From homicidal psychos to sympathetic serial killers, ROBERT CARLYLE seemed to have the small-screen maniac market all to himself. But that was before he met paranoid prince of pop TRICKY, making his acting debut in the Bristol-based, trip-hop flavoured drama Go Now. Here STEPHEN DALTON talks fame and misfortune with two of Britain's top professional nutters.
Tricky mooches across Bristol's Lakota club and virtually wraps himself around a beautiful woman while she's dancing. He looks spliffed-up: a lolloping octopus of pawing hands, pursed lips and dirty intent. This isn't dancing, it's soft porn.
   Suddenly, a wiry young guy at the other end of the club takes offence on the girl's behalf and snaps into knight-in-shining-armour mode. He bounds across, cracks Tricky on the jaw and virtually shatters his own knuckles. The woman screams. Tricky hits the floor. Somewhere in the shadows, someone yells "Cut!"...
    This is the set of the BBC's Screen Two drama Go Now, a bittersweet romantic comedy from the makers of Cracker, set in Bristol and featuring the acting debut of one of the city's most infamous musical sons. Tricky's wordless cameo is small but pivotal - his band are playing when the protagonists first meet across a smoky dancefloor, while his lusty dance display is what finally brings them together.
   "I talked to the director, and he asked if I wanted to provide a piece of music," nods Tricky between takes. "He said would I bring a band as well, so basically I said 'Yeah, if you give me a part'. Ha ha ha!"
   The tedious waiting game of acting Tricky dismisses as "no different to doing a video", but at least it's "a good rest from music". So could this be the start of some new parallel career? Will pop's Renaissance man be doing more acting?
   "It would have to be really good stuff," he nods. "Like, I know a guy who's doing this is kicking. I've seen Cracker
and all that. It would have to be someone I really trusted. The only point of doing a film would be to play someone really hard, some mad gangster or something - shooting loads of people."
   But of course.
   The man who floors Tricky in Go Now is rising Glaswegian star Robert Carlyle. He plays Nick, the plasterer and weekend footballer who falls in love just before he falls victim to multiple sclerosis. As a professional actor with a decade's experience behind him, how does this 31-year-old Massive Attack fan rate Tricky's first foray into thespian terrain?
   "Very enthusiastic, very energetic," he nods. "I think he's enjoyed the day. It's funny he ended up with the part, because the original guy I was supposed to hit was, like, a mountain..."
   Carlyle is probably best known for playing the homocidal psycho Scouser avenging Hillsborough in Cracker. Here he worked with Jimmy McGovern and Michael Winterbottom, the co-writer and director of Go Now, although the McGovern connection goes further back to Carlyle's co-starring role in Antonia Bird's award-winning movie Priest, also written by McGovern.
   Does Robert ever find himself identi~ing with extreme roles like his Hillsborough avenger?
   "You have to sympathise with any character you play because it becomes part of yourself. Of course it was an 

extreme example, but what made it all the more sympathetic is we could see he had a point. The biggest injustice he saw was how the gutter press andthe police smeared the people of Liverpool.
   "It wasn't that difficult doing the research for that - all I had to do was look through old copies of the tabloids. They said people had actually pissed on dead bodies and picked their pockets..."
   A moral killer in Cracker, an exiled Glaswegian escaping his drnggy past in Ken Loach's Riff Raff the gay lover of a Catholic clergyman in the headline-grabbing Priest: does Robert deliberately choose his roles for
controversy value?
   "Well, these are the interesting parts for me. I'm artistic director of Raindog Theatre Company in Glasgow as well, and a lot of that is improvised drama dealing with social issues. Whether that be drugs, prostitution, AIDS, whatever - these are the subjects we like to talk about. Raindog is always the thing that keeps me rooted and keeps me sane. I've known the people there for 15 years, and they know me for the scumbag that I am!"
   Leaving school at 16, Robert spent five years painting and decorating before drama school beckoned. Now he's one of the most in-demand actors around, with a starring role in the BBC's gently comic Highland drama Hamish Macbeth to add to his already impressive CV. Even this piece of tourist board whimsy he defends as darker than its shortbread surface first seems.
   "Harnish ain't what your cutesy village cop would be - he smokes hash, kicks in headlights, stuff like that. Also, it's the Scots taking the piss out of Scotland, which is totally acceptable. I've been offered about three dozen knife-wielding maniacs in the last few years... you have to 
be very careful as a Scottish actor not to get stereotyped like that."
   Presumably this also means resisting the lure of London?
   "Very much so," he smiles. "Why go down to London? I'd just get caught up in it and be like everybody else. At this stage in my career, if anybody's looking for a Glaswegian actor, they know where to come. I also try my best to use the correct accent and don't make any allowances for that, then I can go back and face people - because they watch you very closely and they can spot a fake a mile off."
   But bigger roles keep nudging Robert towards the big time. He's already appeared alongside Robin Williams in the Bill Forsyth movie Being Human. Now he's up for a starring role in the movie version of Irvine Welsh's Scottish druggy cult novel Trainspotting, directed by Danny Shallow Grave Boyle. There's even talk of Hollywood calling...
   "But I won't be waiting by the phone," he deadpans. "If anybody contacts me I'll be the luckiest son-of-a-bitch on the planet, but I'm not going to go running for it. I'm very happy doing this."
   So now, with romantic roles like Go Now, is Robert's psycho period finally over?
   "If it's a good psycho, I'll take it," he grins. "I've also been approached to play Dennis Nielsen - again, like Hillsborough, it's delicate subject matter. You have to be honest, it's not just about showing the gory details. Acting is nine-tenths observation. You're just trying to take these things, whether it's multiple sclerosis or Hillsborough or whatever, you put that into yourself and see how you would react. There's a murderer, a lover and a crazy person inside all of us."

Go Now, BBC2, 9.25 pm, Saturday

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  photos: Rob Hann