Robert Carlyle’s TV alter-ego may be hurtling through space into the unknown, but the charming Scottish actor is as grounded as they come.
Seated casually in a San Diego hotel on a hot summer day, the Stargate Universe actor is the very antithesis of the celebrity cliche. Amid the many cloned, plastic Hollywood smiles and rehearsed sound bites at Comic-Con, the pop-culture fan convention held in San Diego in July, Carlyle radiates sincerity and a complete lack of pretension.
Despite his clear fatigue from a long day of interviews, his eyes light up with warmth when he finds out his last interview of the day is with a Canadian journalist.
“I enjoy working with Canadians,” he says in an equally warm Scottish brogue. “You understand Scots, and that makes things a whole lot easier.”
Dressed in a red and black plaid shirt, and sporting a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and long, wispy hair, Carlyle looks a bit like a Canadian lumberjack.
His affable demeanour is in contrast to scheming, Machiavellian scientist, Nicolas Rush, whom he plays on the sci-fi series.
Carlyle’s career has been defined by memorable performances in British cinema — The Full Monty, Trainspotting, Carla’s Song and Dead Fish, to name a few. So Stargate Universe initially found him in uncharted territory: American series television and sci-fi.
His character Rush is part of a crew who find themselves transported to a ship called Destiny, which has been travelling to the outer reaches of space for millions of years via a system of ancient Stargates. With no chance to return home to Earth, the crew have to learn to survive as the ship carries them along on its pre-ordained course.
Or at least everyone thinks that course is set in stone. Carlyle’s Rush seems destined to soon prove otherwise.
“By the time we join the second season, he’s discovered the whereabouts of the bridge on the ship. Not only that, but he’s flying the ship now. He’s steering it. The thing that he can’t do is control the countdown clock (when Destiny dials into a Stargate, taking the ship to a new destination).”
Carlyle says his crewmates will soon discover Rush’s secret.
But Carlyle says the serious tone and dark, complex themes of the series are what initially appealed to him. Before working on Stargate, he was somewhat dismissive of sci-fi, but now describes the limits of the genre as “boundless.”
“Someone once said science fiction is where your subconscious meets your imagination — I f—ing love that,” he says with wide-eyed enthusiasm. “This is what Stargate Universe does, it justifies that comment. . . . It takes you somewhere else.”
As for his character’s eventual fate, Carlyle has his own theory.
“This is my opinion, but I think Rush is looking towards ascension — I think that’s where he’s going. I think he wants to try and learn everything about that ancient world to get to this point of ascension and become immortal.”
One thing is for certain: Rush’s journey will remain just as much of a surprise to Carlyle as it is to fans. On Stargate, he employs acting methods he learned under mentor and director Ken Loach (Riff-Raff, Carla’s Song) — essentially, not reading the rest of a script in advance and figuring out a performance “as you go along.”
“I never thought that you’d be able to apply Ken Loach techniques to high-end American TV, but I’ve managed to do it with this and it’s very simple. I don’t ask what’s going to happen next — I don’t want to know what episode 17 is about, I’m doing number 3 at the moment.
“Acting can be such a flimsy, stupid f—ing thing to be doing, honestly. And you have to kind of base it in some kind of reality, some kind of believability. . . . I can’t be thinking about the fact that he, for example, saves the day in episode 20. It changes the way you behave.
“(Then) the temptation is to play the hero from the very beginning.”
It’s clear that Rush is on a journey, and Carlyle is on a parallel course with him. Now it’s time to see where Destiny takes them both.