'Trainspotting"s Robert Carlyle on the 'disgusting' characters he plays

TORONTO -- Robert Carlyle admits he has a knack for despicable roles.

Which might explain why he was hounded for years to play his latest violent onscreen kook -- a Glaswegian barber-turned-serial killer.

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The affable Scot notes the Canadian script for "The Legend of Barney Thomson" circled him several times before he accepted the challenge, which included directing the grisly black comedy.

The pitches came from "different people, coming from different parts of the world," all convinced Carlyle was the man to play the downtrodden Barney, an accidental killer.

The "Trainspotting" star admits he can't seem to shake the psycho characters, and he suspects it's partly because of the way he approaches them.

"Barney, on the page, isn't technically a likable character," Carlyle says in a recent phone interview from Vancouver, where he shoots the ABC/CTV series "Once Upon A Time."

"He's a pain in the ass. He's abusive, he's ... just an idiot. So you need someone who could actually try and turn this somewhat dislikable character into someone who you care about."

Not unlike his approach to playing the loathsome, ultra-violent Begbie in "Trainspotting," he allows.

"Begbie is a disgusting character. But again, when I was taking that part on I was also aware of the fact that I had to try and make this guy in some way likable. I tried to inject Begbie with a heavy, heavy dose of comedy," says Carlyle, also known as a desperately unemployed steelworker in "The Full Monty," an alcoholic deadbeat dad in "Angela's Ashes," and a Bond villain in "The World Is Not Enough."

"A lot of people can look at Begbie and think, 'Oh, he's just terrifying.' Well, I don't know if he is. I don't know if Begbie even actually exists like that. I think he's more of, almost, a cartoon-type figure."

He was convinced to tackle "The Legend of Barney Thomson" by a rewrite from Glaswegian scribe Colin McLaren, who injected the missing element he craved -- "as the Irish would say, the crack," says Carlyle.

When it came to directing, he worked on an "old-fashioned" plan for his first feature behind the camera.

"It would be no moving cameras, no dollies, nothing whirring around. It's quite flat and quite a straight-telling of the story."

He enlisted seasoned pals Ray Winstone to play a browbeaten police inspector and Tom Courtney as the chief superintendent. And he turned to Emma Thompson to don some serious prosthetics and makeup to play Barney's foul-mouthed, bingo-loving mother.

Twenty years later, Carlyle says he looks forward to revisiting his most famous deranged lout for a "Trainspotting" sequel that begins shooting May 15 in Glasgow.

"Same as we did before, same team, everyone's back," he says, being careful to keep plot points secret.

"They're older. Everything they do is older. And I'm very aware of that, getting to the (age) of 55 next month. You get slower and all these guys are slower.... It's got something about it that I think will resonate with people 20 years later."

"The Legend of Barney Thomson" opens in Toronto and Vancouver this weekend before hitting other cities.


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