TWO things hit home immediately on meeting Scotland’s Disney star Thomas Doherty; the first is he has the arresting good looks normally associated with boy band members, or those young men you see on giant posters on the wall of a trendy clothes shop, wearing nice tops. When Doherty later informs he has over a million Instagram followers it’s not hard to see why.

The second thing is his ankle tattoo, an inscription of sorts, but although I’m sitting a yard away I can’t make the words out. Some foreign language I’ve never come across? We talk about the tattoo puzzle later, meantime the young man from Edinburgh chats about his new Disney role.

Doherty, who is also one of the stars of Disney Channel musical, The Lodge, now stars as Harry Hook in Descendants 2, a sequel to the international TV franchise featuring the adventures of the teen offsprings of the great Disney villains such as Cruella de Vil and Maleficent.

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He explains why he’s wild about Harry. “I love playing him,” says the actor who hopes his pirate Son of Hook will be the most evil villain of the past 100 years, badder than old King Kong, and meaner than a junkyard dog, (to lift from the late American songwriter Jim Croce.)

“He can be very hostile and intimidating and unpredictable, but at the same time he has a charming quality. It’s easy to see why people love him – but hate to love him at the same time. He’s such good fun to play. And his character brings a lot to the rest of the film.

Doherty seems to have natural warmth and to be entirely unassuming. As he tells of playing Captain Hook’s wicked progeny, it’s with an endearing sense of incredulity; the actor’s voice has a questioning air, wondering how he can, at just 22, be part of this worldwide franchise, be part of the offspring of the Disney parents who gave the world Miley Cyrus and Britney Selena Gomez.

He later reveals however he isn’t an innocent abroad. But for the moment we continue talk of Harry Hook. Did he channel anyone in particular when he became bad boy Harry? “I did,” he offers. “I thought of Heath Ledger when he played the Joker in Batman. His performance was amazing. He showed how you can totally immerse himself in this huge character, yet make him truthful. It’s such a shame we’ve lost him.

“When I play Harry I want that sort of truth.” He adds: “There’s a real dichotomy about him and it’s important to understand he’s still a kid, which means there’s a lot of teenage angst and frustration in the mix.

“You forget he’s the son of Hook, and don’t think about the pirate ship. What I want to come across is he’s a young man with a lot of problems – peer pressure, father pressures, and loss in his life. And this manifests itself in anger and aggression.” He laughs: “But it’s all good fun.”

Doherty clearly brings an intelligence to the role (his mother, who works in a bank – his dad is a financial adviser – made sure he finished his Highers before she agreed on him taking off to musical theatre college) but you discover there’s also an innate toughness about him which the model looks don’t suggest initially.

“I grew up hoping to become a professional footballer,” he says, revealing a world far removed from fairy princesses and camp.

His talent was such it led to professional trials with the likes of Berwick Rangers, but not quite enough to land the big leagues. “My brother was also a footballer and went to America on a footballing scholarship, so I guess I was following in his footsteps.”

Yet, while Doherty tackled and twisted his way over East Lothian grass he kept a dark, or rather a colourful, secret from many of his school chums.

“While I was seen as a football player, no-one was aware I also did musical theatre,” he says in mock conspiratorial voice. “I’d have my books and packed lunch at the top of my bag but at the bottom I’d hide my tap shoes.

“On Saturdays, for example, I’d go to musical theatre from nine ‘till one and then rush off to the game.” He adds, laughing: “Then during the week I’d turn up for musical theatre with my knees all cut and bruised. It was all a bit Billy Elliott. But I loved both.”

His very close friends accepted his leanings: “Yes, but any 13-year-old boy who wears leotard and tights two days a week is going to get slagged off,” he says, grinning. “Young boys were wary of acting. There was a sense it was all a bit effeminate. And I’d get teased. but it’s part of the banter. And my friends were fantastic and so supportive when it came to seeing my shows.”

Doherty had been attending a local drama group from a young age, but aged 13 he “really began to enjoy it". When the football dream was kicked out of the park, he decided to focus on performing and applied to the Academy of Performing Arts to study musical theatre. “I always wanted to work in TV and film but didn’t feel I was mature enough to go to acting school. And I could sing a bit, and dance as well because I had already done a lot of musical theatre shows.”

At the end of his three years, he performed his showcase and landed an agent. Now, landing representation is every young performer’s dream. But when you coax it out of Doherty there’s a realisation agents were almost queueing around the block to sign him up.

You would imagine they saw him as a cert for a role in EastEnders, a teen heartbreaker shoe-in for Hollyoaks?

“Yes, I met a few agents and some of them suggested they would get me into the likes of Hollyoaks. But it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel passionate about the idea and felt I would be cheating a little bit.”

