Although he’s starred in U.S. television series the couple of years, Robert Carlyle is perhaps most famous as the star of numerous independent British films, some of which became mainstream hits, including Trainspotting and The Full Monty. His latest film, California Solo premieres as an official selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival next month.
A true chameleon, Carlyle’s performances are carefully crafted works of art. His commitment to his roles is legendary, which results in an authenticity and naturalism to each part he plays whether it’s a commercial blockbuster like The World is not Enough or a barely-seen, low budget art-house picture like I Know You Know. Charismatic and intense on screen, Carlyle has created a beautifully varied opus of frightening psychotics, nuanced rogues and ne’er do wells, and a host of other troubled souls, and even a romantic hero or two.
There are common threads running through many of Carlyle’s movies. He’s played a variety of displaced and dispossessed men, marginalized by society—sometimes driven to crime, sometimes to drink or drugs. But these working-class anti-heroes are also usually (but certainly not always) at their core sympathetic. (Okay, you have me there at Trainspotting’s Frank Begbie, who has no redeemable qualities coming to mind—and Hitler in the U.S. TV film Hitler: The Origins of Evil—a performance I have not been able to make myself watch).
Caryle plays a great villain. He’s not a big guy, but possesses the sort of coiled energy that suggests he might snap at any moment. On the other hand, he also makes great romantic lead, at once charming and complex, with layers and layers beneath the surface, revealed through his large soulful eyes.
Of course these days, Carlyle stars in the new ABC hit series Once Upon a Time as Rumpelstiltskin and his Storybrooke counterpart Mr. Gold. Even in the limited number of scenes we’ve thus far seen, Carlyle conveys that there’s much more to the character than meets the eye. There is something indefinite there that draws you in. Maybe it’s the eyes; perhaps it’s the theatrical grace with which he imbues Rumple and the soft-spoken menace of Mr. Gold. Whatever it is, he’s certainly gotten to me, setting me on a journey to seek out his earlier work, some of which is awfully difficult to find on these North American shores.
This little guide to the films of Robert Carlyle is hardly comprehensive. I struggled with which of his film and television roles to include, but decided to focus on those that have gotten to me on an emotional level, which is why I’ve suggested these as “favorites” rather than “the best of…”
I have to admit that ultra-violent movies are not usually my cup of tea, no matter their artistic merit. I find it exceptionally hard to watch a favorite actor turn into a monster on screen, no matter how compelling that performance might be, or no matter how important a film. So, you’ll probably notice immediately that I’ve not included Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s dark, disturbing, but witty and ironic film about friendship and Edinburgh’s drug culture. As good as it is (listed as 10 on the British Film Institute’s index of the Top 100 British Films of the 20th Century), Trainspotting is not on my list of favorite Robert Carlyle roles. Carlyle makes the psychotic Begbie terrifying and unpredictable, and for many, it’s one of his most memorable roles—just not on my decidedly subjective list of favorites.
IMDb, of course lists Carlyle’s complete filmography, and I would recommend that create your own list of favorites. So, here’s mine: