A physically slight but commanding star of 1990s films and TV, Robert Carlyle had a difficult childhood: born in Glasgow on 14 April 1961, deserted while a baby by his mother, he was brought up by his father whose trade as painter and decorator he followed before, at 21, deciding to try for an acting career. Very private about his early life, he trained unhappily for three years at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, afterwards setting up Rain Dog, his own theatre company and performing for underprivileged young people.
He had a role in David Hayman's Silent Scream (1990) and everything changed in 1991 when Ken Loach cast him in Riff-Raff, as an ex-con building labourer. An immediate success, he later played a Glasgow bus-driver caught up with Nicaraguan politics and romance in Loach's Carla's Song (1996).
In the meantime, he collaborated with director Antonia Bird on the gritty urban drama, Safe (1993) and, as the gay priest's lover, in Priest (1994), and would go on to star for her in the thieves-fall-out drama, Face (1997) and as the cannibal protagonist in Ravenous (1999, UK/US/Czech/Slovakia/Mex).
As well, he became a household name as the hash-smoking detective in TV's Hamish Macbeth (BBC, 1995-97), whippet-lean and dangerous, and even more threatening as the vicious Begbie in the cult hit, Trainspotting (d. Danny Boyle, 1996). But it was his award-winning role as Gaz, the unemployed Sheffield steelworker-cum-stripper in The Full Monty (d. Peter Cattaneo, 1997), that cemented his star reputation and won him a BAFTA, though his acting ability had been thoroughly established in several foregoing films, including Michael Winterbottom's Go Now (BBC, 1996) as a footballer suffering multiple sclerosis.
It seemed he could do no wrong, and being cast as the villain in the Bond concoction, The World Is Not Enough (UK/US, d. Michael Apted, 1999), appeared to confirm this, though the period adventure, Plunkett and Macleane (d. Jake Scott, 1999), was - undeservedly - a flop, despite its violent action and wittily anachronistic pop score. More recent UK/US co-productions, Angela's Ashes (d. Alan Parker, 1999) and The Beach (d. Danny Boyle, 2000), have broadened his exposure rather than his range, but he remains perhaps the major British star of the '90s. He was awarded an OBE in 1999. He married make-up artist Anastasia Shirley in 1997, and in 1999 he, along with Bird and Mark Cousins, set up 4Way Pictures, to produce a lively-sounding line-up of films.
Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film