What happened was he worked in theatre for a short time, appearing at the Edinburgh Festival in a play about the Black Death, boils and all. Then he landed some film work in the likes of Hercules before being cast in teen musical The Lodge as Sean, filming in Northern Ireland.

He switches conversational channels to offer a bigger picture. “I don’t thinking living two steps ahead in life as being in any way productive. I like to live in the moment. That’s why there isn’t a big career plan mapped out.

“In the six months before leaving college I had the idea I’d get an agent and move to Hollywood and land films and do the red carpet thing. And then I got a little taste of it and I realised I was trying to fill my life with stuff. But I also realised if that was my intent it would never really be filled.”

What? These days actors talk of career moves as if it were a board game strategy. What made Doherty so different? What happened to bring about this epiphany?

Seems he has gone down the way of modelling after all.

“While I was doing The Lodge I was also meeting these modelling agencies, and at the same time I was going to acting auditions. But I wasn’t really thinking about the auditions; I was thinking about what the auditions would bring me. Then I went to LA and did the photo shoot for Teen Vogue and came back and thought ‘That was so much fun’ and people were saying to me it was amazing, yet at the same time it all felt very hollow, a bit vacuous.”

Doherty realised he was being judged for his looks alone. It didn’t sit well. “Old friends or people who didn’t know me were giving lots of attention, and it was weird when girls would scream or ask for photos but it wasn’t fulfilling.”

He felt lost, unsure of the road to take. “I began reading Eckhart Tolle a lot, (the spiritual teacher and author of books such as The Power Of Now) who has been asking why we are trying to fill our lives with stuff. You know; you get the car or the big house or whatever and then you ask yourself what you did to deserve it.

“You wonder if life is all about getting two million followers on social media.”

He has in fact just a million. The actor grins and then takes on a serious look: “But the thing is it doesn’t mean anything, except that ... well, it doesn’t define me.”

It’s quite unusual to find a young man aged just 22 who has been self-aware enough to examine the very point of his being. He could have gone the Bieber route and created minor drugs/alcohol mayhem. But of course, he’s also contained to a certain extent by the demands of Disney. The corporation Disney expects a lot of its young stars, in terms of how they represent themselves to the public, displaying a clean cut wholesomeness.

So how does Doherty balance out the Disney deal with the need to be a young man and have fun – and take a few risks? “Just don’t get caught,” he says, grinning. “But what you don’t do is overthink your status and let it get into your head because it will be a bit restrictive. What you have to do is just see yourself as a you are, which is a normal 22-year-old boy. And don’t let a couple of screaming girls sway you in any way.”

Does he read the tabloid tales of those who have lost the plot? Clearly he’s aware that celebrity is the mask that eats from within. Just think Heath Ledger.

“Yes, and I’m aware if you don’t be careful you crash and burn. Jim Carey once said he wished everyone could spend a week being rich and famous, to see what it’s really like. Attention can bring problems. But I’ve got it under control.”

What helps, apart from Eckhart Tolle and a few pages of natural common sense, is Doherty has a regular girlfriend, who happens to be his Descendants 2 co-star. “Her name is Dove Cameron and she lives in Los Angeles.” His voice becomes more animated as he expands: “She was here for the Edinburgh Festival for the first time and she loved it. She’s great. She’s like my pal, and a really good laugh. The plan is I’m going to head over to LA to live. We’re going to get a place together and live on Venice Beach.”

You tell him he’ll love it. And you’re sick with envy. “Thanks,” he says, smiling. “I think I’m making the right move. London’s great, and so is Edinburgh but it’s too cold.”

Doherty is relaxed about the future. He may be doing another season of The Lodge, and “hopefully a Descendants 3". But thanks to his Instagram success he has a regular income stream, independent of what he earns from acting. “I want to test the water,” he says of work possibilities in Tinseltown.

But gently.

“It’s good to have goals and a career and all the rest of it, but at the same time I want to enjoy life.”

He means it. The actor becomes truly animated when I tell of a young Scots actor, Declan Laird, currently making his way in Hollywood, who plays for a showbiz football team. Declan will get him a game.

“That sounds fantastic,” he says, breaking into a wide smile. “Although I’ll have to watch I don’t get kicked. But of course I won’t tell anyone I’m playing.”

We say goodbyes, but the ankle tattoo questions has to be answered. What the hell language is that? “It’s Elvish,” he declares, as if I should have known it’s Tolkien tongue.

“I’m a huge Lord Of The Rings fan, and it’s a quote from Gandalf: ‘All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that’s given to us.’ Good, eh?”

Perfect line, Thomas. Just perfect.

Descendants 2 premieres on Friday, October 20 at 5.30pm on Disney Channel