YOU would assume Douglas Henshall’s mood to be as heavy as the rain-sodden overcoats he dragged around during his filming stints in BBC drama Shetland. After all, he’s flown in from LA just minutes ago.

But the way he delivers the line, “I’m f****** knackered,” when asked how

he is, in an overly grumpy, very Scottish empathy-seeking way, suggests his 50-year-old blond head is not in a bad place at all.

That’s good because his latest film, Iona, throws up all sorts of deep and dark questions; a Whisky Galore island romp it most certainly is not. We talk about the movie at length, but first up, what was Henshall up to in LA?

“I was out whoring myself,” he says grinning. “British actors go out there like swallows in the spring.” He’s talking of the TV pilot season, the maddest time in the Tinseltown calendar when actors fly in hoping to land work.

“The competition is brutal,” he reveals. “And the casting people don’t even know what they’re looking for and you come away with nothing. But as an actor,” he adds, more seriously, “you spend the majority of your life being rejected.”

It’s an obvious thought, but one which few ever think about. Gosh, Dougie, it’s no wonder so many actors are mad. “Absolutely,” he laughs. It should be added that Douglas Henshall has spent less time being rejected than most. In fact, he’s worked solidly in TV and film since emerging from drama college in London. And of course he had stints with 7:84 and the Citizens’ Theatre in Scotland.

However, Henshall loved the chance to come back north of the Border to film Iona. Written and directed by Scott Graham, it’s the story of a young(ish) mother (played by Ruth Negga) who takes off to the island she was named after with her teenage son. This is a secret journey, and we know this because Iona torches her car before taking the ferry from the mainland.

When she reaches Iona she goes to live with Daniel, her ex (Henshall): an enigmatic, pivotal character who plays a bigger part in the central characters’ lives than we first realise. From there we piece together the jigsaw that is her past, discovering she was raped by a policeman boyfriend, has a fractious relationship with her sister, and a son who can’t resist the allure of a blonde schoolgirl.

What does he think the film is about? “It’s about violence against women, it’s about faith, and one of the themes explored is redemption. Iona is looking for it for herself, and of course for her son.” (To reveal what Junior has been up to would spoil the plot.)

It’s a beguiling little movie. “It’s not an easy ride,” Henshall admits. “I don’t think Scott wants to let people off the hook. There is no music in the film, for example, except for a ceilidh scene, but this starkness works.”

Iona, the island, brought back a flood of memories to the Barrhead-born actor. Henshall reveals he holidayed there with his family, mum, dad and two sisters, as an 11-year-old.

“My ma wanted to go and have a wee look at where all the Scottish kings had been buried,” he recalls. “So we traipsed over Mull, in the pishing rain, with the parents desperately trying to find things to do as is the case with a holiday in Scotland, then on to Iona.”

Did the filming throw up difficult memories, given he has since lost his mother (to heart disease, aged 59)?

“No, my ma died nearly 20 years ago. I still miss her, and I still think about her a lot but the memories I have are warm, rather than melancholic or tinged with sadness.”

There is a strong spiritual element in the film. Iona, after all, has long been a focus for Christian pilgrimage and the characters all seem to be searching for meaning. Did it prompt thoughts of divine spirits? “No, it didn’t because I’m a confirmed atheist. That was one thing my mum’s death did sort out for me. I finally came to a decision as to what I think about the afterlife, which was interesting. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure of what I thought until I was confronted by it, but then it took a while. Now, I’m comfortable with this.

“I’m sure there are people who associate Iona with what they want it to be but for me it’s just a nice place.” He adds, in a soft, reasoned voice. “I’m for whatever gets you through the night. People are entitled to their beliefs, provided they don’t stop me having mine.”

Does the loss of loved ones, including friends such as the late, great Gerard Kelly, who offered a leg up the acting ladder, make him more conscious of mortality: carpe diem, and all that? “Mm. I’m always wary of that sentiment. To be honest, I’m not sure how to grab life with both hands. I’ve been trying to find a way to do that my whole life and failed, so if someone has a wee book I’d be glad to read it.”

His voice saddens a little: “My ma was only 59 when she passed away. There but for the grace ... Life is so random. I just wish I knew how to enjoy life slightly better.”

Henshall has been married to Croatian writer Tena Stivicic since 2010. But the role of Contented Actor is not one he seems to play well. You sense a brain that’s continually searching for a truth. Yet, it’s always turning over the human condition, looking for answers rather than relaxing into the moment.

He’s certainly a complex character. Henshall reveals he wasn’t the predictable jazz-hands child, performing at the opening of a fridge door. “I was a mix of shy and far too forthright as a child,” he offers. “I was socially awkward, and never sure how you were supposed to behave in society. Acting, I guess, gave me a place where I could express myself, where I didn’t feel that sweaty-handedness in being around people.

“I think with hindsight I realise this world suits me. I am more comfortable on stage than off. I would get up and sing at family parties, I wasn’t that backward at coming forward, but I still did get a red face when I was doing it.”

