HE’S the former shipyard welder who made a career out of no-holds-barred comedy and hard-men roles on screen.
But when The Big Yin came home to collect a lifetime achievement award he broke down in tears.
Billy Connolly struggled to keep his emotions in check as he was presented with the BAFTA Scotland honour by fellow Glaswegian comic Kevin Bridges.
Connolly had seemed in melancholy mood throughout a 90-minute interview which touched on everything from ceilidh dancing with Dame Judi Dench and his secret desire to emulate Marlon Brando to admissions about his short temper and his embarrassment at seeing himself on screen.
He told the audience at the Old Fruitmarket: “Thank you very much, this really does mean the world to me.
“I’ve been nominated for loads of things before but I’ve never been given b***** all until now. It almost breaks my heart to get this.”
Connolly had earlier joked that he was still bitter about losing out on a BAFTA for his role opposite Dame Judi in Mrs Brown to Ewan McGregor “and that film about drugs in Edinburgh”, referring to Trainspotting. “Such terrible language too,” he added. “It is worse getting beaten by someone you like.”
Connolly, who has just turned 70, admitted he tried to avoid watching himself perform in any of his films.
“I prefer not to,” he said. “I get embarrassed and depressed, because I thinks maybe this time I am Robert de Niro and then it comes on and I think, oh s***, it’s just me again.
“I never listed to any of my old records or play my own DVDs either. They have a quality that renders them dead to me. It’s like going to someone’s house and them playing their own album - why would you do that
“In films I never seem to be what I thought I was going to be. I’ve made it into something else in my head.”
Speaking about his role as a dwarf warrior in The Hobbit films, due to open later this week, Connolly said: “When Peter Jackson asked me about it I told him I’d never read it and didn’t like anybody who had.
“When I used to drink in the Scotia Bar in Glasgow the regulars were either Tolkien or Incredible String Band and I was very much Incredible String Band. The Tolkiens were the kind of people that you’d see at the Edinburgh Festival with a big bunch of flyers in my hand.
“I keep getting into trouble when I talk about The Hobbit but they don’t actually tell you what you can’t say.”
Connolly said he had been left flummoxed last week when he was interviewed in New York about his new film Quartet.
“This big skinny woman from the Foreign Journalists Association, who is actually one of the people that judges the Golden Globes, said to me: ‘You are making all of us laugh - have you ever thought of going into stand-up comedy?’ I just said to her: ‘Have you ever thought of going into journalism?’”
Connolly said he never prepares for any of his stand-up shows, but simply improvises on previous material and shows.
“I tried to improvise a bit every time, even if it is just a sentence or two. I don’t know anyone that could do a brand new two-hour show every night.”
The 70-year-old had been unable to make the official BAFTA Scotland award ceremony in Glasgow last month but instead agreed to fly in from the US for the special “A Life in Pictures” event.
The event came after a frenetjc spell for Connolly, in which he had a starring role as King Fergus in the Disney-Pixar film Brave, worked with Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson on his adaptation of The Hobbit and is about to appear on screen in Dustin Hoffman’s directorial, Quartet.
Connolly said he had never found any difficulty switching between stand-up comedy and acting.
“It’s never bothered me to be honest. I’ve just felt that the place is very crowded, compared to being on stage on your own, that’s the only thing that’s ever bothered me. I toe the line with scripts and wait until I am told I can improvise.”
Connolly said he had been lucky to be offered roles which seemed to have been created for him since his breakthrough roles in Just Another Saturday and Absolution in the 1970s.
“It was a fun thing to do and it still is. I am kind of limited in acting ability, but I’ve never been asked to audition, because people know what they want from me and know that I have got it. I’m always amazed that they don’t seem to mind the Glasgow accent.”
Connolly said he had had to be talked into many things throughout his career and even rang up his wife for advice on acting.
“People think I sound big-headed when I say it but with everything I’ve done over the years I’ve actually dreamt about it beforehand. I aimed at it and got it.
“I’m not really an ambitious man though and I’ve been dragged screaming into a lot of things.
“It was an old manager of mine, Frank Lynch, that got me out of the folk clubs and into the concert halls.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving behind the cosy club scene but after I left it I didn’t want to go back.”
Connolly said he Dame Judi’s acting was so good in Mrs Brown that he convinced himself that she fancied him as they were ceilidh dancing. He said Robin Williams was still the comedian that had most impressed him and when asked what film role he would like to take on for a remake he replied: “Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.”
Connolly was honoured by BAFTA Scotland following previous recognition for fellow actors Sir Sean Connery, Brian Cox and Robbie Coltrane.
Jude MacLaverty, director of BAFTA Scotland, said: “Age shows no sign of mellowing The Big Yin. He’s still a force to be reckoned with at 70; a huge talent and one of the world’s best loved comedians, actor and all-round amazing musician.
“His ability to make everyday incidents riotously funny is remarkable and we were delighted to welcome him back home for this event documenting his incredible career.”
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