“Ask him about AC/DC,” my friend had said when I told him I was about to interview the actor, James Cosmo.

“He’s a massive fan.” It doesn’t seem like an outlandish notion, either and the thought pleases me. If you were to associate him with a musical genre it would surely be high-voltage, no-messing-about rock ‘n roll.

In a career spanning six decades, Cosmo has become one of the most instantly recognisable actors on the planet. His is a face that demands to be remembered. If you were to make a movie in which all the countries of the world are represented by actors, Scotland would have to be played by him.  

And so, we talk about AC/DC, the great Scottish/Australian rock band. “I love them, absolutely love them,” he says. “They have this raw energy about them and you know they’re giving you everything of themselves.”

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I tell him I was in Kirriemuir the other week to write about Bonfest, the annual festival celebrating AC/DC and their legendary front-man, Bon Scott who was born in the Angus town. “Surely, there’s a movie to be made about their lives, including the fact that the two guitarists, Angus Young and his brother, Malcolm were born and raised in Glasgow’s edgy Cranhill district.

“Oh, I’d love to see that happening,” he says. “And when you think of the success of the Queen and Elton John movies, a drama about AC/DC would at least equal that. It would have everything. I’d love to put my support behind it. They’re known around the world.”

His first big break came in 1969 with a part in The Battle of Britain, then considered one of the most expensive movies ever made. And though he was always in-demand for various television dramas requiring an authentic, no-frills presence, his grand entrance into Hollywood stardom came in 1995 with Braveheart.

And yet, that story of Scottish warriors going shield-to-shield with the English crown, eviscerating and decapitating all in their way, immediately led to something more genteel. Cosmo was cast in the part of Mr Weston, the father of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma in Douglas McGrath’s filmed adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. In this world, aggression is conveyed in the upwards trajectory of an arched eyebrow.

The Herald: James Cosmo and Mel Gibson in BraveheartJames Cosmo and Mel Gibson in Braveheart (Image: free)

“I remember on the first day, finding myself in these tights and breeches and I’m looking like an absolute twat. I’m standing outside my caravan smoking a cigarette and contemplating the unpredictable arc of an actor’s career and I look across to Ewan McGregor’s caravan and he’s wearing the same look. I pledged that from then on I’d have a requirement stating: absolutely no tights.”

And then came an incident during the shooting of Emma that cast him in a real-life role in the great drama of the universe. “The premiere of Braveheart was taking place at Stirling Castle and both me and my wife, Annie were very keen to attend. So, I’ve made arrangements to be spared filming on Emma for a couple of days.

“But just as we were preparing to travel north, I’m told they can’t spare me as they’d scheduled a strawberry-picking scene, crucial to the plot. So, I then asked Annie how much it might cost to charter a small, private plane, as she was so looking forward to the Braveheart premiere. It was a conversation I thought a lad like me from up a close in Clydebank would never have. 

“So we flew in this twin-seater and it was fantastic and we meet everyone and Annie’s having a great time too and then head back to our plane at Glasgow Airport. And then the driver’s phone rings. It’s Strathclyde police. ‘We believe you have a plane flying to London. Would you be willing to take a human heart down to London for a transplant? It’s very important.’

“And of course I agreed. Five minutes later, we’ve got two police motorcycle outriders escorting us straight on to the runway and there’s a big yellow case with the human heart sitting between me and Annie. And thus it was that my thespian indulgence resulted maybe in someone who is walking around today because of it.”

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I’ve caught up with Cosmo following the soft launch of his own blended Scotch whisky, Storyman, in partnership with the Annandale distillery. “I love Scotch whisky, although I’m by no means a connoisseur,” he says. “It’s been a dream of mine to create my own blended brand and maybe just hand them out as gifts and tokens of appreciation to family and friends.

“But during filming of Robert the Bruce’s story, Outlaw King in Dumfriesshire I was told about Annandale Distillery and how it had been developed into a real community presence in the heart of Bruce country. It was steeped in history and when I met the team and the master blender their passion for whisky and for the community resonated with me.”

Robert the Bruce and his warrior contemporary William Wallace would have recognised the world created in Game of Thrones, the global television drama phenomenon which spanned the last decade and based on the Story of Fire and Ice literary saga by George R.R. Martin.

Cosmo is one of the actors whose face and presence alone seemed to convey the atmosphere and intensity of the world in which it was set. He played Jeor Mormont, known as the Old Bear (of course), Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. If the part hadn’t existed you sense that Cosmo would have channeled it anyway. 

The Herald: James Cosmo in T2- TrainspottingJames Cosmo in T2- Trainspotting (Image: free)

He’s still trying to process the sheer scale of the show and its impact on the world of television drama. “The producers had absolutely no idea how big Game of Thrones would become,” he says. “After the first season I was having coffee with them. ‘Will we get another season out of this, do you think,’ I asked them. They had no idea. 

“Others had previously approached George Martin to film his books but it was David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) who were able to persuade him, mainly because they had been devotees of the books since their college days and were motivated mainly by a genuine desire to do them justice and be faithful to them.

“It can often be a risky venture to make television or cinema drama from a great book because you’re on a hiding to nothing. Somehow they managed to get all of it on to the screen. It had such a broad appeal: political intrigue; cinematic spectacle; love affairs; raw passion. It was all in there. It was Lord of the Rings and House of Cards enmeshed together and it seemed to speak to the dramas and machinations of the 21st century too. It just seemed to speak directly to people.”

I tell him that for a lot of Scots he seems to embody how we see ourselves in the world and how we hope we’re seen by others: hard, honest, disputatious, fighting to be noticed. And trying to be a force for good. He’s enchanted by the thought. “Look, every nation has its own idea of its own identity. But within that Scotland still stands out. We have great people and we’ve had terrible people.

“But this land of Scotland has produced so many extraordinary people for its size. It’s had such an extraordinary impact on the rest of the world and mainly for the good. I like to think that the tragedy of the clearances became a huge blessing for the rest of the world. These people had such a work ethic and a love of education and innovation and made a massive contribution to the creation of the new world.

“In The US, for instance, almost everyone you meet wants to tell you about their Scottish bloodline. One of the reasons why they’re so keen to broadcast this is because they associate Scottishness with good and positive qualities.”

Later, I call my friend, the one who wanted me to talk about AC/DC with him. “How did it go,” he asks. “He was different class. We chatted for an hour.”

And then I ask him why he’s such a big fan of this actor. “I’m not really,” he says.

“It’s just when you see him popping up in films or dramas you’re compelled to keep watching as he lends authenticity: a sense that you’re in good hands and that it’s a production that knows its business.”