When Robert Carlyle first really broke through in America, it was the one-two punch of 1996’s “Trainspotting” and “The Full Monty,” the next year. In the first he was terrifying psychopath Francis Begbie; in the latter he was a nice guy just trying to make money (by stripping). Both extremes are present in the dark comedy “Barney Thomson,” which the Scottish actor, now 54, both directed and stars in as a mild-mannered barber in Glasgow caught up in a wave of accidental murders. Shot during a brief hiatus on his show “Once Upon a Time,” it brought Carlyle — who, by the way, is friendly, charming and decidedly un-Begbie — back to his hometown, where he had to learn how to direct and act at the same time.
This wasn’t a project you initiated. How did it come to you?
The script had come to me four or five times over a seven-year period. I just wasn’t ready at the time. I had producers who’d say, “I have this Scottish script. Interested? I'd say, "I am interested. What is it?" And it would be “Barney Thomson,” yet again. [Laughs] I started to look at it more seriously and asked myself why I kept rejecting it. What it was was it was a Glasgow-based script but it wasn’t quite the Glasgow I knew. Turns out that’s because it was written by a Canadian filmmaker [Richard Cowan]. I decided I’d have it rewritten from a Glasgow perspective. I asked a friend of mine, Colin McLaren, to put it together into what you see now.
There’s an unstuck-in-time quality to it. It almost feels like it’s set in the ’60s or the ’70s. Was that approach about bringing back memories of Glasgow in your childhood?
You’re spot-on. One of the many things that changed in the screenplay was the locations. I wanted to pick places in the East End of Glasgow I knew, that I’d grown up in and hadn’t been for many, many years. More importantly, they would make me feel comfortable, because this was a first time for me, directing. I was a bit nervy. I thought if I could feel home here, so much the better.
Barbershops seem to never change, anywhere.
I remember growing up and going with my dad for a haircut. They never change. They always look the same, with the pictures of sports and boxing on the walls. Those are the same to this day. I did my best to keep any modern things away from the film. That’s why you never seen a mobile phone, you never see a computer.