Alistair Findlay is a veteran Scottish actor of stage and screen. I was very privileged to have an in-depth conversation with him about his life and career. From his early years in Scotland to modelling, Highlander, Outlander, Daniel Day Lewis, costume, reading and more.
Read on to find out lots more about Alastair Findlay, actor:
DB: First of all, if you cast your mind back to when you were a child, what is your earliest memory?
AF: My sister was born when I was about 2, getting on for three. My father was a clergyman and he had to get a clergyman from a neighbouring town to perform her baptism, the Reverend Brownlee in Macduff from just across the bay. He took the water from the font to bless my sister and I felt a splash on a white socked sandaled foot. She was quite a crucial addition to my life to me at about the age of three, I wasn’t the centre of attention anymore! A kind of symbol of it, being splashed by the holy water.
DB: Could you tell me a little bit about where you were born and what it was like living there?
AF: Banff is in the northeast of Scotland and is on the coast, once the county seat of Banffshire. As a child the poet, Byron, spent holidays there with his great grandmother Lady Gight. My parents got together in Glasgow and Banff was his first parish. It was the closing part of the war but despite rationing, there was local fish and rabbit. I remember my father being shown how to skin a rabbit in the back kitchen of the manse by Baron the church beadle. He was a retired farm labourer with whom I would spend a lot of time. He was my best friend. Across the road was the entrance to the remains of Banff Castle, overlooking the bay and the mouth of the River Deveron.
DB: Prior to that, did you return quite a bit, or not?
AF: I was about three when we left but we went back when I was about eight, for a family holiday, then a very brief visit in my thirties. Three years ago, I returned to scatter my mother’s ashes in what had been the moat of the castle, with my eldest daughter, her partner and my grandson. That was special. They had even been able to board in the old manse which had become a B&B.
DB: Did you move around a lot as a child due to your father’s work?
AF: He wouldn’t move that often. We moved from Banff to Kilmarnock, then subsequently to Harrow. Many years later he went back to Scotland, but that was only for a couple of years and my sister and I had long since left home by then, and he finished his ministry by coming back to a parish in Paddington. The house was in St John’s Wood, the district we had come to on holiday when I was 10. My father used to do exchange holidays with other clergy. I remember I had my first Pepsi Cola in the Lyons’ Corner House in Piccadilly Circus and I thought London was the centre of the world!
DB: How were your school days?
AF: I remember I just scraped through the 11+ and then they moved the goalposts a bit which meant I wasn’t going to the Kilmarnock Academy, which was a wonderful school, which has produced two Nobel Prize winners. The only option then was called a “Junior Secondary School”, where you left at 15 and were basically fodder for the factories and industry, so that was another reason for my father moving to Harrow. There had been an earlier opportunity for him to make a prestigious move to St John’s Wood, but I remember my sister and I crying on the stairs for how much we would miss our friends.
I went to Lascelles Secondary Modern School in Harrow and then, by getting six ‘O’ levels, I went to the Harrow County Grammar School 6th form and then to Manchester University. I was away from home, with a grant!
DB: What was a Secondary Modern like for a boy from Scotland?
AF: I was popular first with my Scottish accent and then it turned from being very popular to not popular at all, after the novelty had worn off, and things kind of settled in the way it does with children. It was a good school – they called me “a late developer”.
DB: What were your favourite subjects?
AF: My ‘A’ Level subjects pretty much. I did History, English Literature and Art.
DB: Almost exactly what I did, except I did Economics instead of the Art.
AF: The economics part needed for a Sociology degree, I didn’t get on with. It also had one of those professors who, when they talk, they don’t engage with their students. On reflection, I would have been better taking a place I had been offered in Hull to read History and English. I dropped out, after two years in Manchester. I could do the anthropology, economic history, sociology itself, but the statistics and economics left me cold.
DB: What did you do after that?
AF: Then on to London, Chelsea, the King’s Road! It was the ‘60s and Swinging London pretty much was the centre of the universe! A few years of hedonism and a pretension to be a writer, resulted in an appalling novel and some mediocre poems! Nothing published.
