There aren’t many people who can say that they started a degree in I.T., went on an American road-trip to Vegas and came back with plans to be an actor (and a successful one at that). Richard Rankin, however, is the one man who can. Having toyed with music and art as a youth, the Scottish-born actor had a creative shaped void he needed to fill and his chance encounter with some industry folk in the states planted the exact seed that Rankin knew he had to sew. Fast-forward 10 years and a quick Google search will tell you that Rankin is a highly successful television, film and theatre actor with TV credits that include parts in The Crimson Field, Burnistoun, The Syndicate and Silent Witness. Alongside this, Rankin has a lead part in Robert Florence’s low-budget horror film The House of Him and a supporting-role in forthcoming chef-lead comedy Adam Jones, alongside Bradley Cooper, under his belt. Impressive, right? With another BBC drama – From Darkness – set to be released this year, we grab a coffee with one of Scotland’s most charming gents to talk about his career trajectory and his fans, collectively known as The Rank and File.
So Richard, is acting something you’ve always been interested in or was this something that came later in life?
No it’s not something I’ve always been interested in. I mean I’ve always been quite creative and I’ve dabbled in many outlets of creativity to try and fill that hole, I suppose. I’ve also done a bit of singing, when I was younger I wanted to painter and make things. I’ve played the guitar and I’ve played the drums. When I was about 14 or 15 I was going to be in a band.
Were you going to be the singer or the guitarist?
Well I hadn’t learned the guitar then actually, I was only singing, but yeah I was going to be the next big boy band… But obviously that was bit of a deluded dream.
I wanted to be a marine biologist and now I’m a journalist…
It’s funny the changes you go through. I wanted to be an author for a long time. I wanted to write, I spent a lot of time starting on books, getting a chapter in then ditching them. I suppose, when I decided it was time to knuckle down and think about a long term job – one of those jobs that your parents would allow you to have, rather than just whatever you fancy – an actor, a singer or a painter didn’t cut it. I started out working with computers. I’ve always had an interest in computers and technology anyway ,so it was much more a case of thinking I could get paid for it so I started going down that path.
Then for my 21st [birthday] I was taken over to LA and Las Vegas. When I was there I got to speaking to some people in the [acting] industry by chance. I spent a bit of time hanging out with them, it was just myself and my ex there by ourselves, and we just got chatting about the business and I suppose curiosity started to take over. The guy asked if it was something I had ever tried, amateur dramatics, or if I had thought about doing something professionally. He said I had a good look for an actor. I was thinking: “Yeah right whatever, I’m sure you say this to all the Scottish men!” So I didn’t really think that much of it, but I suppose it planted a seed and I caught the bug as they say, the acting bug. Obviously I didn’t know how good of of an actor I would make, if even a decent one at all, so I looked into it. I looked at what was involved in ultimately achieving this goal. I looked into drama school or whatever and enrolled in a course to train as an actor. I auditioned, got in, then trained for a few years and the rest is, as they say, history. I don’t want to say it was destined to be or that it was fate, but someone who subscribes to that might say that it was fated to happen.
Well, to find something later on in life that you didn’t set out to do, that just happens to work so well for you is amazing…
Yeah, it was that creative outlet. As soon as I started I knew that was what I wanted to do. As soon as I started I thought: “This is what I’ve been looking for creatively”. It fulfils me I suppose. Once I started I fell in love with it, every single aspect of it. I developed a real passion to learn the craft and develop myself properly as an actor – rather than just indulging or dabbling in it. I thought: “I’m going to go for this properly and fulfil myself”. I suppose that’s what happened.
So what was your parents’ reaction? I guess “actor” doesn’t sit in that practical bracket you mentioned?
I think my dad’s reaction was simply: “Don’t be stupid”. I don’t think it even registered as a serious thing for him, I think it was more of an over the shoulder comment like: “Yeah, whatever, have you got the kettle on?” That kind of thing. But yeah, they kind got used to the idea and they have supported me in my career ever since. Once they thought I was any good, that is.
So what was the first role you played when you were studying?
It must have been a project at college or something, oh what was it… I think at the end of first year we did A Clockwork Orange, so that would have been the first time they’d seen me act.
Oh that’s an intense one…
Oh yeah, very!
So when you finished studying you started working on a lot of Scottish TV, was that a conscious decision or did you just fall into it?
I suppose I kind of just fell into it, at that stage in your career any work is good work. I think I was fortunate enough to start working professionally when I was in my second year. So I started to build up a CV of television credits before I graduated which was good. When you’re new in the game I think you just take work. Not to discredit the work I did because it was great and I loved it, but I was very fortunate not only to get work, but to get work I loved. Obviously you’re less able to make choices starting off and the thing is, you don’t know when or if you’re even going to work professionally again. Because I know so many good actors who do struggle a lot, that could very easily be me.
It’s a tough old game, you never know where your next job is going to come from. I’ve been speaking to older and more experienced actors and apparently for a lot of actors that’s a fear that doesn’t go away, that dread of finishing a job and thinking you might never work again. But that’s the game, that’s the business. So it’s a funny old game in that respect, something that we put ourselves through, but on the flip side it’s also something that’s incredibly exciting about the industry. You never know where you’re going to be, or what you’re going to be doing next.
