A missing child, a serial killer on the loose, inner demons tearing him apart, Dougray Scott’s latest role as Detective Inspector Ray Lennox in the TV adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s best-selling 2008 novel Crime is a tough gig, but it isn’t the gritty subject matter or setting that the Scottish actor found most difficult to stomach.
“The hardest thing about Crime was playing a Hearts fan!” he says and laughs.
Set in Edinburgh, Lennox is on the hunt for a missing schoolgirl while dealing with his own unresolved trauma in the six-part series that premieres on Britbox this week. Alongside Scott the cast includes Joanna Vanderham (Warrior, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Angela Griffin (Coronation Street, Holby City, Harlots), Ken Stott (Messiah, Rebus, The Hobbit) and Jamie Sives (Guilt, Annika, The Victim), directed by James Strong (Vanity Fair, Broadchurch).
Crime is the first of Welsh’s novels to appear on TV, the sequel to his 1998 novel Filth (which was turned into a film starring James McAvoy), with the writer adapting it into a script with screenwriting partner Dean Cavanagh after working on this year’s Alan McGee biopic, Creation Stories.
When we Zoom, with Scott in London and me in Edinburgh, he’s having connection issues, but he’s not one to get ruffled and is laidback yet enthusiastic as he discusses his latest role. It’s one that’s close to his heart, set on home turf, in one of his favourite cities, written by one of his favourite writers using the dialect and colloquialisms of the capital, a short linguistic leap for the Fifer, who also co-produces.
“It must be 20 to 25 years, Irvine and I have known each other, and we've always wanted to do something together. So this was a great opportunity,” he says. “I just wanted to tell the story, because Irvine’s quite a unique voice.”
“I read the novel years ago and thought it was quite extraordinary. I love Irvine’s writing. He writes for me, he writes for people like me. That's my background. I was born on a council estate in Fife, and that world is something I'm familiar with. He writes in the vernacular and he’s really funny, but also he's very interested and empathetic to people who don't have a voice. He's kind of a spokesperson for those people in society who are unheard.”
From the sound of it, Scott reads a lot, not just Irvine Welsh, whose The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is possibly his favourite Welsh novel, mentioning Scandi Noir writers - “I think Jo Nesbo is phenomenal” - and more recently loving Jenni Fagan’s Luckenbooth.
“She reminded me of Irvine a bit, very different, but in regard to the uniqueness of the writing, Luckenbooth completely blew me away. I wasn't expecting that when I started that novel. It’s set in Edinburgh as well. It’s unique.”
When it came to adapting Crime for TV, it wasn’t an easy fit as much of it is set in Miami with the Edinburgh story told in flashback. “Miami was too difficult so we went back to the origin story, which is Edinburgh, expanded that kernel and came up with this story about the hunt for a serial killer and how all the characters are affected by it.”
“I just thought it's different. I tried to put a Scandi feel to it as well, like Nesbo, because for them character is as important as plot and I think our own storytelling in this country can quite often get bogged down with too many cliches which we wanted to avoid.”
The fact that it’s set in Scotland was another plus for Scott.
“I've worked everywhere, all over the world but Scotland's my country, the country I was brought up in, that I love. It has a lot of writers I'm drawn to and have an innate understanding of their voice and what they're trying to say. I wanted to be part of telling this story and I was determined to get it made.”
Missing schoolgirls, serial killers, violence, abuse, a traumatised detective, Lennox’s unreconstructed colleagues, Crime revels in grit and grime despite moments of comedy in the darkness. Did playing Lennox take its toll on him?
“Yeah, he's not a stand up comic, that's for sure, but he's a man with really good intentions. He’s deeply, deeply flawed and was a challenge to play because of the energy of him and the emotional level that he operates on 24/7. It’s intense.”
So how did he prepare for it? Scott laughs, drily as he reflects on the preparation he put in.
“Well, it's not a police procedural drama but is more concerned with character, the history of Ray Lennox, how he got to where he was, why he became a cop and what he's dealing with, how that's kind of a perfect fit for a cop in serious crime.
