Kevin McKidd Interview: The anatomy lesson

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KEVIN MCKIDD IS CONTENT. It's not so much the fact that he's relocated his family from the UK to California while he attends to his day job as Dr Owen Hunt on Grey's Anatomy, nor is it the perpetual sunshine that drenches LA year round, or the handy, 15-minute drive to work that's making him smile.

No, it's the fact that he now knows where the coffee machine is. As anyone who starts a new job will know, it's the little things that matter – and McKidd is no different.

He joined the cast of Grey's last July, after his starring vehicle, Journeyman, was cancelled (partly because of the crippling writers' strike that brought most of Hollywood to a standstill last year), and admits to having been in awe of the stellar line-up, massive viewing figures and general juggernaut production values that come together to create a hit show.

Thankfully, the 35-year-old, whose past credits include Trainspotting and Rome, has eased into the skin of the hard-nosed former military doctor. "You know, I'm just really enjoying myself," he says softly, as he sits down for a chat in between script read-throughs on the Grey's lot in North Hollywood. "I'm not the new boy any more and the place feels like home. I know my way to the coffee machine, which is nice because it's nerve-wracking starting on a new show."

And with a cast that boasts some big names, including Patrick Dempsey, Ellen Pompeo, Katherine Heigl and Sandra Oh, that's no small feat.

He was originally taken on for just a handful of shows but his new status as cast regular means his storylines are getting meatier. Without giving too much away, he's been spending a lot of time filming with Dr Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh, who shot to prominence in the wine buff film Sideways.

"Everyone's been so friendly and welcoming but Sandra's such a happy, positive person to be around and I feel very lucky that she's my co-star," he reveals. "Dr Hunt is an interesting guy. He's been in Iraq and Afghanistan on a few tours and has a level of intensity that comes out on the show. She's a tough cookie too, so they go together pretty well."

And, of course, as the new male interest in the show he's had the ubiquitous Grey's nickname bestowed upon him: Patrick Dempsey is McDreamy, Eric Dane is McSteamy and, the show's creator Shonda Rhimes explains, she was keen to quickly establish her new cast member. "He's already got the "Mc" built in to his name so we had to keep him." Therefore Major Hunt is now known to Grey's fans as McBadAss.

"I heard she said that," he laughs. "Shonda's been really supportive of me – it was her idea to create this character. He's mysterious and complex and that's what you look for as an actor. Hopefully I'm bringing the character to life in the way she saw."

For McKidd, life is a far cry from his childhood in Elgin, Moray, where his mother Kathleen and father Neil still live. When he was growing up, acting was just a pipe dream and filmmaking even less of a realistic career choice.

He attended Elgin Academy, where he took part in the usual school theatre productions and admits: "I started acting when I was very young and realised pretty quickly that it was what I wanted to do. No one else in my family is an actor, in fact I'm the first one to be involved in the arts. But Mum and Dad were very supportive, even if they didn't understand what it was." McKidd's mother was a hotel worker and his father a plumber, so how did he end up at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh aged 18, studying drama?

The answer possibly lies with his late grandfather, George Runcie, a dairy farmer from the north-east of Scotland, who, by all accounts, had the gift of the gab. "He was one of those great guys who would sit at the end of the bar and sing bawdy ballads," recalls McKidd. "As an entertainer he was fantastic, he could hold a room like Peter O'Toole, so maybe it comes from him. His upbringing was very rural but he was a performer, and up until he died he was a larger than life character."

As a sign of his passion for home, McKidd is a patron of the Scottish Highlands and Islands Film Commission (SHIFC) and is committed to bringing filmmaking opportunities to the area and to young people. "I'm there when they need me to chip in if they're trying to get people to pick Scotland as a place to film movies," he explains. "And they're very supportive of movie making at grassroots level. They recently held a film festival so that young kids in the Highlands could make short films. I never had anything like that, I was so far removed from the central belt, so I think it's great that they're so encouraging."

Now married to wife Jane for nearly ten years, he tries to get back to Scotland at least twice a year, "although that's not enough, in my opinion". They have two children, Joseph, eight, and six-year-old Iona, and he's already booked a holiday cottage near Fochabers so the extended family can spend Christmas together.

"And when Grey's finishes filming in May, I get two or three months off, so we'll definitely be up in Scotland for the summer," he says with some relish.

Sounds like someone is a tad homesick? McKidd laughs. "Yes, I think you're right. I don't know if it's the uncharacteristically wet weather here in California this week, but I'm going through a homesick patch. I'm yearning for Scotland."