He breaks into a laugh: “It may sound strange but sometimes, I’d be so embarrassed getting up to perform I’d be saying to myself, ‘Why do you feel the need to show off like this?’ But then once I found a platform to express myself it felt absolutely right.”

Finding himself filming in his home town was strange. “Shetland was filmed in Barrhead, and we used the police station and health centre in the scenes, which was quite bizarre. You see, a film set is hugely familiar to me now. And home is hugely familiar. But the two of them together? That was surreal. But it was also lovely. A wee wumman I once lived next to came up to me in the back of the camera truck and we had a talk about family. We filmed in the old council building where my grandad worked and the health centre where my ma was a nurse. I remember both places for different reasons.”

Henshall worked hard to find success when he left Mountview Drama College in London, proving he could slide easily into dramatic theatre roles and TV sitcom. He even played the beefcake role once, in a 1994 episode of Rab C Nesbitt. The key scene featured Ella (Barbara Rafferty) and Mary’doll (Elaine C Smith) having tea when in walks Donny (Henshall), Ella’s new man. Ella is so dumbstruck a concerned Mary’doll asks her chum: “Are you all right, Ella? Can I get you anything?”

“Start wi’ a pair of dry knickers,” says Ella.

“I don’t remember the line, but I do remember working with Barbara,” he laughs. “She was fantastic, and I’d have spent a few weeks with her any time.”

Has he ever been intimidated by co-stars? What about Kristin Scott Thomas, often described as an “ice queen”, who he appeared with on stage in Pinter’s Betrayal in 2011. “Yes, that scared the bejaysus out of me,” he admits, grinning.

“With someone like Kristin you have to find a way not to be intimidated so what I did was take the p*** out of her a wee bit and we ended up having a laugh.”

A very Scottish technique. How did it manifest itself? “For some strange reason me and [co-star] Ben Miles used to call her Stanley all the time. And she ran with it. I learned Kristin is very warm and friendly and we had a really good time.

“There are a couple of times in my life however when I’ve been really intimidated. I was doing a play with Tom Conti in Windsor and Tom was lovely, but after one matinee I went down to make a phone call past the dressing rooms and Tom appeared with this lady. I realised it was Isabella Rossellini and Tom grabbed me and said, ‘Dougie, this is Isabella.’ Now, I didn’t know what to say. All I could think was something my ma used to say about her: ‘Oh, my god, she’s so like her mother!’ Now, I stood there facing her, my face going bright red almost at the point of saying, ‘Oh, you’re so like your mum,’ but I didn’t. I couldn’t think of anything else so I made my excuses and ran off.”

Henshall’s confident cover was blown also on the set of the 1996 film Angels And Insects. “Me and Patsy Kensit were playing a brother and sister who had an incestuous relationship and we had to film this big sex scene. I was slightly intimidated because Patsy was so famous at the time and I was still coming up. But as I was leaving the house, Patsy called over and said, ‘Dougie, I want you to meet my husband. This is Jim.’

“Now, I found myself standing staring at Jim Kerr, who was for me the coolest man on the planet. And all I could think to say was, ‘Listen, Jim. I’m sorry about the sex with your wife.’ But thankfully, I didn’t. Again, I just ran away.”

What comes across is that Dougie Henshall is a fairly self-effacing character, who’s lots of fun, but sees his work as an outlet for emotion, and perhaps discovery. It’s not surprising he loved appearing in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman in the West End, given his dad was a salesman, offering an entry into his world.

Sometimes, emotions are already at the surface. Henshall began work on Peter Mullan’s 1998 movie Orphan, the story of a family who have just lost their mother, shortly after his own mother had died.

But when asked what has he learned about himself through acting he reaches for the lighter note. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful but it would be nice to play someone who wasn’t a policeman and didn’t have to stand about in the pishing rain all day,” he smiles. “Yet, someone told me the other day that 75 per cent of all dramas on TV are cop shows, so you can see where the work is.”

He adds: “If I ever wrote an autobiography it would be called Inappropriately Dressed because as

an actor you are never, ever wearing

the clothes for the weather around you. On occasion I think ‘For f***’s sake,

I’m fed up being cold, man’. But then when the director says, ‘Turn over’ I feel really happy.”

Henshall is laughing a lot. And why shouldn’t he be happy. Right now

he’s “doing a tape for a big fancy Hollywood film in which he could

play a bad German.”

So perhaps it’s time to really test the Henshall sense-of-humour meter. Does he think he may have progressed further in his career had he not had blond eyebrows? After all, Michael Caine claimed it to be a real disadvantage.

“Yes, casting directors have often told me I would have been up there with Harrison Ford had it not been for my sh***y eyelashes,” he says in a booming, dramatic voice, but with his eyes twinkling. “That must explain coming away from the pilot season with f*** all.”

“LA is basically an exercise in rejection,” he adds, grinning. “But at least you get rejected in the warmth.”

Iona opens in cinemas on Friday