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.
Ironically, it was his turn as a character of a completely different stripe that won Carlyle international attention. As the drunken, raving psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting (1996), Carlyle was one of the more disturbing aspects of a relentlessly disturbing film, as he invested in Begbie the type of rage that made many filmgoers unable to separate the character from the actor who gave him life. The film was the object of both critical adulation and controversy, and made a star out of at least one of its actors, the charmingly rough-edged Ewan McGregor.
Carlyle's follow-up feature was a decidedly smaller affair. Collaborating again with Ken Loach, he starred as a bus driver in Carla's Song (1996), a film that met with an arthouse release but little fanfare. However, it was Carlyle's turn as the down-and-out Gaz in the following year's The Full Monty that brought him fully into the spotlight. Directed by Peter Cattaneo, the film was a sleeper hit, winning both box-office millions and five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. The success of the film made Carlyle one of the more bankable foreign players in Hollywood, something that was reflected in his casting with fellow up-and-comers David Arquette, Jeremy Davies, and Guy Pearce in the highly entertaining but virtually unmarketable box-office bomb Ravenous (1999). In the same year, Carlyle shared the screen with the likes of Liv Tyler and fellow Trainspotter Jonny Lee Miller in Plunkett & Maclean. An unusual end to a decidedly uneven year, Carlyle rounded out 1999 with two films that couldn't have been more different -- the explosive James Bond actioner The World Is Not Enough, and the bleak literary drama Angela's Ashes.
Thankfully for fans, Carlyle was as busy as ever in the first few years of the new millennium, and though his reunion with Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (The Beach) and pai