He cites his favourite place as Iona, just off the Isle of Mull. Not only did he name his daughter after it but up until a couple of years ago he would head there regularly for some quiet time. "It's the place I miss most after Elgin," he says wistfully. "I went to Iona on my first ever field trip when I was about eight years old and it has stayed with me ever since. It has those fantastic sandy beaches and is my favourite place to visit. I've managed to get back there most years since that time, and in my head, that's where I go to when things get a bit hectic when I'm working." And like any good son, he also misses his mum's home cooking. "What I wouldn't do for a plate of her skirlie! She's the only person who can make decent skirlie, which she serves with mince and tatties. It's delicious."

Family clearly plays a huge part in his life and McKidd is thankful to be in such a happy marriage. He met Jane while appearing in the plays Phdre and Britannicus alongside Diana Rigg in the West End of London. "Jane was working in the box office and we met at a theatre party one night," he explains. "And that was it. Very quickly we got married and had kids and we're still really happy."

In fact, having his children around is something he adores. The family, who live in the Hollywood Hills, have been with him in Los Angeles for 18 months but as an actor he was familiar with long separations.

"You get used to living out of a suitcase," he says. "One of the great perks about being on Grey's is that, unlike the movies where you're away from home a lot, I get to come home to the family every night. That's really important to me, especially the age the kids are now. They really need their dad around, so it's come at the right time."

They've heartily embraced the Californian lifestyle, with hikes around the canyons and bike rides along the beach. As a doting father, he clearly loves the fact that his children are experiencing all the city has to offer. "It's a very outdoorsy life here," he says. "And it's very kid-friendly. We spent the first couple of months going shopping or to the cinema and then Jane and I decided we needed to find something else to do. Once you venture out, though, you discover there's a lot happening. The children had summer camp last year, which was fun. They'd get on a yellow bus and go surfing on Malibu beach and come back on the bus at the end of the day, all tanned and having learned how to surf. We're very lucky as a family."

Last year, though, wasn't quite so easy. As the star of Journeyman, McKidd confesses he left Jane "a TV widow". "The work level on that show was intense," he says. The premise of the show had McKidd's character time-travelling and, since he was at the centre of the action, the workload was enormous.

"Last year was hard for me because Journeyman wasn't an ensemble show; it was all about my character and that meant I was in every scene, and also doing the brunt of the publicity. That was fine but I literally didn't have a minute to do anything else," he explains. "My poor wife was a widow to a TV show. She was very supportive and fantastic throughout but this year, even though I'm still very busy, it's nowhere near the intensity. In success terms, Grey's is huge but I get more downtime because it's an ensemble. To me there's a really nice balance now."

McKidd landed the role in Journeyman hot on the heels of the hugely successful drama series Rome, but success comes at a price. "When you're on a show like Journeyman that's doing well in the ratings but not amazing, there's a lot of psychological pressure because you feel that everybody's job is on your shoulders," he says. "But you have to say to yourself, 'This is what I signed on for' and you take the knocks. Eventually, if you stick with it and persevere, something good might still happen."

Having said that, he's determined to hang on to his Scottish roots, promising that you won't hear him with a transatlantic drawl, even though he rarely uses his own accent on screen.

"You soon learn that LA is a very cosmopolitan city and that people can understand you without having to change your accent," he explains. "But when I work, I've got this weird thing that I like using a different dialect. It helps me get into character and a different headspace. That's the fun of acting, getting to walk into someone else's shoes."

And he's not the type of guy to be found hanging out with all the British actors who live in LA. "Don't get me wrong, I love actors," he says. "But I spend all day with them so I don't need to when I'm not at work. I did see Jason Statham in a gym recently and we said hello, but only because I know him. We met about 12 years ago after Lock, Stock came out and he's a really nice guy."

And even though he has such a busy schedule, McKidd, who cites Sean Connery as his acting hero, is still enthusiastic about other movie projects. There has been some talk of a Trainspotting prequel, but he's completely in the dark about that. "I've not heard a thing but we've all aged a bit haven't we," he laughs. "So I'm not sure how that would work."

He is, however, signed on to play Dylan Thomas in a small independent movie written and directed by Mick Davis, that almost got the green light last summer. "We very nearly went into production but, as happens a lot, the money fell through, so we're in a holding pattern. I'm busy with Grey's and Mick's busy with The Eleventh Hour (a US sci-fi show], but we hope to make it in the next three or four years. It's a very low-budget film but I think it'll be a great biopic."

Pausing, McKidd takes a moment to reflect on how far his career has taken him, both geographically and in terms of success. "Every single minute of the day I pinch myself," he says.

"I can't actually believe I'm getting the chance to live this dream. I'm very fortunate to get this far and in such a crazy business too. There are times when it can drive you nuts and be very frustrating, but also, I've been very lucky over the years. It's a far cry from Moray, but it's something I've always wanted to do and I've worked hard at it.

"However long it lasts, I'll be happy. When I was at drama school I never thought I'd get a part in a play and if it had to end tomorrow I'd be gutted, but I'd also be thankful for what I had."

And with that he disappears for another script run-through. Via the coffee machine, of course.