Whether portraying a drunken sociopath, a good-hearted construction worker, a strong-willed multiple sclerosis victim, or a down-on-his-luck steel worker who resorts to shaking his naked groove thing for cash, Scottish actor Robert Carlyle has repeatedly wowed transatlantic audiences with his chameleon-like ability to inhabit a range of roles.
Born April 14, 1961, in Glasgow, Carlyle was raised by his father after his mother walked out when the actor was four years old. The elder Carlyle was, according to his son, a disciple of the tune in, turn on, drop out mentality, and the younger Carlyle led an itinerant bohemian existence. Carlyle dropped out of school at 16, and according to his own accounts, had a fairly disastrous stay in England before returning to Glasgow. It was there that he enrolled in acting classes at the Glasgow Arts Centre after finding inspiration in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. This led to a stint at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where he studied for a term before becoming disenchanted with the institution. He found work in various television and stage productions, winning a coveted Actor's Equity card with his turn as Oberon in The Royal Scottish Orchestra's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Film audiences first became aware of the actor in Ken Loach's Riff Raff (1991), the story of the trials and tribulations of a group of construction workers. Carlyle won favorable notices, which in turn led to more work, first in the 1993 film Safe and then in 1994's Priest, the critically acclaimed and very controversial story of the moral struggles of a gay priest, in which he played the priest's lover. He went on to a very different role in the next year's Go Now, in which he played a man suffering from multiple sclerosis. The same year, he also found a place in the hearts of many a Scottish TV viewer with his portrayal of the title character on Hamish MacBeth. The show, which cast him as a kindhearted Highlands police constable, made him something of a star in his native country.