Dougray Scott was told he’d never make it as an actor

The acting heavyweight explains why passing up on the chance to be Wolverine doesn't bother him and how he longs for the Argyllshire island of Gigha

I’d already decided I wanted to be an actor by the time I was 16, having finally given up on the pipe dream of becoming a footballer. I’d been in a few school plays and musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, but it was when I was in a play called Suddenly Last Summer that I thought, this is what I want to do. Acting gave me a cover. I was quite introverted as a young teenager so acting was a real release. It gave me a way to channel all these emotions running through me. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I didn’t have a clue. But it felt good.

I had a tough time at school. My headmaster hated me. He sent all these letters to my mum telling her I was the most horrible child, argumentative and destructive, and I’d never amount to anything in my life. He tried to expel me five or six times. I’d like to go back to my younger self at that time and say, stay calm. Don’t worry. Ignore this man. He’s not going to be part of your life for very long. Nothing that happens now will define who you are for the rest of your life.

It doesn’t rankle with me that I was first choice for Wolverine

My dad and my uncle were both in the Glasgow Unity Theatre. My dad fought in the Second World War then got into acting in the Fifties. But he stopped acting after six years and became a fridge salesman. When I told him I wanted to be an actor he was quite happy to encourage me. It was just everyone else who said it wouldn’t happen. Even when I did a foundation course in drama, they told me I’d never be an actor. My teacher advised me to go into stage management if I wanted to work in the theatre. But I felt I was so passionate I’d make it happen eventually. I felt I had an affinity  for it. I didn’t care about being successful or famous, I would have done anything just to get on stage.  And I was bloody minded. Every time someone said no, no, no, no, I’d be thinking yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh.

I had a very good relationship with my dad. He was a really complex guy. He came from a tough
background, Barrhead in Glasgow, but he was a gentle, softly spoken man. He loved to laugh. He had a lot of good friends in Glasgow. I always thought, before he died, at some point you have to go back home and just have a good long talk with him, about what he taught you in life. If I could have the chance to do that now, I’d say to him, you weren’t around for the movies and stuff, but you have no idea the influence you’ve had on me. It was all to do with you. 

My first acting lessons were watching my dad go out to work. No matter how he felt, he had to get to a point where he was palatable to the people he was trying to sell fridge freezers to. He’d get up, start shaving in his vest, then put his shirt on, then his tie, and then it was ‘ta-dah!’ He was getting into character. Then he’d walk into people’s houses and say in a happy voice, “Hello hello hello, how are you today?” And I’d be like – un-fucking-believable. You weren’t feeling like that when you got up today. And he said, “Listen, son – no one wants to buy a fridge from someone who’s depressed.” I often think, he always wanted to be an actor and though the theatre didn’t work out, he did get to be an actor. I was in Australia when he died suddenly. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

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I think the first time I actually thought right, someone else thinks I’ve got something, was when I got the letter saying I’d been accepted into the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. After that I got more confident. But I’ll be brutally honest, I still don’t know what it is I’ve got and if I can really do this well. There’s always an insecurity, every time I get a job. I’m always working hard to make it interesting and believable. When you get a bad review early on in your career, it’s like… ohhh no. As you go on, you learn that it’s always going to be like that – not everyone’s going to love you. I do find it hard to look at my own work, though I do get round to it. But it takes me quite a long time to face up to it. Eventually though, you have to learn to let it go.

If I could go anywhere in the world, I would always go to the Argyllshire coast

It doesn’t rankle with me that I was first choice for Wolverine but couldn’t do it (Mission: Impossible 2 was over-running and ‘Tom Cruise wouldn’t let me do it’). Yeah, the Marvel universe has taken over cinema but listen… I’m still the same actor as I ever was. At the end of the day I think the path I took was the one I was meant to be on. I’m still getting to act, getting lots of opportunities  The Woman in White (upcoming BBC series) is just one. All I ever wanted was to do different things and never repeat myself. Yes, listen, obviously it was a big deal in the industry when I couldn’t do X-Men. But I think Hugh Jackman has done a phenomenal job. If I’d done it, it would have been different. Hand on heart, I don’t begrudge Hugh anything because he’s been terrific. And he’s a really lovely guy. What  happened… that’s just life.

I’m very connected to Scotland. I love it, and I love being Scottish, as everyone who knows me will tell
you. They all say to me, you’re so fucking Scottish. Bloody minded, patriotic… and an unusual combination of a Fifer and a Glaswegian. Fifers are quite inward-looking, unreadable, sometimes silent. I have that, but also the Glaswegian bloody-mindedness of my mum and dad.

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Scott with wife and fellow actor Claire Forlani

To this day my favourite place on earth is around the coast of Argyllshire – Machrihanish, Kintyre, Gigha, Jura. If I could go anywhere in the world, I would always go there. The water is crystal clear, it’s like the Caribbean. The ferry to the island of Gigha is so incredible. You can see all the fish. If I could go back and live any time in my life again, it would be when I was 10, it was a very hot summer, and me and my mum and dad and my sister were on the beach in Gigha. My dad had just bought us all an ice cream. Just being with all my family, in the sun, lying on the beach and the water was warm. I had no worries at all and I just thought, this life is OK. If I could stay here for the rest of my life, I can’t imagine anything would make me happier. 

Dougray Scott stars in The Woman in White, starting on April 22 on BBC One; Dougray is supporting The Water Effect campaign with WaterAid wateraid.org

Main image: Gage Skidmore

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