DB: Did you do a variety of jobs while doing that, to keep things ticking over?
AF: Yes, including domestic cleaning, from the Edgeware Road to Park Lane. I signed on with an extras agent, but nothing came of it. Really for a few years I just enjoyed ‘the London scene.’ Definitely a conscious-expanding experience which had begun in university, but I was living hand-to-mouth.
DB: It is certainly the city for that isn’t it and most certainly was back in the ‘60s.
AF: Yes, I mean, I certainly had no ambition to act back then. When I was at school as House Captain, I was asked to read a lesson in assembly and I got out of it by saying something about atheism or agnosticism or whatever, but the truth was, I was afraid; I just couldn’t, I just didn’t have the nerve.
But what I could do is move! I enjoyed sports, and dancing and in my late teens, I joined the Willesden Jazz-Ballet, it was a half-black, half-white ensemble and we used that to our advantage by doing a jazz ballet version of Romeo and Juliet, with different races playing Capulets and Montagues. We performed that at the Rudolf Steiner Theatre, got reviewed by the Dance Times and on the back of it I got my first professional engagement, which was an extra in Scheherazade at the Golder’s Green Hippodrome with the Festival Ballet. I did three nights. I played a slave. Two pounds a night! My first professional gig.
DB: You said you were quite good at sports at school as well, what sports did you engage in?
AF: Football especially, basketball, tennis, swimming. I didn’t fancy cricket, that ball was too hard when it hit you, and not big in Scotland. I got introduced, on my first visit to the States (I suppose it must have been in my late 20s- early 30s) to jogging on the beach at Santa Monica, in L.A., and I started running, which I still do and swim.
DB: Could you describe the pathway between what you were doing in London to when you got your first professional acting job?
AF: Life went on… I was trying to be a writer, but then, in my late 20s, I started to do some modelling, and this developed, to the extent that I did a sort of European tour. I went to Paris, Amsterdam, Germany. After initial success in Italy, I began working with some great photographers, the likes of Bruce Webber, Norman Parkinson for GQ, and Olivero Toscanni for L’Omo Vogue. After that, I could go anywhere. Language wasn’t a barrier, anywhere there was capitalism I could work. I would spend time in Milan, and Tokyo, a memorable stay at the Chelsea Hotel in New York too, but London was always my base.
DB: Where did the switch come towards going towards acting from doing modelling?
AF: Well, there came a point coming up to my mid-thirties, when I thought I’d give it a try, I had enough money coming in on a regular basis to go to Los Angeles and buy a car, rent an apartment, etc. I had this CV I made up. I put in Cambridge Footlights, various plays that I possibly could have worked in – you couldn’t do it nowadays!
I had already briefly been with a teacher in London, and in LA I went with Vincent Chase for a pretty intensive six months. He had built up a reputation at Universal for work with Richard Chamberlain in the TV hit Doctor Kildare. Then I began auditioning for showcase shows, the equivalent of fringe over here. The first play I was in, was the American premiere of Talent by Victoria Woods. It had been lauded in London and got the LA Dramalogue award for the best showcase show of 1980.
After that, I was picking up two or three plays a year, but at best they were ‘profit share’, and there never was any. I had been in LA for about two years when my modelling money ran out. There was the very occasional photographic work, and I did a commercial, but the whole idea of going to LA was that there wasn’t that kind of market there and I could concentrate on acting. Despite not having a green card that inhibited work on film and TV, through the showcase shows I was at least building up an authentic CV. There came a point however, when I wasn’t doing any plays or any acting classes, and I did what they I romantically called “burlesque” – it was the very early days of strip cablegrams and kept the wolf from the door.
DB: I bet that was fun.
AF: Sometimes, but I wasn’t really very good at it. They would send me to gigs way out in the sticks. Once they sent me to a “hen party”, a table of about ten were seated in the middle of a restaurant… you had to get whoever you were delivering the cable to sitting down, play a bit of music on a tape recorder, strip, then deliver the cable usually from their intended. However, doing a strip while pursuing the recipient was not a good look! And I did keep a pair of trousers velcroed on the outside seams, so that I could remove them in one dramatic rip. In later years, that greatly amused my children!
DB: Once the money ran out, did you come back to London?
AF: Yes, and by then I had also embarked on an all to brief marriage which started in in LA. Basically, my wife wanted to be based in New York and I opted for London. It was more just a sad footnote to my stay in the States…
By then I was calling myself an actor, with modelling only as the fallback. The great thing about coming back to this country after America was there were still the last vestiges of weekly repertory theatre, and that was just about the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life! Playing one part one week and cramming the lines up for the next week’s show. You’d be working on one play during the day and then performing another in the evening.
DB: Quite a learning curve.
AF: I didn’t do that for long. I think I did a sequence of about four or five plays, but then I did consequently go back to Scotland and did some work which was more like a three-weekly rep. It is always good to go back to Scotland to work.
DB: How long were you back up in Scotland, doing your rep?
AF: Initially for a summer at the Civic in Ayr, then a year or two after a summer at the Byre in St Andrews and not long after that I went back to Scotland to do a little bit in the film Highlander that was filmed in Fort William. I just took the opportunity of working in Scotland whenever I could.
DB: Did you find you are getting back in touch with your roots when you go back up there?
AF: Yes, very much. From the acting point-of-view, it was more useful to have an RP [Received Pronunciation] voice and then use the accent as and when I needed it. That was my default voice. A north-east Ayrshire voice, closely related to Glasgow.
DB: Can you remember anything about filming Highlander?
AF: It is always a good sign when a car picks you up, it means you know you’re going to be reasonably well paid. The driver had come from the airport and I sat in the front seat with him. He said he had just been to the airport to pick up Robert Redford who was over here to do interior shots for Out of Africa. Anyway, I flew up to Scotland and got picked up by another car, an open top no less Ford Mustang, and this guy was dressed all country and western with the music on as well, and we drove up to where the set was. It was my first real sight of the majesty of Glencoe. The driver told me Sean Connery had already been and gone; came for a week, had all his lines learned and got a million pounds.
But it was a great trip up to Scotland because my aunt lived nearby and I could visit her, which had its disadvantages because when I got there, I just wanted to get fitted in the costume as soon as I could, so I could visit my aunt. I was fitted with a rigid leather breastplate which also encompassed my back. It was alright when you’re standing up but when you sit down… you’re all trussed up. I just had not tried sitting down in it, let alone in a saddle. This was a horseback job and it was like being trapped in the shell of a tortoise. A lesson learned.
Did you see the film The Shawshank Redemption? My scene in Highlander was with Clancy Brown, who was the main villain [Captain Hadley]. We had a chat about our scene over dinner the evening before.
DB: Did you know how to ride a horse prior to that?
AF: I had taken some lessons to be ready for this kind of role, prior to travelling to the location and we were taken down to the Riding Master to be taken through our paces, but in truth I never really got the hang of it. I was on my horse and Clancy, was playing the Kurgan. A big man on a big shire horse that kept making my normal sized horse skittish, but there was somebody standing by holding him, out of shot and we managed to get the scene without major incident. My lines were quite straightforward. “It has begun. DEATH TO THE McLEODS!” And hundreds of rabid Scottish extras, roaring and yelling charged down the hill in full highland dress, swords and claymores at the ready. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do too many takes.
DB: You haven’t rushed to do horse riding since then?
AF: No! There were two other occasions, but they did not go well. However, I wrapped on Highlander after that scene. I was quite keen to get back to London because it was the final of the European Cup. As we reached my flat, and the driver said there’s been a horrible accident at the match – it was the Heysel Stadium disaster .
DB: A tragic night. You were also in In The Name of the Father, with Daniel Day-Lewis.
