James McArdle claims Scottish actors endure “prejudice and ignorance” in the UK

One of the biggest stars appearing at the Edinburgh International Festival has spoken out about the “prejudice and ignorance” he claims Scottish actors have to endure in the UK’s theatre, film and television industries.
McArdle plays Peter Gynt in David Hares adaptation of Henrik Ibsens Peer Gynt. Photograph: Greg MacveanMcArdle plays Peter Gynt in David Hares adaptation of Henrik Ibsens Peer Gynt. Photograph: Greg Macvean
McArdle plays Peter Gynt in David Hares adaptation of Henrik Ibsens Peer Gynt. Photograph: Greg Macvean

James McArdle, who has the lead role in the National Theatre production of Peter Gynt, claims he has been regularly “put in a box” because of his working-class upbringing in Glasgow.

Mary Queen Of Scots star McArdle, who is about to appear opposite Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan in new 19th century romantic drama Ammonite, said Scottish actors were more likely to be given fair treatment in America than London.

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McArdle, 30, who appeared on Broadway in the National Theatre’s production of Angels In America, suggested “suppression of Scottish culture, voices and stories” was to blame for the unfair treatment of Scottish actors.

McArdle, who appeared alongside fellow Scot, Jack Lowden, in the stage adaptation of Chariots Of Fire, said he had decided to move back to Glasgow despite growing pressures on actors to be based in London when they are going for roles.

McArdle said: “The industry is still hugely dominated by class. It is really interesting because I am dealing with Americans on a project at the moment. There is a real difference in how they see Scottishness and how it doesn’t seem to be a limit on what you can do, whereas in almost all areas of the industry in England when they hear my accent they put me in a box.

“It seems that if you are a working class actor you have to double down to be an actor, whereas middle class actors are just seen as actors.

“I’ve never really worked within the Scottish theatre industry, but it feels like it’s its own entity. Why is it sort of locked up here and locked down there? There’s a real gulf in terms of opportunity.

“By the end of this year I will have my own place in Scotland. It’s my home and it’s where I want to be. I miss Glasgow and I love it. Part of my thinking is, ‘Why shouldn’t I be able to work in Glasgow?’

“There was a time when if you wanted to be an actor you would have to move to London. It’s starting to come back. I have heard about a couple of TV productions that said you would have to be London-based for them to take you on. I think that’s outrageous.

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“If you’re taking people that are the best for the job you should be looking at the whole country.”

McArdle said he heard complaints in the industry about difficulty in understanding Scottish accents “all the time”. He added: “I think there’s prejudice there, but there is also ignorance. The reason people don’t understand us is because we have not been culturally represented. We are told that received pronunciation or English is the way to speak, but that’s just because we’ve been dominated by it.

“People don’t realise it is so offensive and inhibiting as an actor to be asked to change your accent. This accent is my voice – it is who I am. It is ignorance, prejudice and suppression of our voice and stories.”