Acting can be murder, says Taggart star John Michie

JOhn Michie
Image caption John Michie has played roles in three of British TV's top shows

In three of British TV's top shows John Michie went from solving murders to committing one and then to saving lives.

The 60-year-old Scottish actor, who was born in Burma and grew up in Kenya, played DI Robbie Ross in STV's detective drama Taggart for 12 years.

He then moved to Britain's biggest soap to play Karl Munro in Coronation Street.

While that character was serving life for murder he has hopped to the BBC to play consultant neurosurgeon Guy Self in Holby City.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Michie (right) starred in Taggart with Blythe Duff and Alex Norton

Michie has also appeared in films and plays, mostly recently in a Winter's Tale at Edinburgh's Lyceum.

Forty years ago he remembers beginning his career as a stage hand at the city's Traverse Theatre, bringing cups of tea to the actors.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Stark Talk that his father was brought up in the Campsie Hills but after World War Two there was no work and he was sent east by his family to get a job in banking.

He went first to India and met Michie's mother, a Lancastrian nurse, in Mumbai.

Michie moved to Kenya when he was three and lived there until he was 12, during the period when the East African nation fought for and won its independence from Britain.

He told Edi Stark: "It was a wonderful life if you were from that minority of Europeans who lived a colonial life.

"I was unaware of what that really meant but I loved it.

"It needed independence obviously but at the time for me as a young white kid it was bliss."

Image caption John Michie plays a neurosurgeon in Holby City

Kenya gained its independence in 1964 and Michie's father stayed for a while but eventually he moved the family back to Scotland, taking a job at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Michie had attended a prep school in England from the age of eight and he was now sent as a boarder to the exclusive Glenalmond private school in the Perthshire countryside, where his father had been a pupil.

'Too rebellious'

Michie says: "Glenalmond was radically different from this forward-thinking hippy-type school in Sussex.

"It was old-fashioned, strict, hardly a woman to be seen and you are kept in that environment until you are young man of 18 - not healthy."

He says he did not begin acting at the remote all-boys school because "as a 13-year-old quite-nice-looking young lad" he would have been made to take the girls' parts.

"I'd have to put on a wig and a dress and I thought there is no way I am doing that to have a load of older boys ogling at me," he says.

"So consequently I did no drama.

"By the time I got to 17 or 18 I was way too rebellious to want to do it anyway."

He says the only things to do at the school were take drugs and pass exams.

His rebellious streak saw him caught smoking marijuana, he says.

"I was desperate to see a bit of the world and have fun so I went off travelling to Australia, ended up herding cattle and picking tobacco and selling paintings.

"Then I went to university to do English and Law but I knew it wasn't for me because I really wanted to be an actor.

"So I jacked it all in and went back to Edinburgh and got a job as a stage hand at the Traverse."

Different story

His career did not take off straight away and it was quite a while before he landed major roles.

From 1998 he spent over a decade on Taggart, a detective series set in Glasgow.

"I'm from Edinburgh but I just love Glasgow," he says.

"Taggart was such a great job because no-one was carrying the whole show.

"It was split between three or four of us and we were on location all over the place, different story every episode and great fun. We all got on famously well."

He says he loved playing DI Ross, an "unpredictable" detective with a liking for a drink and an attractive woman.

Michie, a father of three who has been with his partner for 28 years, says there is an element of himself in every character he plays.

"I didn't get with Carol until I was 31 and I had a lot of lost time to make up for after school," he says.

Carol is a former dancer with the Hot Gossip dance troupe who he met when she was the choreographer on a Walkers crisp advert.

The couple now live in London with their family but from 2011 to 2013 he drew on his mother's Manchester roots when he took on a part in Coronation Street.

He says the soap was the first TV programme he ever saw because his mum, who was from Rochdale, used to watch it.

"It was the weirdest thing," he says.

"A kid from Africa watching the goings-on in the working class back streets of Salford."

Michie played the character of Karl with a Manchester accent, drawing on his experience of his relatives with whom he spent time when he could not go back to Africa in the school holidays.

He says the pain of separation from his parents means he can draw on "deep emotional feelings very quickly".

Very disturbing

Michie, whose nephew Jamie Michie plays Steelshanks in Game of Thrones, says getting into a part should be "dangerous".

He says: "I remember once having to play someone who was bipolar and I went a little bit too far.

"It was in the theatre and I hyperventilated for 20 minutes walking around the theatre.

"I was supposed to have a fit in the show and people don't believe me when I say this but I actually did have a fit on stage.

"It was very disturbing. No-one realised that I had had it for real. They just thought I was overacting, which was kind of ironic."

Stark Talk is on BBC Radio Scotland at 13:30 on Wednesday 10 May.

More on this story

Around the BBC