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 pairing with certified silver-screen badass Samuel L. Jackson (Formula 51) largely failed to win over stuffy critics, the actor was still fun as ever to watch and his indie credibility was steadily maintained, thanks to roles in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and Black and White. When it came to chilling viewers, 2003's Emmy Award-winning Hitler: The Rise of Evil found Carlyle's explosive, wild-eyed fury put to frightening use as the German dictator who plunged the planet into World War II. Though 2004's Dead Fish found Carlyle joining an impressive cast of players including Gary Oldman, Terence Stamp, and Karel Roden, the flashy British/German co-production polarized viewers and still hadn't managed to reach stateside screens two years after debuting at the Warsaw Film Festival. A brief trip back in time found Carlyle cast as King James I in the U.K. miniseries Gunpowder, Treason and Plot, with roles as a depressed ballroom dancer in the awkwardly titled Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School; a trio of made for television films; and a part in dragon-riding disappointer Eragon following in short order. Though Carlyle was originally slated to appear in first-time director Steve Hudson's bleak 2006 drama True North, he was forced to drop out due to the death of his father and was quickly replaced by actor Peter Mullan.
In 2007, just as The Scotsman reported that the entire Trainspotting cast would be reuniting for the Boyle-directed sequel Porno, Carlyle would be reunited with Gunpowder, Treason & Plot co-star Catherine McCormack in 28 Weeks Later -- director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's sequel to 2002 horror hit 28 Days Later (directed by none other than Danny Boyle). Carlyle took on the role of a priest for The Tournament, a 2009 thriller from director Scott Mann, and has become well-known for his portrayal of Dr. Nicholas Rush in the sci-fi television drama Stargate Universe. He found television success once more in ABC's fantasy drama Once Upon a Time, in which he plays the part of Rumplestiltskin. 2012 found the actor starring as a former pop star facing deportation from the United States in California Solo, a comedy drama from director Marshall Levy. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi