Kevin Guthrie on the jour­ney from sit­coms to a sum­mer block­buster


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FRI­DAY af­ter­noon in a quiet cor­ner of the Royal Con­ser­va­toire of Scot­land, in Glas­gow, which doesn’t stay quiet for long. Be­fore you can say La Travi­ata, an op­er­atic voice trills from a nearby room, cor­ri­dors are awash with dancers wear­ing tights and highly an­i­mated faces, and young peo­ple bus­tle past car­ry­ing cello cases. It’s like an episode from Fame. But fame doesn’t in­ter­est the 29-year-old former stu­dent next to me, de­spite it rapidly com­ing his way. In­deed, if of­fered 10 movie block­busters a year Kevin Guthrie would be shak­ing his dark-haired head and rolling his bright green eyes.

“It has never been about fame,” he says, smil­ing. “It’s not about be­ing recog­nised. In fact, I like to go un­der the radar a lit­tle. It’s just about me en­joy­ing the work, but the right sort of work.”

Guthrie main­tains he wants a range of work that chal­lenges, gives him a real chance to shine. To make this hap­pen, he and his agent have planned the ca­reer moves like a cou­ple of chess mas­ters. It’s work­ing. Five min­utes ago (or so it seems) the Scot was ap­pear­ing in small roles in BBC com­edy Two Doors Down, or Miller’s Moun­tain, but now Guthrie is check­mat­ing much of the op­po­si­tion.

Not only is he set to ap­pear in epic movie Dunkirk, he stars in The Ter­ror (The Walk­ing Dead meets Ravenous), a new TV drama by AMC (the cre­ators of Mad Men and Break­ing Bad). It’s based on Dan Sim­mons’s novel about Cap­tain John Franklin’s two-ship ex­pe­di­tion to the North­west Pas­sage in 1845 and Guthrie is wal­low­ing in the story of star­va­tion,

scurvy, mutiny and can­ni­bal­ism, and con­tend­ing with a mon­ster.

“We end up sub­merged and frozen, and have to farm the ice, which is factual, but then the hor­ror el­e­ment emerges,” says the ac­tor, smil­ing, of the pro­duc­tion which also stars Ciaran Hinds and Jared Har­ris.

But if that weren’t enough to sug­gest a young ac­tor go­ing places, Guthrie will also be in cin­e­mas soon with Edie, star­ring along­side Sheila Han­cock in the tale of an el­derly lady’s un­likely friend­ship with a young Scot, set in the High­lands.

“It’s all about ma­noeu­vring our way to­wards the next step,” he says of the ca­reer moves. “It’s been in­cred­i­ble know­ing five or six steps ahead what’s likely to hap­pen.”

This abil­ity to set a course and make the right choices is un­usual for an ac­tor – most don’t get to pick and choose any­thing other than the best fresh veg out of Aldi’s. How did Guthrie find him­self in this po­si­tion?

“It be­gan about four years ago,” he says. “It hap­pened in three stages. I was cast in a film called Rest­less, I landed the film Sun­set Song [with Ag­y­ness Deyn], which was spe­cial, then came back to do Sun­shine on Leith, the Pro­claimers movie. That got me talked about. Play­ing char­ac­ters with dif­fer­ent out­looks let me re­veal a range.”

Sud­denly, cast­ing di­rec­tors were on the phone. How­ever, the ac­tor says the de­ter­mi­na­tion to make a plan also emerged through the mis­takes of the past. “I did stuff I didn’t want to do from the off, where the script or the char­ac­ter didn’t res­onate with me, that felt two di­men­sional, or where I wasn’t pas­sion­ate about the story.”

Guthrie doesn’t talk about his role in crumbly BBC sit­com Miller’s Moun­tain, his stint in the Na­tional Theatre of Scot­land’s Peter Pan that didn’t quite fly or in­deed the up­com­ing Whisky Ga­lore. But that may be co­in­ci­dence.

YET, in mak­ing plans, he main­tains size isn’t every­thing. “I took the role in Fan­tas­tic Beasts [of Mr Aber­nathy], and it’s a small role, but that came about be­cause I adore the di­rec­tor, [David Yates], I love the writer [JK Rowl­ing], and I was a huge Harry Pot­ter fan.”

Guthrie breaks into a wide smile. “We got a phone call say­ing, ‘David would love to meet you. He loved the film.’ I had to wrack my brain to work out which film he loved that could marry up me with this pro­duc­tion. And it turned out to be Sun­shine on Leith.”

Guthrie didn’t want to be seen as the Scot­tish guy who plays sol­diers, as he had in Sun­shine, al­though he does play a sol­dier in Dunkirk. Yet, how could he not take on a film by Christo­pher Nolan, di­rec­tor of In­cep­tion, Bat­man Be­gins and In­ter­stel­lar?

“Ex­actly,” he says. But lit­tle has been re­vealed of the block­buster. What’s it about, Kevin? Boats? “Mr Nolan is keep­ing a tight ship as re­gards public­ity. But what I can say is the event al­most hap­pens in real time. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Guthrie ad­mits he had to work to land the role. “We did rungs of au­di­tions, and I was aware a whole squad of boys were be­ing seen for it. But at au­di­tion we didn’t do scenes from the film. We were just given lines a cou­ple of nights be­fore.”

Robert Car­lyle has a back­bone that could hold up the Forth Bridge. He’s been steer­ing me through the busi­ness

What did he give to his mini per­for­mance to land the part? “A lot of peo­ple go for the truth, but for me it’s about mak­ing a real im­pact as well as the truth.”

How? “Well, more of­ten than not you’re act­ing for a cast­ing di­rec­tor who has their head in The Her­ald. I just take 10 sec­onds to cre­ate space, which cre­ates an en­ergy in the room. They say, ‘When you’re ready,’ to let me know I should start, but I’m think­ing, ‘It’s not when you’re ready, it’s when I’m ready.’”

He doesn’t be­lieve in walk­ing in the door al­ready in char­ac­ter. “I like to go in and re­act. I re­mem­ber I have every­thing to give, but also noth­ing to lose. And I tell my­self if they don’t want me I wasn’t right for the part any­way and try to shut out the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Guthrie was ab­so­lutely sure about work­ing with Han­cock in Edie, a sen­si­tive com­pan­ion piece about two peo­ple who clearly need each other but set off de­spis­ing each other. “When I read the script I said to my agent, ‘Let’s clear the decks. This is what I want to do.’”

Was it much of a chal­lenge play­ing a char­ac­ter who is de­scribed as ‘sweet-eyed and hi­lar­i­ous’? “A lit­tle,” he says, laugh­ing. “But I’d like to think I have quite a light per­son­al­ity any­way. The thing is when you have dark hair and green eyes it says one thing. But there’s an en­ergy I have from where I was brought up.”

That was Neil­ston in East Ren­frew­shire, a green­belt area per­fect for as­pir­ing

I love dig­ging to find out what char­ac­ters are about. I love the ex­ca­va­tion

foot­ballers. Guthrie was “a shy boy” whose par­ents sent him to lo­cal drama group PACE hop­ing to in­fuse a lit­tle Sun­day­morn­ing con­fi­dence in him. It worked and the school­boy landed a range of small roles on televi­sion, in­clud­ing Still Game. But mean­time, young Kevin had be­come a very con­fi­dent foot­baller.

Then his slid­ing doors mo­ment ar­rived. One day, a scout came to see the 13-yearold mid­fielder play­ing for Neil­ston Boys Club. But on the same day, Guthrie opted to au­di­tion for a film, The Key, di­rected by David Blair and re­leased in 2003. “That was the turn­ing point,” he re­flects. “The ex­pe­ri­ence made me re­alise I could maybe do this as a ca­reer.”

Af­ter ap­pear­ing in a school pro­duc­tion of Bugsy Malone, a drama teacher said if he were se­ri­ous about act­ing he should go to drama school. And he should go to the RSAMD.

“I wasn’t sure about train­ing to be an ac­tor. I had al­ready worked as an ac­tor and wasn’t con­vinced I could im­prove. I felt you ei­ther had it or you didn’t.”

But then the scales fell from his eyes. “I re­alised you may not be able to teach act­ing but you can open up so many ways and ideas to make some­one a bet­ter per­former and an all-rounder.”

