STEPHEN McCole will be gracing our TV screens a fair bit this autumn. Hot on the heels of his role in twisting thriller Vigil, the Glasgow-born actor is among the cast for the latest instalment of murder-mystery drama Shetland, newly returned to BBC One for a sixth series.

The latter sees McCole play brooding war veteran Logan Creggan who (if you haven’t watched the opening episode yet, beware; some mild spoilers will follow …) finds himself in the frame as a potential suspect when a prominent local figure is shot dead.

Our intrepid crime-fighting trio of Perez, Tosh and Sandy – played by Douglas Henshall, Alison O’Donnell and Steven Robertson respectively – have their work cut out.

Who is Logan Creggan? It is a question on the lips of many Shetland viewers and McCole, 47, is keeping his cards close to his chest. “His time in the army has left him scarred,” he says. “He is a troubled man and a very dangerous man. He is trying to find happiness but failing miserably.”

Is it fair to surmise that Creggan and the murder victim had an unresolved beef? “They know each other from when they were young,” he confirms. “There is history there.” McCole breaks off laughing. “It is hard to know how much I can say but yes, they did know each other, and the victim had an opportunity in the past to help Logan but decided not to.”

HeraldScotland: Stephen McCole as Logan Creggan in Shetland. Picture: Mark Mainz/ITV Studios/BBCStephen McCole as Logan Creggan in Shetland. Picture: Mark Mainz/ITV Studios/BBC

Testament to Shetland’s popularity as a TV series is its ability to consistently deliver storylines centred on thought-provoking and weighty subject matter. In the opening episode, we learned that Logan Creggan served in Iraq. A conversation with Perez touches on historic crimes against POWs.

Is that something we might see explored in more detail? “The things he has seen and done while a soldier have affected him,” says McCole. “It has made him the man he is. We will be touching on that and finding out who Logan Creggan really is.”

Among the many joys of filming Shetland, he says, was being reunited with Douglas Henshall who McCole starred alongside in the seminal 1998 film Orphans, written and directed by Peter Mullan, about four Glaswegian siblings dealing with the emotional fallout of their mother’s death.

“It was great,” he says, of their reunion. “It was effortless. It was exactly the same as all those years ago when we did Orphans. Dougie has always been someone that I look up to as an actor. That hasn’t changed 25 years later.”

HeraldScotland: Douglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in the 1998 film OrphansDouglas Henshall and Stephen McCole in the 1998 film Orphans

McCole, whose past roles include The Crow Road, High Times, River City and Rushmore, spent almost three months shooting Shetland. Did he get a chance to do much exploring around the islands?

“I was lucky enough that I had about five days to myself,” he says. “I hired a car and drove until I saw a sign that said ‘beach’. Every day I would find a different place. Spiggie Beach was one. We filmed on one of the beaches that I had laid on all day in the sun.”

It was good to be back working, he says, after the uncertainty of the pandemic which saw TV productions shut down and theatres across Scotland go dark.

READ MORE: Succession, Spitting Image, Shetland and more: 25 unmissable TV shows to watch this autumn  

McCole was filming Vigil – the recent BBC drama in which he played shady politician Patrick Cruden – when the first lockdown happened in March 2020. After production was halted, there came a lengthy hiatus.

“It is the longest job I’ve ever had,” he says. “We had filmed four or five weeks and then filming stopped. Nobody knew if it was coming back or what was happening.

“There was that glorious six months as an actor where you knew why you were out of work. Everybody was in the same boat. I feel very fortunate to have had a job before lockdown and then a job to finish as soon as the business opened back up again.”

HeraldScotland: Stephen McCole as Patrick Cruden in BBC thriller Vigil. Picture: Mark Mainz/World Productions/BBCStephen McCole as Patrick Cruden in BBC thriller Vigil. Picture: Mark Mainz/World Productions/BBC

When the cameras did start rolling again, he was raring to go. His co-star Lauren Lyle recently told me that a DIY trim led to a mini continuity crisis which necessitated her wearing hair extensions for her scenes. Did McCole face any similar issues?

“I lost a bit of weight. I got ill during lockdown,” he says. “I had been on a good diet and stopped drinking but when lockdown happened, I thought: ‘F*** it, it’s the end of the world. I am not going to go out eating carrot sticks and drinking orange juice.’

“The weather in the original lockdown, as you will remember, was gorgeous. I would sit out in the back garden. It was drink o’clock and eat whatever you want o’clock for a while.

“Then I noticed I was getting really big and thought: ‘Oh no, I am going to have to start pulling back …’ because I was worried that I would go back onto Vigil and not be able to fit into my costume. Then I got sick, a wee bit ill, and the weight started to fall off me.

READ MORE: Guilt star Mark Bonnar delves into dark secrets as the hit TV series returns

“When I went back to Vigil, my clothes didn’t fit me – they were too big. I had to get a new suit jacket a size down. Since then, I have lost another three or four stone – I look amazing.” McCole laughs to show he is speaking with tongue-firmly-in-cheek. “Well, if I do say so myself,” he deadpans.

Is he feeling back to full health? “With the way the world is at the moment it is difficult to get appointments and answers, but the tests have been done,” says McCole. “I don’t think it is anything too serious. We await the results.

"It is a change of lifestyle and diet that was needed. That is what we are doing now. The weight is staying off and I am feeling good. You can’t say better than that.”

HeraldScotland: Steven Robertson, Alison O'Donnell and Douglas Henshall in BBC Scotland drama Shetland. Picture: Mark Mainz/ITV Studios/BBCSteven Robertson, Alison O'Donnell and Douglas Henshall in BBC Scotland drama Shetland. Picture: Mark Mainz/ITV Studios/BBC

Acting is a vocation McCole clearly thrives on. What sparked that passion? “I am a TV addict. I have been since I was a kid. I think that is why I wanted to be an actor. I love telly. I spend a bloody fortune on all these streaming services.”

The middle of three children, he grew up in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow. His mother and father, now retired, worked respectively in a textile factory and as a railway overhead line engineer.

His elder brother Paul, who co-starred in comedy drama High Times, is a fellow thespian (“an actor, musician, comedian and all-round good-looking b******”), while his younger sister is training to be a nurse (“the actual real superhero of the family”).

McCole is married with three children. He and his wife Emma recently bought a campervan. “A bit of wild swimming. A bit of camping. We have just started doing that this year,” he says.

“It is such a cliche now, isn’t it? With the pandemic and staycations, caravanning and campervans have gone through the roof, but it is something we always talked about doing.”

READ MORE: Murder, mystery and a polarising plot twist as BBC drama Shetland returns 

As an actor, McCole has racked up some diverse projects over the past 25 years. What in his career makes him most proud? “The fact I am still doing it, still enjoying it and I haven’t thrown the towel in,” he says. “It can be the most glorious profession, but it can also be quite soul-destroying.

“It is an unfortunate truth, but you need money to live, and it can be quite hard to make it as an actor – money that is. When I was up in Shetland, I had a realisation on a beach, alone, at 7am, that things were good. Those moments can be worth all the times that you think about chucking it. Choosing to stick with it is probably what I am most proud of.”

Shetland continues on BBC One, Wednesdays, 9pm. Catch up on BBC iPlayer now