In danger of being typecast after being 'discovered' by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, the Glaswegian has returned to Scotland to prove he really can act. Here, he tells Brian Pendreigh how a near-fatal stabbing changed

his life forever

Tommy Flanagan

The name Tommy Flanagan hardly ranks alongside those of Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle at the forefront of the ScotPack of new film stars. But the features will be immediately familiar. A scar that runs across his face from ear to ear has helped secure roles as heavies in a string of Hollywood movies beginning with Braveheart.

After three years in Hollywood, the 34-year-old Glaswegian has returned to Scotland and gets the chance to prove he can act without the aid of a gun or a sword in Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay's acclaimed feature film about a boy growing up in Glasgow in the seventies.

It is Flanagan's biggest role and marks the beginning of a new chapter in his career. ''I'm proud of what I did and I'm proud of the movie,'' he told me shortly after seeing the film for the first time when it opened the Edinburgh Film Festival. ''It's very moving.''

In Braveheart, Flanagan was the bridegroom whose wife is defiled by the local lord on their wedding day. He joins forces with William Wallace and exacts a violent revenge. Mel Gibson was so impressed he expanded Flanagan's role and he has subsequently played a Russian gangster in The Saint, Nicolas Cage's henchman in Face/Off and a psycho taxi-driver in the weird Michael Douglas thriller The Game.

Although Flanagan has been appearing alongside Hollywood's leading stars, there was little interest from British film-makers before Ratcatcher and he looked in danger of being caught in the trap of typecasting.

''I think it's about time somebody recast him,'' says Ramsay, ''not in the kind of gangster role.'' For the part of George, the father in Ratcatcher, it was not going to be enough to stand around and look mean. Flanagan had to suggest a character who was capable of risking his life to save a boy from drowning in one scene and attack his wife in the next.

It was a part to which Flanagan could readily relate. ''It kind of came from a character that I knew - my father, who deserted my mother when I was a kid . . . I just read it and I was thinking 'I know this guy, I know this guy'.''

Unlike Flanagan's father, George sticks around, even though he spends most of his time dozing in front of the telly. ''That was the only difference: George stuck by his family whereas my father f***ed off and left my mother with five kids in Easterhouse . . . George is just an alcoholic, soft, stupid man. When he beat his wife, it broke his heart. I know it broke my heart. He did his best, but it wasn't good enough.''

Flanagan was the middle of five children growing up in one of the toughest parts of Glasgow. Asked if he ever got into trouble as a kid, he replies: ''No, yeah, a little bit.'' He credits his mother Betty's tight rein for the fact that he never got into serious bother.

After leaving school he worked as a painter and decorator and had a night-time job as a disc jockey. ''I had this kind of character, I was just kind of confident,'' he says. Then one incident totally changed his life. ''I came out of the pub one night . . . I was attacked. They tried to mug me for my jacket and my record boxes, and I said no, and one guy jumped on my back, slashed my face, stabbed me, cut me to bits. I nearly died.''

When he saw his face in the mirror he burst into tears and felt he could not return to his old life. Close friends included Robert Carlyle and Carlyle's long-time girlfriend Caroline Paterson (Ruth from EastEnders) and they suggested a new career for him.

''I came out of intensive care and then I went to visit Bobby and Caroline. They said to me: 'Why don't you get into acting, Tommy?' and I was like: 'No, it's not for me, it's not for me.' Then I thought: 'Yeah why not, I'll give it a go.' And the next minute I was on a stage doing Conquest of the South Pole.''

He acted in their Raindog Theatre Company for three years before Mel Gibson gave him his big film break. His distinctive looks brought him steady employment in roles requiring immediate menace. ''It was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me,'' says Flanagan, gesturing once more towards his face.

He has occasionally found people intimidated by him. ''It's not the guy with the scar, it's the guy who gave the guy the scar that you should worry about,'' he says. In conversation there is little menace about him, just a hyper energy and occasional uncertainty, about basic questions like his age and marital status, which remind me of Spud's job interview in Trainspotting. ''I'm a total pacifist, I haven't got an aggressive bone in my body.''

Nevertheless, he admits he would have liked to play one of the gladiators in Ridley Scott's forthcoming sword-and-sandal blockbuster Gladiator instead of Russell Crowe's sidekick. ''I got there and the guys are all about that size,'' he says with a suitably expansive gesture. ''Big skinny Flanagan turns up and goes 'Oh that's why I can't play a gladiator'.''

He has also completed work on the 20th Century Fox film Sunset Strip, with Anna Friel and Jared Leto. ''I play this seventies rock'n'roll star, which was a leading role. And so I've had chances to actually do some acting rather than stand like a dumb-dumb with a gun going 'Da-ah'.''

The Ratcatcher premiere signalled a permanent move back to Scotland (and seemingly the end of his marriage). ''I keep hearing about all these jobs that people want me for over here, but they think if I'm LA-based I'm not going to fly over and stuff like that.

Ironically, however, one of his first roles back in Scotland is as another gangster in Peter Capaldi's Strictly Sinatra, which is currently shooting in Glasgow. Ian Hart plays a singer who falls in with local gangsters in the hope they will make him a star and Flanagan is one of crime boss Brian Cox's henchmen.

''I missed the rain and the misery, honestly I really did. I wanted to get wet and just be miserable. I'm not saying Scotland's miserable but you know when it rains and you walk about and it's drizzling and stuff - I love all that. California: every day it's the same thing, sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.''

Flanagan may find the weather duller in Scotland, but the forecast on his career prospects is looking increasingly bright.

Tommy Flanagan is indebted to Caroline Paterson, left, Robert Carlyle, Lynne Ramsay, and Mel Gibson for pushing him in the right direction

The Flanagan fan club