I’m off, I’m off. With this I haven’t really had a lot of chance to be off for the past three years.  I enjoy time with my children and my wife, so it would take something pretty special to get me doing it again.

Tell us a bit about the film and the character of Barney Thomson and how he fits in?
Barney Thomson is a hapless middle-aged barber who, in Barney’s own words, hasn’t had his ‘kick at the ball’ in life.  He’s got a mother who’s difficult, to say the least, and at the point where you join the film, he’s under threat of losing his job.  If he loses his job, he’s basically got nothing at all.  And through a kind of series of mishaps and accidents, he ends up accidentally killing people.  It’s a great character to play in a sense because everything happens to him, although he’s the one that’s responsible for killing these people, he doesn’t do anything deliberately. It all kind of happens to him.  So he bounces around a bit like in a pin ball machine from then on in.

He is a timeless character isn’t he?
Thank you, that’s what I deliberately tried to do in terms of the production values.  It came across to me the more work I did on the script with Colin Mclaren that it’s kind of timeless, it’s old-fashioned really, almost ‘50s or ‘60s style, and it was important to me to capture that.  The shots are straight on, rather than shots set up slightly to the left or the right or the camera moving.  I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to let the actors tell this story the way things kind of used to be.  Actors were given the platform to really express themselves in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I thought well let’s try that.  So equally you don’t see any mobile phones, any modern cars. The barbers’ set in particular, that’s such a timeless place.  It’s one of my images of my childhood going to those barbers with my father, boxing pictures everywhere and it could have been 1920, 1930, 1940, 1960. It didn’t matter. It could have been anytime, so that’s what I endeavoured to do.

It’s an incredible cast, but the decision to cast Emma Thompson as your mother is inspired…
Emma Thompson – she’s the jewel in the crown of the film, there’s no doubt about that. She’s absolutely brilliant in it.  I knew that Cemolina, the character she plays, that’s generally a guy’s part, a mad crazy serial killer-type man. And there are very few parts written like that for women.  So I knew I was gonna have to find someone brave to do this.  I’ve always been a big admirer of Emma Thompson and even though this character is nothing like Nanny McPhee, if you think of the way she looked in that film, then she’s obviously not got a lot of vanity about her and I thought that’s perfect.  So even though she’s only a couple of years older than me, with the help of Mark Coulier, who’s a multi Academy-Award winning make-up designer and artist, he transformed her in to what you see in the film.  She was just fantastic.

Audiences are in for a treat, there’s great comedy but quite tense at times as well…
It’s kind of bitter sweet. It’s funny and suddenly then you ask yourself is it funny?  Particularly the relationship between Barney and his mother, it’s really tense.  Again Emma, gives a tremendously brave performance, that gets the audience thinking I like this character and then asking themselves but do I like this character?  And that takes a particular type of actor to do that.

Barney Thomson is released on DVD on 16th November.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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