New man on the case to pound the Rebus beat

THERE'S probably not been a piece written about Ken Stott which doesn't use the phrases "craggy face" and "gravel-voiced".

Presumably there was a time when the 50-year-old actor was a fresh-faced schoolboy with a squeaky voice, but it's hard to imagine. It feels like he was born with a lived-in look and a voice like Tarmac which has seen one too many articulated trucks run over it.

There are plenty of folk in Edinburgh who would say he was certainly born to play his latest role; that of Detective Inspector John Rebus in two new productions by ITV. Indeed, Stott has been tipped to take the part of Ian Rankin's hard-bitten fictional copper for almost a decade - well before Four Weddings and a Funeral star John Hannah, who was criticised for looking too young and fresh-faced when he took the role in four episodes in 2000.

Even Stott's personal life superficially mirrors that of the grumpy DI - both are divorced fathers of one grown-up child (in Stott's case a son, Bill, in Rebus' a daughter, Sammy). Both are Edinburgh born and bred. And while Stott isn't officially a police officer, he's practically an honorary one, having shot to TV fame as Inspector Pat Chappel in hard-hitting cop drama The Vice and cemented that with his performance as angst-ridden DCI Red Metcalfe in the blood-splattered Messiah series.

So, how was he finally persuaded to take the part? "I think it was just the volume of members of the public saying it to me," he says in his slow, measured tone - his voice like a cross between treacle and sandpaper.

"I would be walking along the street in Edinburgh and people would come up to me and say, you have to play this part. It became," . . . there's a long pause, before a hint of a chuckle wells up from his boots . . . "as though the nation demanded it. I was happy to acquiesce".

And then he laughs. He's joking. But there's many who are quite serious when they say Stott is perfect for Rebus, including the show's executive producer, Eric Coulter. The original Rebus TV dramas were made by Hannah's company, Clerkenwell Productions; the latest two - The Falls and Fleshmarket Close - by Glasgow-based SMG. Coulter, also SMG's head of drama, explains he got involved after the network decided not to continue with the Hannah version.

He says: "I thought the books were so strong that I decided to try to repackage them, with a different script and different actors. Ken Stott was the only person I approached for Rebus. I thought he was perfect for the role. He's a fantastic actor, he's an Edinburgh boy and he has great qualities to him, a great lightness of touch."

And co-star Jennifer Black, who plays Rebus' boss Gill Templar, adds: "Ken is just fantastic. He has this wonderfully resonant voice, which seems to come from the inside of the earth. I think he is ideal for Rebus."

There is one key difference between Rebus and Stott, though. Rebus is famously a Hibs fan. Stott is, probably even more famously, a Jambos devotee, who backed the Save Our Hearts campaign to stop the club moving from its Tynecastle home.

He refuses to comment on the recent off-pitch Lithuania dramas - "I don't think that would be fair" - but admits he's still a regular at matches although work commitments mean he won't be taking up his seat in the Gorgie stadium again until the end of January.

But as Rebus, the script means he's forced to compliment Hibs and, horror of horrors, play a whole scene on the turf of Easter Road. Was it difficult?

That slow warm chuckle bubbles up again. "Of course, it's probably one of the most demanding roles I've ever played, as you can imagine.

"Och, it's a bit ironic really. It's good fun. We had a very good day at the Hibs ground. I happen to have a great fondness for Hibs. As a boy when Hearts were playing away, I would go to watch Hibs instead. I am a fan of Edinburgh football generally."

Still, as the show's producer Alan J Wands confides, Stott took a fair amount of good-humoured stick from Hearts-supporting passers-by while they were out filming in the streets of Edinburgh.

The part of Rebus is only Stott's second time playing an Edinburgh character - the first was in Billy Connolly's The Debt Collector, where Stott played, of course, a cop - and he says he enjoyed working in his home city. "There is something very poignant about working in your home town."

Stott was brought up in the Newington area of the city. His mother, Antonia, a Sicilian, had met his father, David, at Edinburgh University, where she was a lecturer and he was studying English. He attended ballet classes from the age of five until his mid-teens - an unusual hobby for a young Scottish lad, but Stott says, laughingly: "I had ambitions from the age of five to conquer the whole world of entertainment."

AS a boy he loved the movies: "I went to La Scala every Saturday morning and watched everything that was on, from Tarzan, to The Alamo, you name it." But he wasn't heavily involved in drama at school. "No, I only had one part - it was a melodrama. I can't remember what it was called. I only had four lines and I forgot them. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

"Funnily enough when we were filming Rebus in Edinburgh, we were filming at Heriot's. I stood on the stage in the junior hall on the very spot I had forgotten my lines all those years ago. It was a sobering moment."

His father was the assistant headteacher at the school but Stott says he had no problems being a pupil with a parent as a teacher.

"Surprisingly, it's much easier than you might think. I had a very good education. I was surrounded by people who were aware of the problems I might have had and they were at pains to treat me normally and fairly."

In fact, he says, the only time it was awkward was when his late father's friends came around to the house and he'd encounter his teachers drinking sherry in the living room.

Ballet aside, his first serious foray into the entertainment world was with a band called Tandem. Stott, who says he would have been around 16 or 17, was the singer and has happy memories of playing gigs in local venues.

"My favourite was the Bonnyrigg Regal," he says.

He left Edinburgh at 18 to study drama in London and has lived there ever since. With both parents now dead - his mother died earlier this year - and his elder brother, Joe, living in Kent, he hasn't family to visit here, but says he's up as often as he can to see friends and, of course, Hearts.

He'll be back in spring next year to film the next four episodes of Rebus - programme-makers are so confident the public will take to Stott's portrayal of the character that scripts have already been commissioned. True to Rankin's fictional cop, Stott's DI is a sociable grump with a well-hidden heart of gold.

He dresses a lot in black. He smokes an almighty amount of cigarettes. He is darkly sarcastic. And Stott plays him as a bit of a hit with the ladies and with a sense of humour, albeit a biting one.

"I hadn't read any of the books before I was asked to do it," says Stott. "Of course, when I was, I picked up some and went through them, searching for the character. I would probably say my version has a bit more humour, albeit dark. I think Rebus does have a sense of humour. And Rebus is a very interesting character, a very complex character."

And it's that complexity, he says, which is why Rebus is so popular and why it's tempted him to play another police officer. "An awful lot of times I have been asked: are you bored with playing a police officers? But I do so much other stuff." Indeed, he's just been on stage in London's West End alongside Richard Griffiths and John Hurt, they play three war veterans in Heroes.

"This [filming for the TV series] is only ten weeks of the year. It's not a major part of my life. And I think the difference is in the work that I choose - I don't take work where there is no room for character, for us to appreciate the character. So a question like that is almost like saying: are you bored with living?"

Which would certainly never be answered in the affirmative by either Stott or Rebus.

• Rebus: The Falls is screened tonight on Scottish TV at 9pm

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