Home -> Articles -> Butch Begbie and the Sick Boy Kid
Butch Begbie and the Sick Boy Kid

by Kevon Maher, The Face, November 1997, Scans courtesy of Robert-Carlyle.com.

From shooting horse to, um, riding horses, from a holdall full of drugs to holding up mugs, Trainspotting's Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller are together again, robbin' the rich and ravishin' Liv Tyler in eighteenth-century England. THE FACE sneaks on to the set of their just-wrapped highwayman movie Plunkett & Macleane for an exclusive behind-the-scenes report.

"I'm the dandy highwayman who you're too scared to mention, I spend my cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention." Standing silently in a marshy field outside Prague you can almost hear the "diddlee qua-qua, a diddle qua-qua"s echoing in the distance. If Adam Ant ever had a wet-dream, then this is surely it. Fully garbed in eighteenth-century costume, dandy highwaymen casually stroll in and out of massive rolling fog banks; bawdy wenches giggle in the hidden mists; and heavily rigged ye olde coaches are briefly drawn into view only to be swallowed up ominously by the same ghostly penumbra.

The illusion, of course, if shattered by the sight of countless neatly-lined trailers and a pale blue chow-tent doling out steaming broth to those few people succumbing to potentially life-threatening mid-morning Czech Republic cold. It's 9am, it's inconceivably foggy, which is apparently a bad thing, and everybody appears to be mortally hungover, which is worse. Luckily, a troop of faux-stressed "AD"s (assistant directors) are dashing about, jangling their status-symbol utility-belts (basically for holding biros) and loudly moaning things like "Where's Jonny got to?", "Is Liv ready yet?", and "Jake wants to know if Bobby's on today?" Jonny, Liv, and Bobby are, respectively, movie stars Lee Miller, Tyler, and (Robert) Carlyle. Jake is Jake Scott, award-winning promos director, son of Ridley, and now first-time movie helmer of this thigh-slapping period highway-person romp, Plunkett & Macleane.

Plunkett & Macleane is one of the most expensive British productions of the year - budget rumours range from £10 million to £40 million - but the producers won't say. They're recreating 1750s London in 1990s Prague, and everything has been ticking along nicely. Until now. For a start, there's the weather. Thick, gelatinous, icy fog. Scott describes it as "horrible, it's becoming a gruelling week!" Then there's the "Half-way syndrome". Everyone feels like they've been here for years. They even had a party at the weekend to celebrate the halfway mark. A big party. A big mistake. Cameo player and highly marketable media poet Murray Lachlan Young stumbles by: "The party was on a full moon, and everybody had that look their eye, but we just kept going. I woke up this morning cursing myself, 'You fucking fool!'"

A massive palpable collective hangover oozes through this foggy field. Yet belying the pale blotchy post-vomit faces, there's a morbig giddiness nudge-nudge wink-winking its way around the set. Like all good parties, it seems the entire cast and crew has slept with each other. Numerous whispers fly about; one uses the words "Jake" and "Liv" in increasingly frequent and salacious sentences.

At the moment, though, booze, hangovers and Liv don't seem to be at the forefront of Jake's mind. Out in the centre of this Georgian-Czech London, Jake is trying unsuccessfully to orchestrate a key Tyburn Gallows hanging scene. One of the Czech extras-cum-hangman isn't exactly adept at tightening the noose. The rest are beginning to grumble to each other, and a car keeps revving in the background. After three botched noosing attempts, Jake finally snaps, "This guy doesn't have a fucking clue!"

Meanwhile, in the warmth of her heated trailer, Liv Tyler is sharpening her winkle-pickers for a full-on kicking of THE FACE. She's made it clear in several interviews, most recently in the Times, that she felt utterly exploited by this magazine's "bird in a pink bikini and ciggie" photos in February 1996.

She's come a long way since that 19-year-old ingenue-my-ass phase. At the time, her main cutesy claim to fame was the origin of her patronymic. Her mom had been "linked" with various Rock Gods - Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart and Jimmy Somerville (surely not?) - but, at the age of 11, Liv finally learned that her pa was not Todd Rundgren from Utopia, but Steve Tyler from Aerosmith. Phew! Now, with a modelling contract, a rock promo and six movies behind her, she has neatly segued into A-list status with a starring role in this summer's Bruce Willis v Asteroid vehicle Armageddon, and an up'n'coming piece of Method opposite Ralph Fienned in Eugene Onegin. In between, she is Plunkett & Macleane's Lady Rebecca Gibson, the spirited posh dame who falls for Le Miller's dashing highway rogue.