AF: I was married again and over in Ireland. My wife had two boys from a previous marriage, and we would go on to have two daughters. During this time, I got this film, with Jim Sheridan, In The Name of the Father. We did some shots in Dublin but then there was a big court scene in Liverpool. I played the forensic scientist who determines, falsely as it happened, that the “Birmingham Six” did have explosive materials on their hands. He was interrogated in this court scene, by the actor Daniel Massey, but because the actual forensic scientist was still alive those scenes were cut to avoid litigation
At the bar of the hotel at which we stayed in Liverpool, Daniel Day-Lewis kept his Belfast accent all the time. Even when he was hanging out drinking with us, he would speak in the accent that he used in the film, he never deviated from it at all. When you figure that he’d already done My Left Foot with Jim and this was an even bigger production on the back of that hit, The Name of the Father was resting on his shoulders. I’m sure also that’s just the meticulous way he works.
DB: Did you live in Ireland for quite a while then?
AF: I was in Ireland for a few years. We had an acre and after I gave up my flat in London we were able to buy the best part of another acre. We had dogs, cats, ducks, goats, even two lambs at one point, chickens and guinea fowl… but it was difficult for me to work over there. I was in a delightful rural setting in County Cork near Macroom, but work opportunities were scarce and mainly in Dublin.
DB: Did you return to London then?
AF: I did return to London, and I was back and forth to Ireland more times than Parnell, especially when the children were younger. Now I’m just trying to engineer a trip there in the throes of the pandemic. I have a grandson I’ve met, and more recently a granddaughter, born early this year, that I haven’t even seen yet because it hasn’t been safe to go over. WhatsApp is great, but it’s just not the same.
DB: You have worked on many TV shows: Poirot, Doctors, Vera, Silent Witness…
AF: Yes, and it’s important to point out that they are mainly cameos. I am a jobbing actor whose grateful to get any work, be it corporate, commercial, role-play, voice over or maybe just publicity shots for a retirement home. My most recent one on TV is Outlander.
DB: A show that I am interested in as well, as a historian, originally. When you go onto a well-established show, such as Outlander, what is that like?
AF: First you have a costume and wig fitting which means a separate trip. Then on the subsequent shoot days, the wigs and wardrobe would be set up in your caravan, then on to the set to rehearse the scene for the director and crew, continuity checks etc. It’s is a huge setup for a major TV series that shows on 87 territories worldwide. I was very nervous on my first scene, but you soon realise that everyone is there to help you and I began to enjoy it.
Usually, I was based in Glasgow, where my parents came from, which I remember visiting to see my grandparents. It was also where I was based for Taggart, when Charles Rennie McIntosh’s marvellous Glasgow School of Art was still undamaged by fire and misfortune. There was one time on Outlander we stayed in Crieff, which is a bit more like the Southern Highlands. I’m not great at holidays but I love being on location. That is like a holiday for me.
DB: You mentioned the costuming on Outlander, could you describe what you were wearing?
AF: A wig and make-up, really that was it, just the wig and costume. I don’t know if you recall, but it is always very low lighting and they have a natural look and complexion. In these contemporary wigs, the netting is so subtle, because we’re watching in HD, and the wig making has to be state of the art. The first thing that happened when you arrived on set was the wig, hair had to be also Kirby gripped down, before putting on the wig.
DB: What exactly did that involve, with the costume?
AF: Brocaded coats, silk waistcoats, ruffled stocks and shirts, stockings and buckled shoes, undershirts. All the trimmings of the well-to-do in the 18th century for the wedding day. My character had only one arm. We had to compromise with that and my right arm had to be incorporated in a leather sling. Then, of course, the shoes are always critical, it’s important that they fit well. A costume really starts with the shoes and once you have the whole thing on, you are half-way there with the part.
DB: That is what I was going to ask you. When you finally look at yourself in costume in the mirror, and you’ve had the whole rigmarole of it going on, how does that aid you in creating the character?
AF: It’s pretty major. You know you’re now in a different age, a different historical time. When my character gets married and there’s a wedding scene it was huge! There was the house of the bride, coaches and horses arriving and a lake with the series’ hero and heroine being gently paddled boat across it. Then a whole raised dais, pillared and decked with swathes of silk and flowers harbouring the wedding guests
I remember looking back at my bride’s home – you could see the ground floor and porch of a substantial, traditional colonial American house with white shutters, porch and all the trimmings, but with a whole area of blue material above on top. I was thinking, “I suppose, they only shoot up to that blue bit.” But the thing is that they very much do that ‘blue bit’ as it becomes another floor and the roof of the house. Of course, I had heard of blue screen filming, and green screen too, but this was my first experience.