“It’s about his relationship with the vulnerable in society and how his empathy extends to those he's trying to protect and work for. He's a real kind of avenger, an avenging angel, but deeply flawed. So you look within yourself as a human being and your own experiences, and I watched a lot of documentaries about serial killers, about child abductions and the effects on people they leave behind, the devastation of families.”
“It's really tough to read all that but you've got to immerse yourself in that world because that's what Lennox sees. That's what he's obsessed with, on a daily basis, and it’s oxygen for him because he's so wedded to the pain of his own past and so masochistic. It fuels what he does and that's why he turns to drugs and alcohol because it keeps him in a place where he's raw and on the edge. He's compelled, kind of like a shark, he can’t be still, sleep comes by default, but if he could, he’d operate 24/7. He’s quite an exhausting character to play.”
Immersing himself in Lennox’s world isn’t for the faint hearted and Scott found his mood affected after the cameras had stopped rolling for the day.
“At night I would keep reading all that stuff Lennox was obsessed with, because it helped me stay in that place. I was watching documentaries and reading, talking to the police advisor and constantly being connected to that world. I mean yeah, you’re able to go away and do whatever, but it stays with you. I’m not being self-important or wanky about it, but it’s dark and it stays with you and you feel for those lives. You're telling the story of people who this has really happened to so to authenticate it you have to, as a human being, as an actor, connect your emotions to the people you are playing and the immeasurable tragedy of the characters who have lost children.”
Written in 2008 but set in contemporary Edinburgh, Crime doesn’t shy away from looking at sexism, racism, misogyny and homophobia, not least among the city’s establishment. How does Scott think it is handled?
“Lennox is part of the past and part of the new as well, but he's a modern man and respects everyone and is not comfortable with the lad-iness of the police force that exists.
There’s a lot of animosity between him and Dougie Gillman (Jamie Sives, who he worked with on the film One Last Chance) on that, but even Gillman turns racism on its head, because on the surface he is perceived as being someone who's not particularly woke, but he has a go at those who perpetuate the racism and abuse.
“So those things are examined from a realistic place. Because it's one thing acknowledging and understanding that racism, misogyny, all these isms exist in our society and need to change, but Irvine presents it as authentically as possible while still at the same time pushing you in a different direction. It's not simple, cut and dried, it is evolution.”
While Lennox has a foot in both camps, the women in Crime do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to pushing boundaries, notably with the creation of Joanna Vanderham as his sidekick Amanda Drummond, and Angela Griffin adding dimension to Trudi.
“With the women, I think we've got a very strong voice and Crime examines the misogyny, exploitation and sexual aggression which exists in the workplace. Women in their work environment deserve the respect of any human being and when men turn round and sexualize it, it's just insulting, degrading and shouldn't happen. I think it’s told from an authentic perspective. Irvine pins his thoughts and feelings to the wall and I think it clarifies the reality of where we live and how.”
“With the women, it’s updated and they exist more seriously than in the book. Drummond is intelligent and able to shine in spite of these men, because she’s smart and strong and diligent and she's f***ing good at her job. She's the antithesis of the guys, who are as much of a problem as the criminals Lennox is trying to catch because they're just not good at their jobs or are corrupt, and don't have the best interest of the people they purport to represent at heart. So she’s great, without beating a drum about it, because women can do as much and as well as men can.”
Or do it better?
“Much better,” he says. “Listen, as much as I f***ing hated Margaret Thatcher, I think more women in politics is a really good thing. And I think Nicola Sturgeon is a very good example, with the ferocious passion she has for Scotland, whatever you think about her politics. She’s f***ing tough, ferociously protective of her country, and I think a lot of the stick she gets is because she’s a woman. It’s not to do with the politics, it’s because she's female. The reaction to her would be different if she was a man, I’m absolutely sure of it.”
Scott shares the First Minister’s passion for Scotland but spends time in London with his wife actress Claire Forlani and six-year-old Milo (he also has twentysomething twins Eden and Gabriel), so Crime gave him time to revisit old haunts, particularly Glasgow where his parents originated before moving the family to Glenrothes.