So House of Him was quite different to the TV you’ve done, how did you find that?
Well that was brilliant. It was directed by my good friend Robert Florence, who was one of the writers and stars of the series Burnistoun, which I think we did three seasons of. I’ve done a lot of work with Robert and Iain (the co-writer and creator), and before Burnistoun with a TV show called Legit that he’d written that I had a part in. Before that he had a video game series called VideoGaiden, which I absolutely loved because I love my video games – that was one of my first jobs and it was amazing, so we had just become really good friends over the course of all of that and then he told me about House of Him. He said: “I’m going to send you the script, would you be interested?” I had just finished working on The Crimson Field, I didn’t even read it I just said: “Yeah! I’m free on the dates you’ve mentioned, so yeah, go for it, I’ll do it!” I read the script and realised it was no small feat. It was a big leap. I loved the script and he was saying he was going to shoot it with an ultra-low budget and he allowed me all the creative freedom that I wanted and needed to shape the part. Whenever I’m working with him, or that Glagsow team, it’s always great fun. It’s like making things with your mates really and it has a slightly different vibe to it than other jobs that you do professionally. There are no inhibitions or strange barriers you may get elsewhere, it’s just good fun.
Do you find there is less freedom with TV?
Not necessarily, but there can be because a lot of the time people who are not necessarily as creatively hands-on can want everything to be “just so”. They might kind of – I don’t want to say limit you because that’s not particularly true or fair, because each producer I’ve worked with has been great – they might just have their eyes on a much bigger picture, on how everything fits together. Say for example this really large character might not quite fit, they would be the ones down the line to say: “Richard needs to bring it in a bit”. There is less of that when you’re doing a small project, you’re unlimited on what you can do or what you want to do with a part. But it’s not always a good thing to be let loose with a character!
What about The Crimson Field, did you like working on that? Is that something you always thought of being in, period drama?
I love period stuff, I love period drama and I fell in love with that script and I still love that project. Sarah Phelps is a fantastic writer, her characters are beautifully drawn and she’s basically written her characters with a very detailed and rich back story, she puts so much thought and consideration into where the character has been prior to where the story kicks off, she kind of does a detailed biography of the character prior 10 years for example and it’s so insightful and so incredibly useful as an actor to have that as a resource. She was always on hand if you had any questions, but god, that woman really knows how to write drama.
I always find it so amazing how somebody can keep all this detail in their head and know so much about each individual character as if they’re a real person…
She was so passionate about it and it was her baby. You could tell it wasn’t just a job for her. She is so passionate about everything she puts to paper. She had given me a rough indication of where the characters were heading after the first series and honestly some of the story lines for the characters had the hair standing on the back of my neck because they were so beautifully written, or so harrowing. They had such depth to them, so the fact that it didn’t go on for another series was a bit disappointing. Actually, it was heartbreaking.
That must be so sad, when you really fall for a character you’re playing?
Yeah and a story you really want to tell. I mean that’s the kind of politics of it, but the actual experience was amazing I loved working on it from start to finish. I also got to work with some really, really rich talent and some really experienced actors. You know, Hermione Norris and Kevin Doyle – you learn a lot from these people.
Who’s given you the best advice?
I’m not sure I’ve ever really sought out advice as such. I get a lot more from watching these people and their approach to their work and how they go about preparing for a part. They’re all so very different, there’s a wide spectrum of things that highlights to me that there is no one way to act, there is no one method, no one style. They’re all very different, all very dynamic and it’s fascinating to watch how they go about delivering their parts and their characters. That’s an endless resource for me that I find it endlessly fascinating.
And that’s something you can continue to do…
Yeah, because you’re always learning, if you want to be.
I guess it would be lazy to think: “I know everything I need to know”…
Well I’m sure some actors do have the mindset of: “I’ve learned the game, I know what I’m doing, I’m a fully fledged graduate actor and I don’t need to learn from my cast mates”. But I think there’s so much to learn from everyone that you work with.
Definitely. So what about your fan base, do you have any crazy social media stalkers?
I don’t know about crazy fans but I have some beautifully loyal and apparently hard working fans on Twitter. They somehow seem to be constantly there 24 hours a day, monitoring and watching everything, making GIF’s and just constantly promoting me! You’d almost think it was my own management team! They’re called The Rank and File on Twitter, which came from the Crimson Field originally, but yeah, you’d think that was my own PR team. They’re so good, they keep track of absolutely everything that’s going on and they seem to know more than I do!
I love them to pieces and I can’t thank them enough for the hard work that they put in on all forms of social media, I got a Facebook page, Twitter page, even a Tumblr and an Instagram. I mean, it takes a lot of handwork and dedication to keep these things running and they’re always up to date. I was at a polo event last week and the pictures had just been taken, thirteen minutes later they were Tweeting them. How do they get these things? The event hadn’t finished yet, I hadn’t even had dinner!
The power of social media is insane. So, what are you working on next?
Well, I can’t tell you about it because it’s not officially announced yet. The project is officially announced, but the cast aren’t. But I’ve just finished working on BBC drama From Darkness, and that should be coming out some time soon, so there’s that to look forward to. It’s a really well written, dark, gritty drama.
We can’t wait.
Photography: Alex Bramall