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Everything but the boy

Category: Burns News
Article Date: August 15, 2004 | Publication: Scotland on Sunday | Author: Aidan Smith

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IN THE Shanghai Shuffle in Sauchiehall Street, they are partying like it’s 1999 all over again; or it’s the end of the world as we know it; or - even more momentous - it’s the eve of the Glasgow Ferr. But it’s none of these things. It’s a soggy, there-goes-summer, completely unremarkable Tuesday night, the Chinese-and-chantering restaurant is packed, and Kathleen McDermott is, as they say, giving it laldy.

McDermott was choosing a number 43 from the food menu and a number 26 from the karoke menu before she found fame in Morvern Callar, and two years on she’s still doing it. A girl’s gotta work: for her the grub’s free, so are the Vodka Ices, and she gets paid to belt it out for the bussed-in hordes, coax them up to the mike, then restore a semblance of melody to the proceedings with another standard.

A bit of a comedown after that glitzy world premiere and those awards? Not at all. McDermott, 27, who was famously ‘discovered’ in Buchanan Street while shopping in the January sales, knew the acting game would be like this.

She sings well - Anastacia’s ‘Left Outside Alone’, which she says is kind of apt given the current state of her love life - and she looks sensational.

Black skinny-rib top, black micro-mini, black kinky boots, a Diana Rigg-out from The Avengers, topped off with that amazing red hair. And McDermott has some avenging in mind. She’s just written a song for what will be her debut album about her two-timing ex-boyfriend.

She tells me the lot - about how the two women almost came to blows then teamed up to hunt down the love-rat - I feel like her shock therapist. But we’re here to talk about McDermott’s acting, which hasn’t really stopped, so that’s where we’ll begin.

"Morvern Callar was pure brilliant for me but I knew that I had to make a good choice for my next film," she says. "I knew that if I just did any old thing, folk would give me a pure slaggin’."

A date with McDermott is a vernacular spectacular. Pure Glesca, and every eighth word is ‘pure’. There are no actressy affectations, no Soho House gush about wanting to adopt her fellow actors because they’re all just... "so incredibly divine". McDermott doesn’t do coy, or caution.

How about this for candour: "I cannae tell a good script from a bad script." There’s more. After Morvern Callar she suffered a mini crisis of confidence. "I would be, like: ‘What if a director asks me to do something and I don’t know what he means?’ I used to get myself into a pure state."

I tell her it’s difficult to imagine her lacking confidence about anything. "Maybe I’m a better actress than you think," she laughs. "Hey, are you wantin’ that last spring roll?"

It must be strange. You’re not an actress, never dreamed of it, and then suddenly you are one. Suddenly you’re appearing in an arthouse film, directed by Lynn Ramsay, based on the book by Alan Warner and co-starring the serious-about-her-craft Samantha Morton. And suddenly your face - hitherto only known to your family, your mates, your regulars at the barber’s, the karaoke crowd - is everywhere.

Then, after you’ve been in a hit movie and won a Scottish Bafta and the fuss has finally died down, you’re left to your own devices. There’s an expectation about you, but one film doesn’t make you the finished article. How far can you get on raw promise?

"Straight after Morvern Callar, the very next audition, I got a part in The Flying Scotsman [the screen biopic of champion cyclist Graeme Obree]. But then the guy financing it went and died. Gutted!

"Then I started to get a bit panicky. Loads and loads of scripts came in but I’m no reader. Some of them were just mad. There was one where people were getting half their heads blown off and still fighting back." A zombie movie? They’re big right now, I say, but she didn’t fancy it.

In the end, she’s rejected horrific flesh wounds for Burns. Plans for a £5m movie about Oor Rabbie were unveiled at the Cannes Filmfest. Gerard Butler plays the lead, Brian Cox-co-stars and McDermott will adopt a Fife accent for the role of the Bard’s lover, Jenny Clow. She thinks Burns will be worth the wait. "I’ve taken my time and I think I’ve made a good choice. I’m dead excited about it."

BEFORE THEN, McDermott is returning to the scene of her big night out. The Edinburgh Filmfest is screening two features which, although shorts, still proved a test - of range as much as anything. In Milk, she’s Brenda Fricker’s teenage granddaughter; in Baldy McBain a primary teacher.

She’s been learning more about acting at a drama workshop in Ireland called Moonstone. "It’s young actors trying out stuff with new directors - Sharon Corr of The Corrs is getting into acting and she was there too - and I went to get more experience. I had to do a lesbian scene! I want to be aware of all the things that happen when you’re on a film set, and I want that to show in my acting."

McDermott may lack experience of the ‘show’ but she’s already pretty sussed about the ‘business’. "After Morvern Callar, a lot of folk were surprised when I said I wanted to get my own barber’s shop. The crew were going, ‘But Kathleen, you’ve just made a film’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’" She hasn’t got the shop yet but she did buy her own house, in Glasgow’s Craigend. "Shellsuit Bob from River City has just moved in to my street. He’s just like he is on the telly."

And so we come to her singing. She likens her style to Pink and Gwen Stefani, and the album’s already half done. Scots choonsmiths Bobby Bluebell and John McLaughlin are writing most of the songs, although McDermott surprised herself when she came up with the lyrics for one of them. "You could say I was inspired," she says, with a wry smile.

Her two-year relationship ended a couple of months back when another woman revealed she’d been seeing the same boyfriend for three-and-a-half years. McDermott laughs when she recounts the story, although at the time she was hurt by the betrayal.

"One day, after dropping Stephen off, I realised I was being followed. This car drove alongside me on the motorway and I’m like ‘Hello?’ at the woman. I cut off and she’s still following me, all the way home. I thought she was going to batter me - I had my keys sticking out of my fist.

"I said to her, ‘Who are you?’ She said, ‘I’m Sarah, Stephen’s girlfriend.’ I thought, ‘No, this can’t be happening.’ So the two of us went round to his place and when he saw us side by side in the doorway he turned pure white.

"I never suspected he’d been cheating and neither did she. We live at opposite ends of the city and he kept us apart by using different mobiles. That’s pure Posh & Becks!

"He was with me in London at an awards night when she phoned and he got his story wrong, and now I know why he never wanted to be photographed with me when we went to premieres.

"What a fanny I was! I got all his clothes and ripped them up and flung them into the street. It’s like some bad late-night Channel 5 movie, is it no’? Well, I don’t know if it’s a film but it’s definitely a song. I was pure chuffed when I finished writing it, I didn’t think I could do that.

"It’s not real nasty like those rappers’ revenge songs, it’s just about what this guy did to me. I trusted him and he let me down. But I’ve got over it now and I’m moving on."

And she is, the pure sexy gallus charmer.


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