He knew two of his favourite ac­tors, James McAvoy and Robert Car­lyle, had gone to the same drama school. “They were both Glas­gow boys, both wee and spoke in the same ac­cent as me. So I latched on to that, and felt if they could do it, so could I.”

Guthrie loved his new world. He ex­pe­ri­enced “an ex­plo­sion of cul­ture” given the in­ter­na­tion­al­ism of the col­lege. He found books. He read “every­thing”. “Sud­denly I had a great plat­form to ex­press my­self. I felt I could open up. Some­times there were ten­sions in the class but that was good. There was mu­tual re­spect.”

On grad­u­at­ing, Guthrie did four plays back to back. “It ex­hausts me,” he says of theatre work. “At the end of a run I usu­ally be­come quite ill. The body gets used to hav­ing to ex­pel so much en­ergy, then when it stops it can’t cope. So I try to get back to play­ing foot­ball or go­ing run­ning, just to get the re­lease I’ve been used to.”

Guthrie worked on­stage with McAvoy in Mac­beth at Trafal­gar Stu­dios and played for the X-Men star’s team in Lon­don. (“No slide tack­les al­lowed.”) “He’s

a good player,” he says, “and a great ac­tor.”

Guthrie also had the chance to work with his other hero Car­lyle in The Leg­end of Bar­ney Thom­son. “When you talk about dark, brood­ing, vul­ner­a­ble, vi­cious, but al­ways with a sen­si­tiv­ity, that is Bobby. And he has a back­bone that could hold up the Forth Bridge. I learned a lot from him on the Bar­ney job. He told me how to move, re­vealed a real slick­ness, and in do­ing so he flooded me with con­fi­dence.”

Guthrie says Car­lyle has been part of his ca­reer plan. “We are in touch. He’s been help­ing me make choices, steer­ing me through the busi­ness.”

How does he re­main calm when he gets turned down for a role he knows he could phone in? “It al­ways hurts,” he says, “but the more you hear re­jec­tion the more it be­comes white noise. How­ever, whether by for­tune or ma­noeu­vring my agent I can usu­ally work out what is a non-starter or not.”

At 5ft 7in Guthrie, who lives in north Lon­don with his girl­friend (“She isn’t in the busi­ness”), isn’t tall, and his com­plex­ion could be de­scribed on paint charts as Milk Bot­tle. He was never go­ing up against Jon Hamm for the lead in Mad Men, but so what? He wants the char­ac­ter parts. He cer­tainly gives much of him­self to the roles. When he ap­peared in the box­ing play Beau­ti­ful Burnout he loved the work­outs, train­ing with the likes of Charlie Flynn and Ricky Burns. “I took a punch once and it put me down,” he says with a note of pride. “I love to keep dig­ging to find out what char­ac­ters are about. I love the ex­ca­va­tion.” But there’s an­other rea­son which sug­gests Kevin Guthrie will go on to craft a long and suc­cess­ful ca­reer, out­side of plan­ning and solid graft. He ad­mits he needs the es­cape his roles can of­fer. “I talk to my fam­ily and my girl­friend about my pho­bia of ev­ery­day life,” he of­fers, the op­er­atic trill in the back­ground hav­ing evap­o­rated. “I’ve come to re­alise this is what my ca­reer gives me. It means I can ex­ist in some sort of al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity, and do the things I’ve al­ways wanted to do. To be hon­est, I’ve al­ways felt I’m not great at be­ing a real per­son.”

As a teenager grow­ing up in East Ren­frew­shire Kevin Guthrie faced the choice be­tween pur­su­ing foot­ball or act­ing as a ca­reer


Clock­wise from above: Guthrie in the ti­tle role of the Na­tional Theatre of Scot­land’s 2010 pro­duc­tion of Peter Pan; with Ag­y­ness Deyn in Sun­set Song; with his Sun­shine on Leith co-stars Peter Mul­lan, An­to­nia Thomas, Jane Hor­rocks and Ge­orge Mackay, di­rec­tor Dex­ter Fletcher and Charlie and Craig Reid; and af­ter a char­ity foot­ball match at Celtic Park

Af­ter the com­edy Two Doors Down with such ac­tors as Greg McHugh (be­low) Guthrie will be seen this sum­mer in war epic Dunkirk

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