Since her first FACE encounter, Tyler has become the Jedi master of interview avoidance technique, cunningly chewing up sacred question time with anecdotal diversions - Chiquita Banana the Chihuahua is a favourite. Luckily, her guard is down today. She's being distracted by her coterie of wannabe film-girlies, who giggle a lot and tell her that she's pretty.

Two trailers down through the fog, Jonny Lee Miller is chilling out with a toke and Howard Marks' Mr Nice Guy. As Macleane, the movie's gentleman highwayman, Miller gets to cock pistols, ride horseback and boast about his lusty conquests - a substantial leap from his "ace" debut in Iain Softley's naff Hackers. He's since notched up Sick Boy in Trainspotting, Billy Prior in Regeneration, and the coveted role of Julie Christie's seducer in Afterglow. "I wouldn't be doing this job if I didn't have a brilliant time doing it," he drools. "It's as corny as that!" While he's dishing the dirt on the Plunkett set, Liv and giggling nymphs tinkle mischievously outside. Later, he sees a note pinned to his door - "Jonny Lee Miller, What a nice Chap! But the cunt needs a personality transplant!" He laughs, and goes inside. Life on set, eh?

Another "AD" jangles by and announces that due to the weather conditions "Bobby won't be on-set today". Instead he will be met later in Prague's International Hotel. Carlyle's professionalism - seen in his abstinence from partying as well as his devotion to character - is legendary. The painter-decorator turned spliff-smoking TV cop turned Britain's most important actor muses, "You've got to have a great degree of self-discipline and deny yourself these things. If you don't, you end up cheating everybody, and yourself." Since playing Nosty in Safe, Albie in Cracker, and Begbie in Trainspotting, Carlyle has surpassed a cathartic hard-psycho high, and effortlessly snatched leading-man kudos with George in Carla's Song, Ray in Face, and Gaz in The Full Monty. His intelligent and merciless Plunkett, the Butch to Macleane's Sundance, is yet another firm foothold in iconic male territory. When he says "Stand and fucking deliver!" you'll know he means it.

Back on the fog-bound deliciously dandy set, director Scott, he of Le Shuttle and Nike commercials, of REM and U2 promos, is tearing his tightly shorn hair out by the stubble. Hanging, it seems, is still a problem. Later, he'll reflect on the multi-million dollar pressure of a debut film project. "You have those momentary flashes of panic and insecurity, and yeah I'm scared. But I want people to like the film. Ultimately, the day of reckoning will be when the film is released. More importantly, for a director who is citing influences from Leone to Kubrick, you feel there is one ineffable dandyman that Jake is conspicuously neglecting. He breaks down and confesses. "Interestingly enough, they look cheesy now, but back then, then they were into this stuff, they still had some kind of punk thing to it. But no! This is nothing to do with Adam And The Ants"

Liv Tyler - Lady Rebecca Gibson

[We have barely got our proverbial foot in the door when...] "I've been on the cover of THE FACE before, looking extremely tarty and HORRIBLE! I did these pictures where I was ironing in pink underwear. And at the time everyone's telling me I look fabulous, but I look like a fuckin' drag queen and I don't even realise it!"

[A tactful change of subject required here, I feel...] We should talk about the movie...

What movie? I'm completely lost. [Well, it is foggy!] Jake hunted me down, I was in London doing a screen test for Eugene Onegin and working on my English accent...

What English accent do you do?
What do you mean?

Which accent? Cockney sparrow, Yorkshire lass, West End babe etc?
Just your regular English

Can you speak it?

No! Absolutely not!

Can you say "There..."
Aaahhhhh!!! STOP IT!!

OK, on with the story...
So, I met Jake twice. I met him in Cannes watching Iggy Pop, and then I just woke up one morning...

With Jake?
SHUT UP, SHUT IT!! And I just woke up and said, "Yup, awright, I'll do it"

Was that your English accent?

You took time off before this film, why?
I felt like I needed to experience my life and grow up, so then I could come back and be a woman

Is Lady Rebecca not just a bit too prim and proper for you?
Are you kidding? I'm a maniac in this film - I punch people, head-butt and kill people!

There's a lot of violence in the script...
Yes, but it's so beautiful what Jake has done with everything, and poetic. It's just really lovely

How are you co-stars?
They're brilliant sweet loves

Are you a prima donna on set?
What? Where would that get me?

