My good friend Ruth who runs the marvellous site Flixchatter has started a very interesting blogathon called “Small Roles… Big Performances” where I have been kindly asked to be involved. (As are you, dear readers). The aim is to highlight a specific performance by a lesser known actor that you feel deserves mention. To find out more about Ruth’s blogathon, or to get involved, go here.
In my contribution to this, I’ve chosen the very underrated actor Robert Carlyle and his iconic portrayal of Francis Begbie from Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting“.
By his own admission, Carlyle never wanted to move to L.A. and become embroiled in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. He wanted to stay in his home town of Glasgow, Scotland and continue his work on more ‘authentic’ film’s and on his theatre company “Raindog” (named after the Tom Waits album). This type of integrity has to be admired amongst actors these days. As a result, Carlyle remains less known and under appreciated despite possessing a vast range beyond most UK actors.
Francis Begbie is, quite simply, a highly volatile and unpredictable sociopath. In a film filled with detestable characters, Begbie is, without doubt, the film’s most terrifying and Carlyle delivers an inspired and virtuoso performance in capturing his arbitrary acts of sickening violence.
However, despite his alpha-male status Carlyle himself believes that this was down to Begbie’s repressed homosexuality and his “fear of being outed”. As a result, Carlyle personally chose to dress in Pringle sweaters and stay-pressed trousers. It was a decision that, a surprised, Danny Boyle agreed to go with and even Irvine Welsh (the author of the novel) agreed that Begbie could be viewed in this way; Carlyle’s understanding of this volatile character seemed to be spot on.
The skill in Carlyle’s performance though, is his ability to be malevolent yet do in it such a way, that his portrayal of this character also contains a lot of humour. All be it, in a nervous laughter kind of way. He manages that rare ability, to be both frightening and fun and he creates a genuine sense of unease and unpredictability whenever he’s onscreen.
The entire cast of the film are on top of their game and it projected the careers of Ewan McGregor, Kelly Macdonald, Peter Mullan and to some extent Kevin McKidd, so for Carlyle to outshine them all is testament alone. He doesn’t exactly elevate this film from a poor standard (it’s already a brilliant film) but what he does do is add an extra dimension to it. He brings a volatility and sense of immediate danger that cannot be denied. He has been likened to a Scottish Joe Pesci who turns scary and violent at the slightest provocation. I couldn’t single out one particular scene with Begbie as whenever Carlyle appears onscreen, he’s outstanding in all of them.
I’ve seen the film an abundance of times but no matter how often, I’m always gripped by the presence of Begbie and by that, I think there is no bigger compliment to an actor.