The Scottish actor talks to The Glasgow Guardian about ambition and trying new things.
Craig McGinlay was working as a sports scientist when he landed a Haig Whiskey advert in 2014. “I remember working on that advert, when I looked around and Guy Richie was behind the monitor, John Mathieson from Gladiator was behind the camera, there was a helicopter in the air doing an aerial shot of a classic Jaguar driving through the hills of Scotland and I’m standing back looking at it, and I thought as soon as we finish this I’m going to go home, quit my job, and I’m going to move to London and give it [acting] a go.” Four months later he got a call saying he had the role of Sir Percival in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. And now, after a stint in Outlander and a starring role in Bollywood’s Shamshera, he’s about to air as a gladiator in Colosseum.
Working in India, with Sanjay Dutt (“he’s the De Niro of Bollywood, he was like a King when he walked on set”) McGinlay spent hours with a dialect coach everyday in the build up to shooting, as he was going to speak in Hindi for half the scenes: “It’s actually very normal for them to dub actors, but that made me more determined to make sure that I got it.” What stayed with him in particular was the set design. “The city that they built for Shamshera from scratch, it will honestly blow your mind. You felt like you were in a different world.” This was during lockdown, and one of the best parts of his new career is the travel. “You know I was born in Paisley, didn’t have a passport, hadn’t flown abroad, my parents didn’t have passports: never travelled at all.” Though he would have liked to have been classically trained (“it just didn’t seem like an avenue for me way back”), there are some advantages to coming to acting later in life. “From speaking to directors, casting directors, I think they see a rawness in me that is maybe quite real, quite reactive – which is really important – and maybe quite naturalistic.”
Short films were how McGinlay gained experience. “Any advice that I can give to students is that training is really important, but actually just get a phone and film yourself.” Whilst transitioning from sports to acting, McGinlay would work all week, and then shoot a short film on the weekends: “sometimes for no money, sometimes for expenses, sometimes for a soup and a sandwich.” His dream role is the action hero: Bond or Superman. “I think my mum and dad saved up a lot of clothes because I just ran about in a Superman costume all day. I loved Christopher Reeve: the clumsy Clark Kent, that’s the best role. I watched those films again and again, honestly daily, and ran around, jumping off rocks, climbing up trees, thinking that I was a Superhero. That was really the genesis for me getting into film; the whole environment of it, the magic of it.” This has stayed with him even now: “with this industry, I have seen that anything is possible.”
Is he an ambitious person? “Definitely.” McGinlay is a steadfast advocate for giving it a go: for taking baby steps, for chipping away at it. “There’s got to be a moment in your brain when you say, I’m doing it now” (as there was for him, up in the Scottish Highlands). “If there’s something there that you really want to do, whether it’s writing, directing, acting, makeup artist, journalist, you don’t want to have regrets of not trying or it will eat away at you.”