“I love Scotland, just love it,” he says. “When I was filming I was walking around Sauchiehall Street, up to the university and Kelvingrove, and I have such great memories of it. Glasgow is such a great city. I love it. And I love Edinburgh. And the crews in Scotland are really phenomenal,” he says.
While filming continued despite Covid, spectator sports were a casualty and golf and football fanatic Scott didn’t get to watch his beloved Hibs.
“NO! I didn’t get to see them because they had no crowds. It was killing me! But I’m going to see them at the semi-final against Rangers at Hampden,” he says.
Born Stephen Scott (Dougray comes from his grandmother’s surname), in 1965 in Glenrothes, Fife, to Elma, a nurse, and Alan, a travelling salesman and former actor, he studied drama at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff then moved to London where his career took off with roles in TV dramas such Taggart, Lovejoy and Soldier Soldier, on stage in Sam Mendes’ To the Green Fields Beyond opposite Ray Winstone and in films Deep Impact (1998), Ever After (1998) and Enigma (2001). He moved into bigger roles in Tom Cruise’s 2000 film Mission: Impossible 2 and the Noughties US TV hit drama Desperate Housewives while more recent roles include TV dramas The Replacement (2017), Snatch, based on the Guy Ritchie film and The Woman in White (2018) with Jessie Buckley.
Pre-pandemic he was busier than ever with feature film Sulphur and White, which also mines the destructive nature of trauma, alongside Emily Beecham and Anna Friel, as well as the sci-fi horror Sea Fever which premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival, and the DC inspired TV series Batwoman.
Scott never tires of the variety of his job or acting as an occupation, and is satisfied he has been able to break out to explore different characters.
“When I was starting out I was attracted to something different from the romantic lead, which after I did Ever After (playing a prince opposite Drew Barrymore), people wanted me to play. I always wanted to delve into different characters.
“I think as you get older you have more experience and perhaps more resonance and you get better. My interest for acting is as high as it ever was. I think you have an advantage when you’re a kid because you’re naive and think you can do anything, then as you get older there's a certain world weariness perhaps that you bring to the screen. But yeah, I always like to challenge myself. I’m very attracted to telling Scottish stories, that's for sure. And hopefully we’ll get a chance to do some more of Crime because Irvine’s written a couple of books based on this character and there’s the Miami story as well. we'll see.”
With Crime in the can, Scott has moved onto new jobs and is about to go to Spain to film a TV series, A Town Called Malice, again crime themed, but set in the 1980s and served up with a slice of pineapple, an umbrella and a thumping soundtrack, to be aired on Sky Max and Now in the UK late next year.
“Yeah, it’s good. Listen, I’ve been lucky with the stuff I’ve done,” he says. “I like the diversity of what I do. I’d like to do a play again soon, and I’d like to do an Arthur Miller play.”
Scott played the writer in the 2011 film My Week with Marilyn, but has never performed in any of his plays. “I just love his writing,” he says.
“And I love period pieces. I love the McIlvanney Laidlaw books. That character is fascinating because he’s always reading Nietzsche and is a very literate man who operates on a level other detectives don’t. And that world of Glasgow in the 1970s early 1980s, it’s almost like a period piece. That I’d love to do.”
Whatever comes his way, Scott hopes it goes down well with audiences, but prefers to focus on doing his job rather than reviews.
“You read something and it says ‘he’s the best, amazing’, then the next one is ‘I think he’s always shite’. I got this really early on, Dougray, not everyone's gonna like you, and not everyone's gonna think you’re great. You kinda go, okay, that's fine. As long as enough people like you, then you're OK. It's not personal. Not everybody loves the same writers or films, so you're just part of that.”
At this point a massive fan in the form of his schnauzer Lola puts in an appearance, her enthusiastic barking rescuing him from his round of interviews.
“This dog is an amazing dog,” he says. “She follows me around. I can’t go anywhere without her. I’ve had dogs for the last 15 or 20 years. And she loves coming along to the golf too, which is an absolute necessity,” he says. And saved by the bark, he’s gone.
Irvine Welsh’s Crime is on BritBox now.