Interview: Sean Biggerstaff, actor

Sean Biggerstaff plays the role of PC Rory Mulligan. Picture: Robert Perry
Sean Biggerstaff plays the role of PC Rory Mulligan. Picture: Robert Perry
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THE Wicker Man musical is a strange concept, but for Sean Biggerstaff, it’s no more weird than the hysteria that met his best-known role, writes Susan Mansfield

SEAN Biggerstaff laughs as he describes the process by which he joined the cast of An Appointment With The Wicker Man. “Read the script. Laughed a lot. Said yes. It was an absolute no-brainer. Turned up at work on the first day and it’s been a hoot and a holler ever since.”

Biggerstaff, cast in the role of PC Rory Mulligan, a TV cop drafted in to help the Loch Parry Players stage The Wicker Man, has the straightest part in the show. “Much like Edward Woodward (in the original cult movie), who was quite a normal person finding himself in amongst all this madness and reacting to it, that’s the main part of my job as well. I joyously get to react to the great comic performances going on around me.”

It’s now ten years since Biggerstaff, 28, made his last appearance as Oliver Wood, captain of the Gryffindor quidditch team in the Harry Potter movies, yet it is still the job for which he is best known. When his part was cut from the third film, an online petition gathered more than 50,000 signatures to the slogan “It’s the Wood that makes it good.”

Now, eating a cheese toastie in the costume fitting room at the National Theatre of Scotland’s rehearsal space, he shakes his head as if he’s glad those days are over. “When you turn up in Leicester Square and there are 5,000 people screaming your name and holding placards, that’s just weird. It’s hard to find a place for it in your brain that makes any sense. I’m not really comfortable in that sort of situation.”

Biggerstaff grew up in Maryhill, the son of a fireman and a community worker. When he was 14, he was spotted in Scottish Youth Theatre by Alan Rickman, who was looking for two Scottish boys to cast in his film of Sharman Macdonald’s The Winter Guest. Rickman was so impressed that he asked his own agent to represent Biggerstaff, leading swiftly to his casting in Harry Potter.

The films did bring some opportunities, he says, some of which he turned down. “I’ve always been fussier than I can afford to be. I don’t just want to do whatever it takes to be successful, I want to do what I consider to be good stuff. If I’m not engaged in something, it doesn’t matter what it is and who’s doing it.”

He comes across as very grounded, choosing to base himself in Glasgow, playing guitar in Glasgow-band Wrongnote: “It’s good to have a foothold in reality, a base somewhere that’s always been a base. Sharman Macdonald once said she needs life to write, she can’t write if she’s just in theatre all the time. I’m the same way, I think. I’ve always felt that if my life was all about the job, I wouldn’t be so good at the job.” He pauses. “That might be unutterable w*** – but I have just uttered it!”

Biggerstaff has been acclaimed in independent films, such as Cashback, directed by Sean Ellis, and spent part of last year in Switzerland making a film about Mary Queen of Scots. Does it irk him that he’s still known for Harry Potter? “You’ll never hear me whingeing about it because it was the biggest thing since The Beatles, and to be part of that was a really rare and unique privilege. But for me, it was two tiny five-minute parts I did when I was 17, 18 – and I’ve done tour de forces that no-one’s ever seen or remembers.”

The “proudest moment” on his CV is Consenting Adults, a BBC4 movie about the Wolfenden Committee whose report, in the 1950s, led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. Biggerstaff played Jeremy Wolfenden, the gay son of the committee chairman (played by Charles Dance). “He was a dream to play, and I had the feeling that we were documenting something that was genuinely important.”

He doesn’t mention that he won a Scottish Bafta for the part. When I do, he looks sheepish. “Yeah. Uhuh. To be brutally honest, I like that people like it, but having a bit of metal on a mantelpiece doesn’t really make that any better. Awards are weird. I think giving actors awards is quite a silly business.”

He stops, looking uncomfortable. “No offence to the people at Bafta Scotland, who I know and like.”

An Appointment with the Wicker Man marks his return to the stage for the first time since 2005 when he appeared in Sharman Macdonald’s The Girl with the Red Hair, at the Lyceum, and his first musical since his days in Scottish Youth Theatre.

“That’s the interesting thing about being an actor. I would never think, ‘I want to do a musical,’ but I’m having a perfectly nice time. It’s a bit of a cheat – you can step in and get the thrill without actually having to put the years of slog in to be successful at it!”