Lorna MacLaren

TEA and crumpets with Tom Cruise at his Hollywood pad would have been easier to organise than seeing Martin Compston for a pub lunch in Greenock.

Over a lengthy period the young actor's publicist had apologised profusely when yet another effort to meet was scuppered. Back-to-back engagements, here and in London, had him firmly tied up. One glittering occasion was the British Independent Film Awards 2002, where Compston, 18, won most promising newcomer for his role in the acclaimed Ken Loach movie, Sweet Sixteen. (He plays Liam, the beleaguered hero.) The gritty, bitter-sweet portrayal is astonishing from one who has never acted before.

Happy as I am for the teenager, none of this makes my task any easier. ''He's just not in the country and everyone is after him,'' was the cry. Then followed a bout of flu. ''He's not well,'' clucked a press lady, ''Very wobbly. He's spending a few days in bed.''

Just on the point of no return came a precious window of opportunity. Compston was heading to Los Angeles the next day but could squeeze us in for an hour in his home town, where Sweet Sixteen

is set.

Driving out to Greenock that rainy day gave me time to ponder the contrast to Compston's life only a year ago, when his movie fame was at embryonic stage. The then unknown slip of a lad could be interviewed at length, popped in a photographer's car, driven around to suitable locations, and snapped in all manner of undignified poses. Now he has morphed into such hot property that the photographer and I sweat on realising we may be late for our time slot. Solid sheets of rain turn the journey through Greenock town centre into hide and seek as we peer in vain for the planned meeting place. All seems lost when we somehow, effortlessly, slide further from our goal and into the equally grey Gourock. However, after a U-turn the correct pub sign looms in the windshield.

Shoving open the heavy wooden doors of the bar it is initially impossible to pick Compston out. Several young men dotted around could be him, sitting on their own, waiting for friends or reading the paper. They all have closely-shorn dark hair and are all wearing sports gear. Suddenly, one of them jumps up. Not very star-like, but a nice looking, well-scrubbed boy is how your mum would probably describe him. He is slimly built and wearing a white tracksuit and trainers and smiles as he introduces himself.

As we sit down two characters lounging on the seats behind us take notice: ''Oi, Martin how about an autograph, man?'' This is normal for him now. Since Sweet Sixteen was shown in Inverclyde with a 15 certificate rather than an 18 - thanks to a controversial ruling by the district council - there is barely an inhabitant who cannot place him.

''Aye, people know me now, but so far most have been OK. I know the danger is that they get sick of you. I don't want folk saying 'Oh God, there's that wee guy again', but so far so good.''

He leans forward, gaze fixed on me, and says: ''This being Greenock you can't become big-headed about anything. You know those giant film posters you get? Well, someone painted a huge willie on to one with my face on it.'' He covers his eyes and writhes about on his seat in mock horror. ''Imagine walking past that with your mum. Down to earth with a bang.''

His smile widens when asked how he enjoys fame - not to mention numerous awards ceremonies. Next to the pleasure of meeting one of his acting heros, Ewan McGregor, his voice lowers when he says: 'You should see the healthy birds at those dos (rolling his eyes to heaven) - totally gorgeous.'' More jokes follow about being placed only fourth in a recent poll of Scotland's most eligible bachelors. ''Prince William beat me - can you believe it?''

To Compston, McGregor is a great actor who not only has the scope to cover big-budget films such as Star Wars, but fits in smaller independent projects. ''Ewan is great, he's a cool guy. To achieve that kind of success would be amazing to me. He's a Trainspotting legend and even winched Nicole Kidman. How much better does it get? Following in his footsteps would be no bad thing.''

He nods seriously when reminded that many young actors have, despite a promising start, never made the Hollywood A-list as predicted. Iain Robertson, praised for his role in the Glasgow gangland movie Small Faces, has yet to meet his potential; Joe McFadden who shone in the BBC production The Crow Road fared better, but has found most acclaim for stage work. Then there was the boy who showed great promise in the 1969 Loach classic, Kes, who disappeared into obscurity soon afterwards.

''It's a tough world, and having a talent obviously doesn't mean you're guaranteed to make it, but all I can do is work hard. I have some good people behind me, which helps. Ken is a great adviser, and I'm being taken out to America by my management. I've just finished TV work, including the BBC drama Rockface, so I've been kept busy, but yeah, I'd do anything. From an 007 blockbuster to something small.''

