Robert Carlyle never imagined himself playing a Tory prime minister: ‘Who’d have thought it?’

Robert Carlyle never imagined himself playing a Tory prime minister: ‘Who’d have thought it?’

Robert Carlyle has admitted that nobody was more surprised to see the Trainspotting star cast as a Conservative prime minister than him.

The Scottish actor, who recently returned to The Full Monty franchise for the Disney+ spin-off series, stars in Sky’s political drama Cobra: Rebellion as Robert Sutherland, a fictional Tory leader.

Speaking to BBC Scotland’s The Edit, Carlyle, 62, said that he couldn’t be further from his on-screen counterpart.

“It was never on the agenda, was it?” he said. “Getting to play Robert Sutherland - a Conservative prime minister – who’d have thought it?

“The casting director, to send this part to me was brave – because I am not probably what you would imagine to do that but I take it as a compliment and a fantastic challenge for me to play the man.”

Carlyle said that he originally agreed to appear in just one series of the show, which began in 2020. However, he kept coming back to the role, with Cobra: Rebellion now returning for its third outing.

The pplticial thriller also stars Victoria Hamilton, David Haig and Richard Dormer.

Carlyle admitted that he struggled to find working class inspiration for the character, as “it was difficult to find anyone in the Conservative world”.

Carlyle in ‘Cobra: Rebellion' (Sky)
Carlyle in ‘Cobra: Rebellion' (Sky)

“John Smith was the one I thought about,” he said. “Even though he was a Labour man – there was something about him and he was Scottish as well. Something about the way he spoke – I listened to his tone.

“No way I could go in there play Sutherland with my Glasgow accent. So I had to pull that back a bit.”

Carlyle has previously spoken about taking inspiration from the real world for his work. In a 2015 interview with The Independent, The Full Monty star said that, while he wasn’t a Method actor, he did think that actors should “do their research”.

“I went homeless for a while, for [1993 film] Safe; it gives you something extra, a little bit of knowledge you didn’t have,” he said. “I used to do a lot of preparation for roles, but once you reach a certain level of celebrity, you become the observed rather than the observer.

“I’m always looking to be as real as I can as an actor,” he added, before referencing a 2008 film he starred in called Summer. “It was a small, no-budget film with no publicity.

“My character, Shaun [a downtrodden carer for his wheelchair-bound best friend], was not that far removed from me. A lot of people think that’s the easiest thing to do, but I think it’s the hardest thing, to be slightly left of centre of yourself. That’s the guy I could have been.”