ASK Brian McCardie what acting role he gets recognised for most and he sums up the notoriety of his on-screen personas with a pitch-perfect comic reply: “Probably Crimewatch.”

Over the years, the Bellshill-born star has carved a successful career playing TV and film baddies, the kind of bone-chilling and terrifying characters who haunt your nightmares long after you have finished watching. 

They include organised crime group “OCG” supremo Tommy Hunter in the hit series Line of Duty and merciless bully Jackson Jones in Jimmy McGovern’s searingly bleak prison drama, Time.

Then there was McCardie’s portrayal of crass and belligerent Edinburgh police detective Dougie Gillman in the 2013 movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth, a part described as making Begbie from Trainspotting “look like a Disney character”.

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Yet, off-screen the 58-year-old actor craves a life that is much more sedate and low-key. “I guess I’m quite boring,” he says. “I like to go to work, do my best and come home.”

Home these days is Bute where, in his down time, McCardie enjoys photography, writing poetry and being among nature.

A smile creeps into his voice. “I see seals and otters and dolphins and occasional nuclear submarines,” he laughs. “But, because I know nothing about nature, I just decided I would name all the birds myself. Whatever name comes to mind, that is what they are.

“I’m like the antithesis of David Attenborough. You can’t rely on a single thing I say. I’ll go, ‘See that up there? That’s a bald-headed black eagle …’ And it will be a crow or maybe a buzzard. But I don’t care. That is one of the ways I amuse myself. 

“Bute is a beautiful place. I love it here. I’m happy being quiet. It seems to have a microclimate. And you can see the stars much more clearly than in a city. I know nothing about star constellations, but I have an app that does.”

McCardie is a gregarious interviewee. In his own words he could “gibber for Scotland”, although that is to perhaps do himself a disservice. His answers are typically thoughtful and candid. He is also great fun to chat with, possessing a razor-sharp sense of humour. 

The Herald: Conor McCarron, Shannon Allan and Billy Howe in Dog DaysConor McCarron, Shannon Allan and Billy Howe in Dog Days (Image: free)

As we begin our conversation, McCardie puts me on speaker phone and wants to check that I can hear him OK. “It’s like f****** Star Trek,” he quips.

Back in March when we talk, the focus is a project dear to his heart. Dog Days, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival and is set to air on BBC Scotland this week, is the first full-length drama by Scottish writer and director James Price, dubbed “the Springburn Scorsese”.

Set in Dundee, the poignant storyline follows a homeless busker “battling the odds to get his life back on track and be allowed to see his young daughter again”. 

Its impressive cast features McCardie alongside Conor McCarron, who previously starred in Neds, Scottish Mussel and Calibre. The line-up also includes Lois Chimimba (Vigil, Trust Me) and emerging talent Shannon Allan (who McCardie likens to Kate Dickie). 

McCardie’s character, true to form, is a wrong ‘un. “The fella I’m playing is a street entrepreneur – a pimp and a drug dealer,” he says. “He will commit extortion and blackmail. He is someone who lives on his wits and will take no challenge whatsoever to his dominance.”

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Dog Days was incredibly special to work on, says McCardie. “The thing about James is that he directs actors by giving them the feeling that although he is the captain of the ship, they are the acting experts in the room.

“Very much like Martin Scorsese’s direction, he emphasises that the lines he has written are a blueprint and it is absolutely fine if you deviate from those lines, as long as you retain the meaning. 

“What is so smart about that is the actors take ownership of their own little piece of the puzzle. There is an added responsibility to give him the very best ideas you can come up with. 

“It so happens that James is a very good writer, which means that 95 per cent of the time you are just saying his lines anyway, but the mental trick is in the responsibility and illusion of freedom. He is very clever like that.”

This was the third time McCardie and Price had worked together. They previously teamed up on the Scottish Bafta-nominated short, Dropping Off Michael, and a music video for Zopa, the indie-rock band co-founded by US actor Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos.

McCardie is certainly a busy man. This year alone, he has appeared in a quartet of big-name ITV dramas: Six Four, The Tower, Irvine Welsh’s Crime and The Long Shadow. 

He is also in the BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, due to arrive on our screens soon, and the upcoming movie Damaged, an action thriller starring Samuel L Jackson, Kate Dickie and John Hannah. 

When we speak, McCardie is apologetically tight-lipped on these projects. “It’s not like James Bond/Star Wars-type secrecy – I just don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he says.

To date, his journey as an actor has seen two distinct acts. There was a time in the mid-1990s to early 2000s when McCardie popped up in a stream of Hollywood films. 

He enjoyed fame on both sides of the Atlantic in Rob Roy as Alasdair, younger brother to the titular character played by Liam Neeson. Then came roles in the likes of The Ghost and the Darkness, Speed 2: Cruise Control and 200 Cigarettes. 

But something didn’t sit right with McCardie. He brings this up when asked about any regrets during his career. 

“This was 20 or 25 years ago, but I was on a path where I had done five Hollywood films in four years,” he recalls. “And then I just walked away from the industry altogether for maybe five or six years. I fired my agent so that I was uncontactable and left the industry altogether. 

“I’m not sure if I regret it or not because I did it for the right reasons, I believed at the time. If you look back over a life, you think, ‘Well Brian, financially that was insane …’ But it was the right decision for me.”

Did he simply need a break? “No, it was more to do with the fact I found it quite sordid and Machiavellian and I was getting put under pressure to sculpt myself into some type of person who was nothing like me. 

“I think my representatives at the time were trying to put me into a box. You know, have a six-pack and be well-built with a chiselled jawline. Be some kind of prototype, young actor. And I had no interest in playing an idealised version of people. 

“So, that was it. To an outside observer, they would say I was crazy. It was definitely the right thing to do because I was in serious danger of becoming someone that I wouldn’t be able to live with.”

Did he fear losing himself? McCardie makes no bones about his feelings on the subject. “I was turning into a w***** and I didn’t like that.”

McCardie believes that the TV and film industry is a healthier and happier place now than when he was first starting out, crediting many of these changes to the next generation of acting talent coming through the ranks. 

“Since #MeToo reared its ugly head, the consequences of that – and it is the younger generation who are driving it – is they will not accept being infantilised or silenced. They don’t even comprehend the concept.

“When I was younger, if you were to stand up for yourself or made a complaint about abuse from a director or whatever, you were kind of unofficially blacklisted. But the younger generation, the first thing they do is form a WhatsApp group and they all have each other’s backs. 

“It is hard to blacklist a whole cast. Therefore, the vast majority of employers who are decent, they now get problems flagged up to them in a way that doesn’t bring a crisis. That way of working just seems more respectful of everyone involved.”

It’s a refreshing standpoint because often young people today are dismissed as being clueless about how the world works. “Oh no, it is the exact opposite – I’m so impressed,” says McCardie. “They are endlessly well informed. They know who they are and what they want. They know what is acceptable and unacceptable.

“If there are things that are maybe new to me that are from that generation, they don’t treat me like a fool or someone who is out of touch. They very plainly and openly explain whatever the thinking is, and I think it is great. I really enjoy working with the generation who are coming up after me.” 
Dog Days is on BBC Scotland, Wednesday, 10.30pm. Also available on BBC iPlayer