He shrugs off any suggestion he has incredible raw talent. As a young footballer he went along to the Sweet Sixteen audition for ''a laugh'' with some mates, running outside into the fresh air at first as nerves got to him. ''I felt sick, but when it came to the point I didn't think about it too much,'' he says. ''If the script says act happy I act happy. If I've to be sad I do that too.''

He sits back when BBC soap River City is mentioned, deciding not to give an opinion on the show so far, only saying carefully: ''I think people have to give it time, but I wouldn't appear in it. I don't watch soaps. I'm not a soap kind of guy.''

His family, who he mentions a lot, are the people he credits for keeping him far from the grim drugs world explored in his first acting role. Compston still lives with his parents, Liz and Jim, at the family home. His elder brother, Barry (he works for a mobile phone company and can advise me on great deals, Compston laughs) has moved out, but keeps in close touch.

Meanwhile, the young movie star is doing pretty typical teenage things such as pretending to clean his bedroom, having his breakfast made for him by his doting mum, going to watch his beloved Celtic play, and enduring the odd telling off from his father. ''He's the boss,'' he shrugs. They have kept him on a straight path - making sure he got four Highers under his belt.

His pursuit of an acting career has, however, meant a huge sacrifice for the once promising Morton

player and he's now swapped his studded boots for scripts. ''Football is my hobby now instead of my job,'' he says rather wistfully. ''I've got a place with Greenock Juniors and they fit me in when they can. I feel good when I've been playing. When I saw others getting into drugs I was never tempted. Football kept me clean - even when I saw folk my age with money and flash cars from selling the stuff I knew it wasn't for me. The game was always more important.'' He squints at the rain battering off the window beside him. ''I'd be out in that if I had football training on. A blizzard wouldn't stop me.''

Meanwhile, the momentum

created by Sweet Sixteen continues. As well as the most promising newcomer plaudit, Compston has won Young Actor of the Year at the

McEwan's Scottish People's Film Festival and has just been nominated in the European Film Academy awards for actor of the year and best actor (people's choice). He is a guest this week at the American Film Institute Film Festival in Los Angeles for three screenings of Sweet

Sixteen, and when he returns will barely have time to catch his breath before jetting off to Japan.

Oh, and then there are the Scottish Bafta new talent awards, where he has been nominated for most promising performance in a film. He is, he happily admits, loving every second of it.

''I take my mum and dad to the fancy parties. It's a great time for us. Last year I was a footballer, now I'm sitting next to Michael Douglas at events. It's crazy, man.''

He suddenly hauls a crumpled bit of paper from his tracksuit top, studying his timetable. He's already done two interviews and must leave if he's not to be late for the next. We wander outside into the deluge and to my horror I find myself holding the umbrella carefully over his head in case he catches flu again.

Before splashing off into the greyness he turns round: ''Me and a friend were thinking about what we've achieved in life so far. My pal said 'You've made a film, Martin, and he's right. If I do nothing else I can say I starred in a Ken Loach movie. That's a hard one to top.'' Then he is gone.

we ought to be in pictures

Despite being a relatively small country, Scotland has produced a wealth of acting talent over the years. Two of the country's most obvious big names are Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle.

McGregor had initially been noticed for his television work, but the film which made him a global star was Danny Boyle's Trainspotting. Carlyle was also loved for his television roles, notably Hamish Macbeth, before his part as the evil

Begbie in Trainspotting caused waves in America.

Meanwhile, Harry Potter has Robbie Coltrane and The Mummy Returns features John Hannah. The Lord of the Rings saw Scot Billy Boyd play the Hobbit, Pippin. Some younger Scots stars who had a promising start to their careers but have as yet to reach A-list status include Iain Roberston who, aged 13, was a hit seven years ago in the violent

gangland film Small Faces, and Joe McFadden, also in Small Faces and more recently in television's

The Crow Road, was thought to

be a potential big screen heartthrob, but has been noticed so far more for his stage work and television projects. Actress Laura Fraser,

who also made her debut in

Small Faces, was said to have the potential to be a screen beauty to rival Julia Roberts. She has secured some roles in films including A Knight's Tale.

Scots actress Dee Hepburn became an overnight UK star in the film Gregory's Girl with John Gordon Sinclair, but never managed to break into international films.