Robert Carlyle was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 14 April 1961. His mother left the family when Robert was four, and he was raised by his itinerant hippy father, Joseph, in a series of working class communes. There are two distinctly different stories as to why his mother, Elizabeth, left – her version says she was forced back to her mother’s for a break by Joseph’s itchy feet, returning to her own home to find it deserted, another has her abandoning her husband and son for a bus conductor.
Although his upbringing was unconventional, Bobby seems to have been happy in the communes where the extended family, and particularly his devoted father gave him 'all the love anyone could possibly need'.
He made his stage debut in amateur drama at the age of fifteen, worked as a painter and decorator for a while, and then won a scholarship to Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He earned his equity card playing Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
He spent most of the 80’s in stage work, although he made some TV appearances in shows like The Bill and received international attention, and deserved critical acclaim in Ken Loach’s 1990 film, Riff-Raff in which he played an ex-convict trying to make a new start as a construction worker.
Carlyle’s roles have often been strongly dramatic – a homeless Londoner in Antonia Bird’s Safe, the headstrong homosexual lover of the title character in Priest again for Bird, a man suffering from multiple sclerosis in Michael Winterbottom’s Go Now.
Three roles really brought him to prominence however.
First on TV, starring as Hamish McBeth in the quirky comedy drama of the same name (I never believed a comedy would burn a living man in a coffin, until that show). Carlyle’s character is pot-smoking, laid-back, indulgent, often just a little confused, but still a good policeman, and his engaging normality forms a solid center for the rest of the series’ wild and woolly characters to revolve around – in many ways it’s a similar feel and structure to Ballykissangel
Then, in 1996, came Trainspotting , in which Carlyle plays Begbie, the violent, knife-brandishing sociopath. Set in amongst the underbelly of Glasgow society, Begbie manages to make even the most irresponsible and depressing junkies look like positive rays of sunshine beside his darkness.
And then there was The Full Monty. The unemployed steelworker, Gary, was a much gentler role than any he’d played previously on the big screen, but still it maintained some of the edge and desperation – as well as being very, very funny.
Since these roles, Carlyle has never looked back. After working with Ken Loach again on Carla’s Song in 1997, in 1998 he married Anastasia Shirley, a makeup artist he met on the set of TV show Cracker when making a guest appearance on the show. This was another oustanding performance, in which he played a psychotic serial killer - a Liverpool F.C. fan who was determined to kill a policeman for every fan killed in the Hillsborough disaster.
In 1999 he played a cannibalistic pioneer in Ravenous and Renard, the anarchist villain in that year’s Bond movie The World is Not Enough . He was also awarded an OBE in the 1999 New Year’s Honour list.
In 2000, he had a cameo in The Beach and this was followed by the role of Malachi, the drunken, shiftless, Irish-patriot father in Angela's Ashes, the film of Frank McCourt's tragi-comic autobiography about his youth in Limerick. His more recent roles have been less remarkable, but no less convincing.
Robert Carlyle is a deeply private person, who has tried hard to remain close to his Scottish working-class roots, but has been dogged and depressed by media attention. Two particularly bad moments were when Carlyle’s wedding arrangements discovered and published by a journalist who lied to the minister who would be performing the ceremony to get the information, and when The Sunday Mirror tracked down and interviewed his estranged mother – who hadn’t seen him for more than thirty years. In interviews since, Carlyle has said that if another reporter does anything like that, he’ll 'have 'im, and go to jail for it'. Amazingly, despite the fact he’s a self-avowed enemy of the press, the British quality papers love him and can’t sing his praises too highly.
Interviews with Carlyle paint him as a chameleon in real life, elusive, showing only what he wants to reveal, as well as the most versatile of actors, intensely serious about his work. Watch his films – the seriousness shows in the performances; he’s never less than accomplished.