Denis Lawson is sitting in a Kosher restaurant in the heart of London's Jewish community in Golder's Green, wearing a bagel on his face. That's right. A bagel.
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He has no qualms about discussing McGregor's talent, which is carefully managed by the young actor's mother - and Lawson's sister - Carol McGregor. In fact, he says he remembers the moment he realised his nephew was going to be famous. ''He was playing Orlando in As You Like It in his second year at drama college,'' recalls Lawson. ''And he was extraordinary. He was on a completely different level from everybody else. But I couldn't say at the time because it was too much. I couldn't say to him, 'You know you're going to be a huge star.' I couldn't even say it to my sister. It was just silly. But what surprised me was how fast it happened. That was fantastic.'' Family seems to be the great stabilising factor in Lawson's life. He glows when he talks about his actress partner of 15 years, Sheila Gish, with whom he shares a house in Chalk Farm. ''We met filming in Wales on something called The Uncertain Feeling, a Kingsley Amis adaptation and yes, it was love at first sight,'' he says grinning. ''And it's been great - it's a wonderful relationship. She's very, very important to me.'' He is equally close to Gish's actress daughters Lou Gish and Kay Curram. All three acted together in Lawson's short film The Base Player. Lawson is also immensely proud of his own son Jamie, who at 21 has just graduated in anthropology and archaeology from Durham University and plans to be a diplomat. No acting for Jamie then? ''I offered him a part in my film,'' says Lawson. ''But he turned me down.'' The strong family ties also go a long way to explaining Lawson's history of working himself to exhaustion. ''It's a genetic thing,'' he reckons. ''My parents came out of Glasgow during the Depression and both - particularly my father - had very tough childhoods. They fought their way out of it.'' Lawson, while he clearly has no need to, is still fighting lest the wolf show up at the door of his North London home 60 years on. If he has calmed down in recent years he says he has taught himself to do so - ''I've just kind of trained myself to go to bed'' - although Jack Black's positive thinking therapy Mindstore comes into the picture somewhere. ''If someone had laid a big spiritual trip on me I would not have gone for it,'' he says. ''But Jack is very direct. It's intensely practical stuff.'' It seems unlikely he'll ever become a man of transcendental leisure though. At 78 years old, his mother, who Lawson describes as ''a dynamo of energy'', is only just retiring from the Crieff watchmaker and jeweller's shop she and her late husband ran for most of their adult lives. For someone who works so hard, Lawson has never really chased the Hollywood buck. Like his closest actor friends Alan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow he has spent much of his career on the stage, and while his film CV includes roles in Local Hero and Star Wars, he is just as happy to star in short films by lesser-known directors simply because they interest him. While the bulk of his screen work has been on television, he has avoided becoming identified with one particular character. All of which could be set to change with his role as DI Morris Rose in young Jewish writer David Solomons' first outing, The Fabulous Bagel Boys. Produced by the makers of Hamish MacBeth, it appears this cop - or cop-deli - drama is being vaunted by BBC Scotland as their ratings answer to Scottish Television Taggart. All of this makes it quite feasible that Lawson could end up hearing cries of ''Inspector Rose, there's been a murder'' everywhere he goes. So how does he feel about the prospect of being identified with DI Morris Rose? ''I know what you're saying,'' he says, ''and it's something I have fought shy for a very long time. But the idea of doing more of this is appealing because the characters are so strong and the writing is so good. It's very funny, very offbeat. And it's quite different from most cop shows. Nothing much actually happens which is probably a lot more what policing is like. And there's a lot of humour in that.'' Playing a cop is another first for Lawson: ''I never thought I'd be interested in playing a policeman, but the Jewish side of the show appealed to me. I've always been interested in Jewish culture, but never had a chance to dip into it. This gave me an excuse. ''I've always felt a very strong affinity with Jewish people,'' he adds. ''Over the years I find I've become very friendly with certain people I've worked with - actors, producers, whatever - and then two or three years later I discover they're Jewish. I do have a very strong suspicion there is Jewish blood somewhere in my family.'' In many ways, he believes, this has shaped the droll wit that is his signature. As a child he loved to go the movies and the performers who inspired him most were Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and The Marx Brothers. ''I didn't realise it at the time,'' he says, ''but it was that dry Jewish sense of humour. I really connected with it.'' He feels pleased now to be part of something that makes a real attempt to reflect Jewish life: ''I think it's an interesting move and quite a brave one to set something in a minority culture in Scotland. ~I did feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to be faithful to the Jewish culture. I don't think any of us went in and did 'Jewish acting'. That would have been patronising. If you meet contemporary Jewish people in Glasgow they don't act differently from anyone else. It was important to represent them properly.'' You get the feeling he means it. It's easy for an actor to feign interest in a subject while they're right in the middle of it. Okay so he's cheerleading for the programme but, believe me, nobody eats that much chopped herring for show. And that's how it is with Denis Lawson. He's acting his pants off 75% of the time but there is something genuine driving him. And nowhere is that more evident than in his relationship with his nephew. He could play down his younger relative's fame, but he draws attention to it by casting him in his first play. Didn't he worry about failing with the eyes of the world trained on him. ''No,'' he says emphatically. ''I didn't worry at all.'' Of course, I think, he may well have worried at the time, but he's sure as hell not going to tell me if he did. And why should he? After all, the show must go on. n
The Fabulous Bagel Boys is on BBC1, 9pm, Thursday