When Bertolucci says you're his "woman-child muse", does that just mean he fancies you?
No, that's not what he means

Do Czechs stop you for autographs etc?
[Lengthy anecdote about a plane journey with boyfriend Joaquin Phoenix, and being bugged by autograph hunters... then Joaquin... and Joaquin said etc]

So how is Joaquin anyway?
None of your business

Where do you live now?
At the moment I'm really connected to New York. It feeds me energy. But I've also spent a lot of time in London recently. I loved it

Oh, All owvah

Is that your English accent?
No. Well. Actually it was. Awright?

Jonny Lee Miller - James Macleane

Macleane gets a dose of the pox in the film, how did you research that?
Basically, I ran around scratching my balls. You can judge for yourself... Has he or hasn't he? That'll be the question on everybody's lips

There's a scene where you're unable to have sex with a prostitute because you're so in love with Liv...
Yeah! (mock serious) I really just can't. This is just not working, I'll get me cloak! Well, there might be a rewrite there - Macleane shags feverishly and brilliantly for ages, and then just feels a bit bad!

The words "wanker", "tosser" and "fuck me" are sprinkled throughout the script. Do you think people will have a problem with this in eighteenth-century dialogue?
Not really. It's like Jake said - We've got one foot in the eighteenth-century and the other foot anywhere we want, which I think makes it more interesting

Are you taking any of your inspiration for Maclean from Adam Ant circa 1982?
Nah, you know "Prince Charming" is the only one I really knew, and I guess that would be the wrong way to go! The one thing that we're all aware of is that in the funny places we have to avoid making a Carry On Up The Eighteenth Century, which could easily happen!

Is it an emotional reunion to be back working with Robert Carlyle?
(Deadpans) Bobby's a really nice guy, but his eyes are too close together

Trainspotting - the Green Issue and "Soundtrack 2" - taking the piss, or legitimate cultural statement?
Hey, it wasn't my idea. No one's putting a gun to people's heads and saying buy this! But it's kind of a cheeky scam really

Any thoughts on Hackers now?
I really fuckin' hate computers

Are you still married?
I am, but I'm not gonna go into any of that

Is there pressure on Jake, being a Scott, etc?
Definitely, there must be. But he'll be alright 'cause he's for real!

Robert Carlyle - Will Plunkett

Plunkett & Macleane. Why?
I met Jake when I was filming Hamish Macbeth. I always wanted to do a script that was nasty and dirty, and Plunkett & Macleane was

It's definitely different, quite dark in places...
It's subversive in its own way, that's what I like about it. Jake is taking the period genre, and subverting it in the way he's shooting it. It's no Jane Austen

Do you think your increasingly large fan base is ready for Begbie in frilly sleeves?
Hopefully, that'll make people interested in it, it's a surprise for them to hear I'm doing this

How do you feel about having to work with Mr Lee Miller again?
Jonny's a really nice lad, and we have a great time, but his eyes are too close together

Have you noticed the fact that in the past year you've gone from being a character actor to a movie icon?
No. The fact that I'm here is great 'cause I've missed the whole Full Monty thing - I've been here while all of that's been happening. I've been away from Face, too, so I'm not physically aware of the reaction to that at all

Is Plunkett a straightforward action hero or is there more to him?
I always try to look behind his lines and think, "OK, he's calling him a prick and slapping him, but why is he doing that?" It's a lot of wanky actor piss, really, but it's what I do

How has Plunkett been put through the infamous Carlyle Method?
I read some books about what an apothecary [Plunkett's profession] believed at the time - what they did for a cold - but it's boring stuff

Is it true that you're abstinent when working?
When I'm working for 15 hours, the last thing I want to do is drink. Besides, I could never handle going into a pub in winter when it's fucking freezing, and throwing six pints of cold liquid inside my body

Does that make you a freak in Glasgow?
It's Carlyle the poof, Carlyle with his lemonade!

How have you handled the many horse riding scenes in the film?
Horse riding is a nightmare. It's just the power of these things! I've fallen off a few times, but you just have to get back on

You're not going to do a Christopher Reeve on it?
How dare you! Fuckin' throw that into my mind, ye bastard! Horses and actors don't really mix, but I'll not be thinking of Christopher Reeve the next time. I'll be thinking of Lester Piggott

The original scans (click to enralge):