Robert Carlyle relishing living life in a fairytale

ROBERT Carlyle, centre stage at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum – a dream long held by Mark Thomson, the theatre’s artistic director.

So there is little doubt that he will be over the moon to hear that the international star of stage and screen gives the suggestion a positive reaction.

Speaking from Los Angeles, where he is currently filming the top-rated TV series Once Upon A Time, he muses: “I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. There are many stage roles that I’d love to play, I mean, I’d pretty much decided that was what I was going to be doing with my life when all the film work came in.”

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That film work has included a Bond villain in The World Is Not Enough, stripping for The Full Monty and creating the psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting, yet the idea of standing before a living, breathing audience remains an attractive proposition for the 50-year-old.

“What I find interesting now is that I’m beginning to think, ‘Is it rose-tinted specs?’ Have I been away too long and forgot how hard it actually is, because theatre is a hard ask.”

If theatre is tough, it’s nothing compared with the workload Carlyle is currently enduring as both Rumplestiltskin and his alter-ego Mr Gold in Disney’s fantasy drama, Once Upon A Time.

“Very long days are the nature of the beast on this one, for me particularly,” he reveals. “If it’s a Rumplestiltskin day, make-up and costume take two hours 45 minutes. Then I work all day, after which it takes another hour and a half to get the make-up off.”

Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the writers of Lost, Once Upon A Time is described as a modern fairytale.

It centres on Emma Swan, a 28-year-old who has fended for herself since being abandoned as a baby. Everything changes when Henry, the son she gave up years ago, finds her. The ten-year-old believes Emma comes from an alternate world, and that she’s the long lost daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, sent away to protect her from the curse of the Evil Queen, who has exiled characters from the fairytale world to modern-day America.

An old-fashioned tale of good v evil, Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin is a pivotal character. It’s a role that is very close to the actor’s heart, and one that appears to have whetted his appetite for a return to the stage by dint of its theatrical nature.

“Bizarrely, Rumplestiltskin was the very first piece of drama I ever saw. I was about six, at school, when this wee travelling theatre group came around.

“I don’t know if they did Rumplestiltskin or not but he was certainly in it. I was fascinated by this character. I’d never heard of Rumplestiltskin before and I just loved the name, loved saying the name, the notion of the name, and the fact that he loved names. Suddenly, 45 years later, here he was in front of me to play. It was providence.”

With insect-like movements and an unpredictable temperament, Carlyle’s Rumplestiltskin is a chilling creation guaranteed to send children to bed with nightmares. He’s not the most comfortable of characters to play, admits the Scot.

“Because Rumple has quite an animated face, the make-up cracks a lot and has to be filled in and repaired. I might be the almighty powerful Rumple but I can’t really move very well,” he laughs, continuing, “I love that I have, what appear from the outside to be two parts, Rumplestiltskin and Mr Gold, but of course they are the same person, opposite sides of the same coin. That makes them even more interesting to play. Gold tends to be very calm, quiet and intimidating whereas Rumplestiltskin is a box of frogs, he’s all over the place. The wonderful thing about Rumple is getting to play theatrically on film. I’ve never done it before. I’ve never been this big in front of a camera.”

To create Rumple, Carlyle thought back to his days at drama school, and to his five-year-old son Pearce.

“I’ve taken a chance playing this way,” he concedes. “I was confronted with this really quirky, strange character who is stuck in a cell. What is he about?

“When the make-up was given to me it was very like a mask. I worked with masks at drama school – you put the mask on, the contact lenses in and it kind of frees you. It’s as if no-one is watching. You can play then, and really take thing to extraordinary lengths.

“So that was the first thing. The second thing was finding some kind of movement for the character. I looked to Comedia dell’Arte, Italian farce, so Rumplestiltskin strikes a lot of poses.

“Then I thought, ‘How does he sound?’ I just heard my wee five-year-old. He walks about the house doing this thing with his voice and I thought, ‘That’s it. Rumplestiltskin has this childlike quality because he is constantly messing with people.”

It was a very different role that first brought Carlyle to the attention of TV viewers in the States, Dr Nicolas Rush in Stargate Universe. “I came out originally to do Stargate and when that show closed down I thought that was it. So to get the chance to come back out here to do something like this is really what it’s all about and I’m very pleased to be here.

That said, he’s also missing his family and is looking forward to coming home next month when, who knows, a trip to the Capital could be on the cards.

“I remember coming through to Edinburgh as a wee boy with my dad for the football, seeing the Castle, and being in awe of it. When it comes to Edinburgh, I guess I’m a jealous Glaswegian.”

• Once Upon A Time is on Channel 5 tomorrow at 8pm