I worked with a lovely Irish actress, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and a great black actor Colin McFarlane. Maria had worked on The Tudors, which I had done some work on myself and where I had a scene with Henry Cavill who went on to play Superman in Batman v Superman.
DB: How many days were you there working together?
AF: On Outlander, well I did four separate trips to Scotland and on one trip I wasn’t called at all. So really it was only about four days in total. Some of the days I was there I was not called at all. Then I’m free to visit the cathedral, or the Kelvinside Gallery and see the Scottish colourists and just have a look around Glasgow. But as regards time on the screen blink and you’ve missed me! My only regret was that I had agreed with Sam Heughan to have a selfie taken for my eldest daughter, a great fan of the show, but we missed out on the opportunity on my last day on the set
I have been to Africa a couple of times. First time during the early ‘70s, a hair shampoo commercial for the States, and apartheid was still rife. More recently to film in Good Omens.A welcome week in South Africa, during a particularly fierce March here. (Laughs) But for the most tenuous of roles as George W. Bush.
DB: Just hopping back to what you mentioned about shoes being important in building up the character, could you explain that a little further?
AF: Well, it’s essential. My acting teacher for many years after I came back from LA, Heather Diamant, used to say how the character builds from the feet, with special accent on the instep.
DB: Would you find that if it changes your stance or the way you walk that would help as well?
AF: Yes, there is that, if you’re wearing boots, for instance, you will walk a certain way. If your character is in an age when most went on horseback, this affects your gait. Most work I do is modern, and I make sure I’ve got my own to wear, while the shoes the stylist might have could be good, they’re often either too big or too tight, which is bad news.
DB: How else do you go about preparing for a role or a character?
AF: Well, really reading the script again and again and following up on any external references. Google is very handy these days, but I’ve used the British Library in the past. I do quite detailed text work in terms of the individual vowels and consonants. The consonants being the men, firm and strong, so the women, the vowels, can sparkle and shine in their ball gowns! Also, breaking the script into different sections which are different thoughts and phases of the story. It’s all story-telling, developing a technique to incorporate the role.
DB: And also, that the person you’re playing opposite?
AF: That’s right. Give and take. It’s one of the pleasures, actually seeing how other people perform, especially if they are better than you, and you can learn from them.
DB: Is there anyone that sticks out in your mind, that you feel that you learned a lot from?
AF: In the very first play, Talent, the girl, Jackie de Havilland, who played what had been the Victoria Wood’s role, when you watched during rehearsal she seemed to rehearse in a very curious way, but that was just how she worked. When it came to the actual performance, she was wonderful. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of an American, Charles Nelson Reilly was his name, he used to play musical comedies and was on the Johnny Carson show. Jackie was looking after Charles Nelson Reilly’s house in Hollywood. He was off somewhere in the Midwest, directing an opera, so I could go and learn my lines by his swimming pool. Living the dream, if a tad vicariously! He also had a lovely garden, and when he came back home somebody would come in and put flower arrangements in all the rooms. This seemed like the height of luxury!
DB: You mentioned, just in passing, about opera. You were in an opera, weren’t you?
AF: Well sort of! It was part of an opera composed by a student in his final year at Goldsmiths College. The rehearsals and vocal warm-ups were great, a very dramatic section of the piece and performed in the Tristan Bates Theatre [Covent Garden]. There was a violin and cello accompaniment. I would not like to see a video of that. My performance lacked a certain finesse! (Laughs)
DB: You said, thankfully, that wasn’t filmed, do you usually watch yourself on screen?
AF: Yes, I look at the work I’ve done just to see if I have done what was required of me, to see how it worked out.
DB: Theatre, TV or film, where does your heart lie?
AF: I haven’t really done any stage work for some time, so I suppose I’m more comfortable with the film and TV these days. I have done some work from home; I even worked on a commercial from my phone during lockdown that I just shot on my phone in the bathroom, and around the same time worked on a Zoom horror film called Terrornet.
