ROBERT Carlyle has been keeping cinemagoers glued to their seats for nearly two decades in a range of roles so varied he makes pick ’n’ mix look short on choice.
His most famous part is undoubtedly that of sociopathic thug Francis Begbie in Trainspotting, but over the years he has fought James Bond, tackled terrorists with Jack Bauer and bared all in a Sheffield working men’s club.
Still, in all that time, he has never exactly been considered an action hero.
So when the makers of Sky’s Stargate Universe approached Robert to take the lead in the latest entry in the sci-fi franchise, the actor was sceptical.
“The first thing I said to the guys was: ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?’ They kind of laughed and said: ‘Well, what do you mean?’
“I said: ‘My style is not what you’ve been doing. I can adapt and I can change and stuff like that, but I don’t think I would necessarily want to specifically for this.”’
You can see his point. After all, he’s not exactly cut from the same mould as Richard Dean Anderson or Joe Flanigan, the leading men in the previous two shows – Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. But then this, Robert explains, is a very different kind of Stargate.
“Of course, the answer came back that that was exactly what they wanted to hear. They wanted something different and that’s exactly the reason they came to someone like me in the first place.”
Robert stars in Stargate Universe as Dr Nicholas Rush, a genius scientist who, along with a group of soldiers, civilians and fellow-scientists, finds himself trapped on an aeons-old alien spaceship following an attack on their secret research base.
What’s worse is that they’re light years from home and they have no control over the vessel.
“It’s very, very different in the respect that it’s much darker,” reveals Robert. “You have a story which is essentially about survival this time. It’s going to be less about rampaging through the galaxy and encountering alien lifeforms. Of course, there’s going to be some alien interaction in this – it’s Stargate after all.”
Robert explains that while many of the hallmarks of the franchise will be present, creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper are looking to take things in a more “cerebral” direction.
“It’s something you have to think about, it’s more realistic, if that’s a word that I can use. There are four or five episodes that tell you the story, called Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
“When they get to the ship, there’s nothing to drink. So this is more to do with how these people are going to get through potentially the rest of their lives wandering around in the far reaches of space: which is one of the main things that excited me because I thought how fabulous is this that these people may never ever come back.”
The other survivors view the enigmatic Dr Rush with a severe degree of suspicion, as they, perhaps quite rightly, blame him for their current predicament and the possibility they may never return home.
Robert invites the audience to make up their own mind about Rush, but admits: “He’s a very difficult character to like, which is one of the reasons I enjoy playing him.
“I like that. I like making it difficult for an audience, not sure whether you like this guy, not sure if this guy’s a good person or not. He’s very Machiavellian in that sense, because you’re never sure if Rush knows where he’s going.”
Dr Rush might be more brains than brawn, but Robert at least has appeared alongside some of the most prolific action stars of all time, from Pierce Brosnan as James Bond to Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer and Samuel L. Jackson in The 51st State.
The actor reveals which one he would least like to get into a fight with: “It’s gotta be Jack Bauer, it’s gotta be Jack, you know – even his girlfriend gets punched by him.”
However, he’s quick to point out that his good pal Kiefer is rather different to his hard-as-nails screen counterpart.
“Kiefer and I are great buddies, friends for many many years now, we were in a movie together many years ago and we got on extremely well.
“You get a lot of press about Kiefer being the hard-drinking guy and all that, and the other side of the coin is he is one of the kindest, gentlest, loveliest guys you could ever hope to meet.”
However, there is one man who likely wouldn’t think twice about crossing even American hard man Jack Bauer – Trainspotting’s Francis Begbie.
Recalling the film, the actor speaks of his surprise at just how influential it became and lays its success at the feet of director Danny Boyle.
“Myself and Ewan (McGregor), I think, were probably the best known of the boys, even at that time. I think Ewan was the same as me; we did it for very, very little money, because we loved it so much. Maybe that’s why it works so well, because there was so much love in that project, people loved it.
“Of course, you had that magnificent anchor of Danny there who makes everyone feel like it’s ‘your’ film, no matter who you are or what part you’re playing in it.”
Speculation has run riot as to whether or not a sequel is in the works, ever since author Irvine Welsh, who wrote the novel on which Trainspotting was based, penned Porno, his follow-up to the story.
Robert says that he would happily return for a second helping of Begbie.
“I’ve never really gone back and played the same guy again, but with Begbie I gladly would, mainly because of the director I would be working with. Also, I think there’s a lot of mileage still in that character.
“If you have any knowledge about Porno, there’s one scene alone that I think would be worth the admission money, which is when Begbie receives gay porn through the post in prison from Sick Boy. Now that has got to be worth seeing alone,” he laughs.
Robert also adds fuel to the fire that it could be sooner rather than later.
“Well, if ever it’s going to happen it’s now. Danny’s absolutely flavour of the month at the moment, isn’t he? Flavour of the year, in-fact, and quite rightly, too.
“All I would say is I love Danny Boyle with a passion and I would jump through hoops of fire backwards for the man. So if he wants to go and do Porno, I’m all for it.”
But one role Robert has sets his sights on is a far cry from Begbie.
“I would love it if someone came up with some kind of biopic about Leonard Rossiter’s life; I would do it for nothing,” reveals the actor. “He was a comic genius, not really recognised so much in his day. I think for me he’s one of the finest actors that Britain’s ever produced.”
For the time being, Robert will be exploring the universe, and although Dr Rush will come face-to-face with various alien menaces, the actor makes a confession.
“If it was me personally, I would run a mile if I ever came across anything like that.”
Stargate Universe begins on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD on Tuesday.