Once Upon a Time star Robert Carlyle was too busy shooting the ABC fairy-tale series to make it to his own Sundance premiere, but he says making those kinds of commitments as an actor probably saved his life long ago.
California Solo, his new movie about the downfall of a rock’n’roller who already thought he was at bottom, is the character study of a man who never committed to anything, and finds himself reflecting on a life full of broken pieces.
“I was in a band when I was 16, and I’m so glad it didn’t actually follow through with that because I would have been f–ked,” Carlyle told EW.
The 50-year-old Scotsman swung into Park City, Utah, for only a few hours the day before California Solo’s premiere, and sat down with Entertainment Weekly for a preview chat.
EW: How would you have been “f–ked” if you’d stayed on as a musician?
Robert Carlyle: With the acting world, I need to keep my discipline. I need to be ready to work in the morning, getting up at 6:30 for the next four or five months. So if I’m given it that [mimes drinking] and a little of that [mimes snorting] … that’s not going to happen.
In what state do we find your character at the beginning of California Solo?
There’s a line in the film I really like. He’s asked how he’s doing, and he says, ‘I’m comfortably numb.’ I think that’s perfect. It sums Lachlan up. When you join the story, that’s exactly where he is.
So what does that mean for him?
He can’t, at this point, confront his past, can’t face the past. All he has is his farm, and a podcast he does at night where he talks about the deaths of the great musicians of the world.
Was he once a big shot? On the level of a Pink Floyd?
He wasn’t that big. Imagine a band like Stone Roses, or something like The Charlatans. He was a guitarist in one of those types of bands. And he was ultimately responsible for the death of his brother, which kills the band – which kills everything.
The brother’s the talent?
Yeah, and it’s drugs that lead to his death. [Lachlan] then basically withdraws from the world. Not only can he not face going home, and facing his parents, but he can’t face the fans. The fans want to f–king kill him because of what he’s done. But he’s happy where he is. He can sit, drink, do his wee podcast, and everything’s fine.
Then he gets busted for drinking …
Then a DUI happens, and everything goes tits up. He’s forced to confront the past, confront his demons. He realizes what he’s done, what happened in his life. There’s a question: Is he going to be able to stay, is he going to have to leave? Is he going to get kicked out of the country now?
Do you see it as a redemption story or a story about descent?
[Long pause.] I think it’s more about descent than anything else, to be honest with you. It’s one of these kind of scripts I love. There are no happy endings. Those Hollywood endings don’t always happen in real life.
The title of the movie is about his solitude, right? But it’s also title of his solo album.
Yeah, after the band broke up, after his brother died, he had one solo album. I think it gets to No. 96 on the billboard charts, or something like that. [Laughs.] At least he was on there!
You mentioned playing music as a kid. Did you have to relearn that for this movie?
I play a guitar, just bits and bobs. Most of my friends back home can. The Gallagher brothers [formerly of Oasis], are friends of mine. [The movie] attracted me because of that. To understand these people, and understand that world, understand that life.
You said you would’ve lost control if you were a musician instead of an actor.
I wouldn’t want to be … I was having a conversation with Noel Gallagher, as an actual fact. I said, ‘You boys can [party hard] and get away with it. You can do a performance and throw it away. You can do a whole f–king tour and say, ‘Well, that was a s–t tour. But if I do that – I’m finished. In a sense, I’m so grateful for that. I wasn’t able to [lose control.]
How did you feel about performing in the movie?
I do play the guitar in the movie and I do sing as well. You see a little bit of that. I enjoyed opening my mouth and singing for the first time in years.
Sounds like you won’t be leaving Rumpelstilstkin to go on the road, though.
[Laughs.] No, for me it’s just Once Upon a Time. It’s going crazy. I’m very, very pleased, and I said to my fellow cast that way back in the past I had a lot of big successes, a lot of big films [such as Trainspotting, The World Is Not Enough, and The Full Monty.] But I didn’t even think about it at the time. You know, move on, move on, move on. Now – I’m enjoying this.