I used to go to auditions in London a lot, and I hope they come back, but more and more they’re asking for self-tapes. I’ve got a thing I can put my phone in which works as a Steadicam, and I’ve got a black backdrop etc. Sometimes my partner will help with the lines and camera. I try and learn the lines they want and then I’ll produce a file and send it off. There was some self-taping before, but the pandemic has brought it on leaps and bounds. The ‘new normal’ is gradually emerging,
DB: What would your advice be to anybody who is thinking of pursuing a career in acting?
AF: You must love it and have a passion for it. There was a famous Shakespearian actor, called Michael Bryant who disarmingly called acting his “hobby”. Not to take what might appear to be rejection too seriously. It’s a two-way street. There might be people who don’t want to work with you, there might be people who you don’t want to work with! Then there is learning the craft, traditionally through one of the recognised acting schools. Then getting work, getting an Equity card, and of course a good agent is crucial. Then there’s mental resilience, most jobs need a certain amount of mental resilience, and for the times in between when there is no work. Also the ability to get on with your fellow actors, crew and production especially in a touring theatrical production, but also on a film or TV set.
DB: Once you’ve done your audition and then walk away, do you put that away until you hear whether you got it or not?
AF: I have pretty much got the attitude that then the ball is in their court. You know sometimes you give them great apples, but really, they want great pears, and then you don’t hear from them. But you get a kind of internal mechanism that tells you when you did well. What’s not so good, after you’ve done the audition, or sent off the self-tape, and you think, “Oh no, why didn’t I do so and so”, and it’s too late. You want to know you’ve tried your best, as in any job.
DB: If you hadn’t been an actor and model is there another job you would have liked to have done?
AF: I don’t think there is really, which is probably a good thing. I would have liked to have written more but there is nothing stopping me. And what’s great about acting, there is no retirement age!
I’ve done all kinds of jobs in between in the past of course, you know, keeping the balls in the air. When I was in school, I first worked in a local garden nursery, picking tomatoes in the morning and budding chrysanthemums in the afternoon. £2.50 a week! More recently I’ve been a cleaner at the local tennis club; cleaning the loos one day and then the next day I’m flying off to Canada on location. Gaps between payments are sometimes tricky.
DB: Who has been the most influential person, or people, in your life?
AF: Some friendships from the ‘60s in London. School friends are rare because I changed school a lot, but there are still friends from the 60’s alright. Then of course, there are my children and their mother, and my grandchildren! My parents and my sister, sadly passed away. My father was a great influence, in his robes sweeping up to the pulpit with Bach playing on the organ. My mother was involved in amateur dramatics in Glasgow, and in my father’s ministry in Kilmarnock. Paddy The Next Best Thing was one of the shows she put on in the church hall.
DB: You have lived in London for a long while, as a Scot to what extent do you still identify as being Scottish?
AF: That can be quite tricky because I know when I went back to St Andrew’s, you get this kind of White Heather Club, Scottish thing, which isn’t real. You can see Scotland through rose-tinted spectacles… But yes, on my car, for example, I have an Ecosse sticker with the Saltire, after all I was in Scotland until I was about 12. Shortly after arriving at school in England I was given the nickname ‘Jock’, and that’s stuck with friends that have known me a long time. And Alistair McGregor Findlay is a very Scottish name in itself!
DB: Where does the McGregor come into it?
AF: The McGregor comes from my mother’s side. That was Thomas Bain McGregor, he came from Caithness, right the way up the top of Scotland. My mother’s mother died shortly before she met my father, and my grandfather was left with a crippled sister, Aunt Cath as I knew her. They lived in a tenement flat in Shawlands district of Glasgow. We used to go up and visit them from Kilmarnock and I recall riding on a tram with my grandfather, a man of few words. He was a horse-back messenger behind the lines in the Great War, and he always said if he had a choice between a horse and a car, he would choose a horse every time.
DB: Are there any traits that you think you have that are typically Scottish?
AF: Oh yes. Waste not, want not. Thrift. My father would get paid a stipend, not a great salary, but he got a manse, a house to live in. They lived fairly simply, if I wanted anything beyond a basic pocket money I had to work.
