Interview by Jaimie Kourt
To start off; you make me laugh a lot. My Scottish husband and I spent an entire Friday night watching Burnistoun. This show seems to capture Scottish behaviour to a tee-especially the humorous depictions whilst carrying out simple daily life mundane-ites. Have there ever been comparisons drawn to Seinfeld – the American comedy about nothing in particular? During its duration, did you ever have any real life experiences where you thought this has to be spoofed?
The writers, Robert Florence and Iain Connell are brilliant. They know their audience and they write for a wide demographic of Scottish viewers in mind – I think there’s something in there for everyone. They have spot on observation of Scottish humor and so capture it very well. We don’t mind having a bit of a laugh at ourselves. And a lot of the time that’s what Burnistoun is and why it’s so good.
I can’t say I’ve ever heard the comparison with Seinfeld – it’s quite a different genre. But, hey! if you want to compare it in terms of quality – go ahead!
Did Burnistoun work like American comedy television shows, i.e.: SNL, in that the performers also maintain creative input and participate in sketch writing?
Well, the writers were also the stars of the show so they already had most of the creative input in that respect. Personally, I always had full reign of what I did with my characters in terms of performance. Though, I do remember doing a little improvising once and being told by the director, Iain Davidson ‘Stop trying to ruin Robert and Iain’s show’ – I tell myself, to this day, that he said it in jest
On that topic… You’ve done a great deal of television, both American and British. How does each country’s productions differ and does your work (approach to the work) alter accordingly?
I’ve done a good deal more British TV than I have American so I’m not sure I’m in a position yet to draw up a very accurate comparison but of the experience I have had of the two, American production seems to be on a larger scale, logistically. More people involved and more chains of command. My on-set experience of each was much the same and my approach to my work alters, if required, production to production rather than American to British.
Do you watch TV? What are you watching? Are there any current series you would like to work on? Who are the Show Creators you admire?
I love watching TV. I’m a bit out of the loop at the moment, with boxsets being added to my ‘must watch’ list faster than I can watch them. I’m currently at the end of Series 4 of Game of Thrones and at the end of Series 2 of House (Proof of just how far behind I am).
Are there particular series I would like to work on? Sure but just throw me into the mix with HBO and I’ll be happy. In terms of show creators, they feature heavily in my top 10 television series.
I suppose it started off like any other casting. Got the initial drafts of the first couple of episodes and, as I couldn’t at the time meet in person, put a few of the scenes on tape to be seen, initially by the casting director, David Shaw – who really liked them and it progressed from there. What was different in this instance was that as the character brief changed and evolved over the course of casting due to rewrites, etc. I was essentially re-auditioned. So Sean was originally Northern, then Irish and ultimately Kay had me read him as a Scot. So it was nice have been given that opportunity of giving my version of the character at each stage. In the end, Kay did me the honor of rewriting the character to suit me, which I’m very grateful for.
As with much American Television series, many properties are based on existing and proven foreign programming. Do you think The Syndicate could work if “relocated” to the US?
I believe it already was and it’s my understanding that it didn’t transfer as well as they had hoped. Had I not already known that, however, I would’ve been tempted to say it would work if it was relocated. It’s an excellent premise for a drama and there are endless possibilities with it. I didn’t see it myself so couldn’t possibly comment or give an opinion as to why it didn’t have the reception they expected. I suppose the biggest variable is that Kay didn’t write the American adaptation.
Kate Mellor, The Syndicate’s writer, kept much of the scripting under wraps, even from the show’s cast. What do you believe is her MO for having done such? Is this a strange way to work, without knowing where you are headed? It sounds like it could be fun and freeing?
I think it’s largely down to Kay keeping her options open as much as anything else. I know that as we progressed through the first block of filming, Kay was familiarizing herself with us as actors as well as our interpretations of the characters and so by not locking herself down to a definite 6 episodes, she was able to customize and tailor much of her writing to us and our version of the characters. She is very adaptable that way and I think this approach adds to the realism and naturalism of her writing. We were still denied access to episode 6, though, even after it was written for quite some time and, although I can’t say for sure, I would imagine that much of the reason for this was so that we were unable to give anything away in our performance, leading up to the conclusion of the story. There are a lot of very keen eyed audience members out there, some who will even analyze your performance frame-by-frame and they don’t miss a beat. They certainly won’t miss that ‘it was me’ glint in your eye.
It’s exciting not knowing what the outcome will be or to what extent your character may or may not be involved with various plot lines.Personally, I like to know. I like to manoeuvre and plot my performance through the series being aware of what my character should be thinking or feeling in any given circumstance and when you aren’t fully aware of the circumstances, then that’s taken away from you but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable or fruitful. It’s a style and it was Kay’s style for this and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
This show is about winning the lottery. What is the most extravagant thing you would do for yourself if you came into wealth this way? Is there a social cause or passion project you would start up or contribute to?
I wouldn’t keep any more than half my winnings. That’s plenty. I would give the other half to charity; family and friends and I would love to start a scholarship or two. I would get more directly involved in the arts, maybe go into production of either theatre or TV or both! For myself, my most extravagant expense would probably be a trip into space. I’m very keen on astronomy and that would be a dream come true.
Why did you become an actor? Was there a particular experience or person you can pin it back to?
I’ve always been quite creative so I suppose it was always just a matter of time before I found the right outlet. I was an inventor in my youth then I was an author then a singer so it seemed inevitable that I would give acting a go at some point. The catalyst for it was a trip to LA when I was 21, where I met some people in the industry. We got to chatting, mostly hypothetically but that planted the seed. I didn’t think too seriously about it at the time but as time went on it started to play more and more on my mind until one day I thought ‘why not?’.
Success in your profession often means paying attention to fashion at some level. Do you enjoy this aspect to your job? What kind of clothing are you drawn to?
I don’t believe this is an aspect of success in my job and, if it is, it shouldn’t be. Your worth as an actor should have nothing to do with the clothes you’re wearing.
That is a big question, with so many answers. There is no one thing that sets actors apart. It’s a question we spend three years training trying to refine the answer to and you’d likely still get a different answer from each of 20 graduating students. One actor can be ‘successful’ for completely different reasons to the next. Uniqueness, for example, is a sure-fire advantage: Being uniquely beautiful; uniquely muscly; uniquely unusual looking. These things contribute greatly to the ‘success’ of a lot of actors but that doesn’t make them any good. In fact, a lot of the time the opposite is true. But the most common thread is hard work and perseverance. Some of the most talented actors I know don’t rely on raw talent alone to reach their goals. They work and they work hard.
What distinguishes a good actor from a great actor is opinion.
Okay, as we began, you are funny. Do you have any good jokes?
A van with four actors go off a cliff, what’s the tragedy in this?
You can fit a lot more than four actors in a van.