“It was all very manly, just a few nods and a couple of grunts, with neither of us daring to look down.”
Sinclair is in town to promote his first novel, Seventy Times Seven, this Sunday at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It’s a gritty tale that’s a far cry from the lighter roles for which he is known.
“It’s about a guy living in Northern Ireland called Danny McGuire, who becomes a hit-man bent on revenge after his brother is murdered,” says Sinclair. “He’s offered a contract to hit an informer hiding-out in Alabama, but the guy claims to know who’s responsible for his brother’s death.
“Originally it was intended to be a film script, but I was worried no one would ever read it so I figured if I wrote it as novel first, then at least people could ignore it in hardback.”
The legacy of The Troubles hangs heavy over the events in the book.
“I have lots of friends from Northern Ireland who had the same upbringing as me, but they had soldiers running around their streets,” notes Sinclair. “Every book I’ve ever read on the subject comes to the same conclusion, that there was a kind of madness that took over. I wanted to try to capture some of that in the novel.”
It’s fair to say that the actor’s public persona has always been a genial, often comedic, one. Do the darker themes of the book reveal ‘the real’ John Gordon Sinclair?
“Maybe one aspect of my character. I think everyone is multi-faceted, but pigeon-holing people is often easier, it makes us feel a little more secure. I’m not about to pull a gun and shoot you, but if I did I’d do it with a smile.”
No matter how successful the new book is, it won’t stop Sinclair being asked about his role in Bill Forsyth’s 1981 coming-of-age classic, Gregory’s Girl. Does that bother him?
“I feel very lucky to be a part of something that people still look back on with such fond memories, but I’ve kind of run out of things to say.”
Those reminders stretch to a clip being shown during the olympic opening ceremony. How did it feel to be seen by an estimated 900 million viewers around the globe?
“It was more how my kids felt. For three seconds I was the coolest dad on the planet and for that I will forever be in Danny Boyle’s debt.”
Sinclair will next be seen on-screen in the Hollywood blockbuster, World War Z, starring opposite some zombies and Brad Pitt.
“He’s the real deal,” says Sinclair of his co-star. “Great sense of humour, friendly, charming, supportive . . . the list goes on. I spent five weeks with him, and I’ll probably have less screen-time than I did during the Opening Ceremony, but it was a blast.”
Away from the big screen, Sinclair is looking forward to his first visit to the Book Festival this weekend. “I’m a Book Festival virgin, but I’m planning to take a whole raft of memories home with me. I love Edinburgh.”
Sadly, there’s little chance of the author setting a future novel in the city: “I think Ian Rankin and Douglas Johnstone have got that one pretty well sewn up!”
• John Gordon Sinclair appears at Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square Gardens, Sunday, 7pm, £8-£10, www.edbookfest.com