DB: Did your mother do another job?
AF: Being a minister’s wife is pretty much a full-time job in itself. They were like a double act. After my father died she did volunteer work at the local hospice. She got quite involved with the Liberal Party and the house she’d been allocated by the church she made available for them to use as a base. She had also worked at the local hospital, she was the person who registered deaths etc. the Registrar. She said towards her end she would have liked to have done more of that.
My sister was very talented, she was an artist and went to Ealing Art School, same class as Freddie Mercury, and then to Goldsmiths, which was another reason why I quite enjoyed doing that opera, it was an association with Goldsmiths. She had a very successful exhibition not long before she died. She had ovarian cancer and it was one of these awful situations where they kept operating but it just seemed to get worse and worse and began to affect her quality of life. It was like seeing someone being crucified and her daughters were in their early teens. I mean it’s bad under any circumstances, but when there are still relatively young children involved it’s especially difficult, but my brother-in-law did a great job. It took me some time to get over it. A friend recommended that I to go to a Jungian psychologist, so I did some work with him about dreams mainly, but in the end, what helped most was just working. That was when I went up to the Byre Theatre in St Andrews.
My mother, before I was born, had lost a baby at birth of what could have been an avoidable complication, but she said that was nothing compared to the loss of her daughter.
DB: You don’t expect that as a parent, you expect them to outlive you.
You do a lot of travelling when you are working, and waiting around on set, what do you do to occupy yourself?
AF: Usually going over your lines, have a nap, chat with other members of the cast. I have the useful knack in my business of being able to nap anywhere. I’m a great reader so when I’m not working on the lines or napping, I just read.
DB: What are you reading at present?
AF: I’m reading The Glass Room by Simon Mawer, an amazing piece of storytelling.
I usually go to the library, but I also get a lot of books from the local charity shops, read them and either pass them on to friends or back to the charity shop.
DB: Do you prefer a physical book or a Kindle?
AF: I’ve got a tablet I can use as a Kindle, and a friend sent me some E-books and I enjoyed them. What I do find that is good when I’m away in hotel for example, the bedside light may not be too good for reading, then a Kindle read is great. But I prefer the font and feel of an actual book!
I remember the first book my father introduced me to was Winnie the Pooh, on his knee, in his study. I can remember the binding, the illustrations, and the smell of it even. It was a great introduction to reading, leading on to Treasure Island… that so evocative sound of Long John Silver approaching with his peg leg! A memorable introduction to Robert Louis Stevenson, a great Scottish writer.
DB: Were you an early reader?
AF: Not particularly early. I used to read Oor Wullie, The Broons. My father didn’t get the Scottish Sunday Post, but I knew a lady that did! I would visit her on a Sunday afternoon. She would give me the Post to read, a taste of a marvelous sweet that she made called ‘tablet’, and a wee bit of pocket money for me and my sister. Then there was the Beano and Dandy, also out of D. C. Thomson’s in Dundee. I’d trade up with friends for American western comics like Kit Karson. My parents approved of The Eagle and they got me The Children’s Newspaper. Reading remains a great pleasure.
DB: Outside of work, what are your hobbies, interests and passions?
AF: Sport especially, I’m a great football fan. A lot of gardening. This place has a community garden in the back, but I’ve commandeered it. I have couple of rescue pear trees from when I did some gardening jobs and they were going to be thrown out. I have lots of paintings and prints, some of which I’ve done myself, acrylics and water colours. I also go through minor collecting crazes: rugs; Japanese netsuke and walking sticks, my latest one is African passport masks. Then I swim and run have an exercise regime. Ironically, I am what they call in the States, a ‘Jock’!
DB: What could you not live without?
AF: Not being able to see my children and grandchildren. It would be difficult not to have the ability to communicate with loved ones. Old friends, exercise, books, my work, my partner….
DB: If you could be granted one wish, what would it be?
AF: To wish health and happiness to my nearest and dearest especially, and live in a world where governments put the needs of the people before their own self-interest.
[Edited by Grace Rainbow]
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