“He’s so human,” says Dougray Scott quietly. “Dynamic. Vulnerable, tough, ferocious. He's a good man. Flawed, precarious. He's similar to me but he's just completely different. His energy is very different.”
Scott is not describing a friend or former colleague but a character: Detective Ray Lennox, the protagonist of the TV series Crime, a hard-hitting Edinburgh drama adapted by Irvine Welsh from his 2008 novel. Ray Lennox is a troubled man. Well, of course he is – the poor sod was created by Irvine Welsh. Alcoholism, addiction and the perpetual threat of imminent mental breakdown can be taken as read.
At the start of the series, Lennox is sober and just about on top of his demons but I fear the demons are merely waiting for their moment. The murder of a school girl in the opening episode will surely give them a boost.
“He's a bit of a ticking time bomb,” confirms Scott. “He's driven and he's relentless. You get the feeling with Lennox that if he ever stopped moving, he'd kind of run out of oxygen. He always has to be moving and thinking.”
Could you say the same of Scott? Certainly the actor has racked up quite the CV over the past 30-odd years, notable for both its size and eclecticism. There isn’t such a thing as a typical Dougray Scott role, let alone a typical Dougray Scott project. Consider three of his first major film roles: the dashing Prince Henry in Cinderella adaptation Ever After; the treacherous superspy Sean Ambrose in action behemoth Mission Impossible 2; the brilliant codebreaker Tom Jericho in World War Two thriller Enigma.
Hero, villain, heartthrob; blockbuster, romance, period piece. And I’ve not even mentioned the exuberant Welsh crime caper Twin Town (Scott played a policeman); or the asteroid disaster popcorn flick Deep Impact (Scott played a journalist); or Camden Town rom-com This Year’s Love (Scott played an artist). All the aforementioned films were released between 1997-2001, when Scott was in his early 30s. As the man himself tells me: “I always wanted to do different things. And still do to this day.”
We’ll come to his career, and a quite remarkable career it has been. But first let us return to DCI Lennox, who might yet be the role of it. Last year, Scott picked up a Scottish BAFTA and an International Emmy for his performance. “If an actor ever deserved recognition for a part then it’s him for this one” tweeted Welsh after Scott’s Emmy win. “The freaky thing is that we’ve just wrapped on Crime and he’s even better this time around.”
Crime originally screened on Britbox in 2021; the first season and forthcoming second have now relocated to ITVX. Appropriately, I meet Scott at the ITV offices in White City. He’s blazered up, and could be a decade younger than his 57 years. However his voice makes the greatest impression: it’s deep and rich and magnificently Scottish, the voice of whisky bars and tartan.
He worked with Welsh for years to get Crime made. “Irvine gave me the novel years ago and said, do you want to develop this?” recalls Scott. The pair are old friends, both diehard Hibernian fans – when I offer commiserations on the team’s recent poor form, the interview takes a five minute detour into football. “We’ve got the derby this weekend against Hearts at Easter Road,” says Scott with an enthusiasm typically reserved for expensive dental work. “Ah, fuck, man. It's depressing.” (A few days later, Hibs secured a surprise 1-0 win, their first in five matches. Funny old game.)
Once the series was finally commissioned, Scott began shaping his character. He watched true crime documentaries every morning to tap into Lennox’s mindset. Ransacked his past for old acquaintances whose physical mannerisms could be transposed. (Watch for his clenched fists.) “I found him fascinating to play, and exhausting,” says Scott of the troubled detective.
He looks a little uncomfortable when I bring up the awards – I get the impression that self-aggrandisement doesn’t come easily. “It's good for the show,” he says. “It's good for everyone who's involved in developing it.” Where does he keep them? “I just don't even remember where! Tucked away in the library.” Not the bathroom? Scott chuckles. “It's not in the bathroom. It's a bit spiky, that Emmy! You don't wanna sit down on it."
I’ve no idea if you own an Emmy but hit up Google images and you’ll see his point.
Adventures of the glorious Scott
Dougray Scott was born and raised in Fife, the son of Elma, a nurse, and Alan, a travelling refrigerator salesman. Alan and his brother had acted in the Glasgow Unity Theatre in the early 1950s, “this agitprop, left wing theatre company” as Scott describes it. His father gave acting a few years but couldn’t make a living from it. A veteran of World War Two, Alan had a busy life. He also worked as a blacksmith, a copy boy for the Daily Express, and played football for Queens Park – although according to his son, “he was never good enough to become a footballer.” Still, he got a damn sight further than most.
The Scotts weren’t a wealthy family – Dougray grew up in a council house and aged eleven shared a bedroom with his older sisters. Alan would take Dougray to the theatre in Glasgow but the pair never much discussed his previous life as an actor. As a teenager, Dougray discovered Arthur Miller, not on the stage but in the school library. He was immediately transfixed.
“I just suddenly was struck by the power of words and language and how it transcends class, upbringing, country of origin, all these things. I felt transported to this place in New York, Brooklyn in the fifties. I was blown away by the power of his writing.” The play, incidentally, was Death of a Salesman – so Alan Scott can share credit with Arthur Miller for Dougray’s ultimate vocation. (The junior Scott would later play Miller twice, most notably in the 2011 film My Week With Marilyn. “It was really cool playing the guy that had sort of inspired you to become an actor. It was pretty surreal. Wonderful.”)
After Miller’s words had fired Scott’s imagination, his contemporary Tennessee Williams introduced him to the power of performance. Young Dougray played George Holly in a school production of Suddenly, Last Summer. “Probably really badly,” says the older version. “But at least it gave me a test for being someone else and seeing the world through someone else's eyes but connecting it to your own world.”
On stage arrived the epiphany that has struck every actor since the Ancient Greek bard Thespis leapt onto a wooden cart and astounded his audience by pretending to be the characters in the poem he then recited. This is fucking great, thought Dougray, a sentiment presumably shared by the original thespian several thousand years earlier. I can do this.
He didn’t know many actors in Fife. He didn’t know any actors in Fife, other than his father, many years ago, and Alan never made a career from it. “There were a lot of barriers. There was a lot of opposition. But I was determined.” He found a local foundation course aged 17. Then won a place at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, where he received an award for most promising student. I neglect to ask Scott whether he still has that award. If so, he probably doesn’t keep in the bathroom.
His breakout role came on stage in a play called Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. (What a title!) “We did it at the Traverse in Edinburgh. And then it transferred down to the Hampstead Theatre in London. That did really well.” He started landing TV shows – notably a stint in popular ITV series Soldier Soldier – and then a film with Twin Town. That shoot took him back to Wales; his next destination was Hollywood.
Scott had auditioned for Every After in London, and been unequivocally rejected for Prince Henry. “No, no, no, no, he's not right,” is how Scott describes the feedback. “Completely wrong.” (So… it’s a maybe…?) He travelled to America to film Deep Impact. It was a relatively small role in a very big movie but his agent arranged a meeting with Drew Barrymore, already a megastar and attached to play the lead in Ever After.
The pair got on famously. Barrymore requested that Scott be allowed to screentest for Prince Henry. The director informed her that Scott had already been rejected. Barrymore requested that Scott be allowed to screentest for Prince Henry. Scott was allowed to screentest for Prince Henry. “You motherfucker,” said the director after seeing the test.
Ever After was a critical and commercial success. Today, Scott remembers the film with great affection: “such fun” to make and also “an important moment in my career.” Barrymore recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special episode of her eponymous talk show; several of the original cast, including Scott, shared their reminiscences while wearing costumes from the film. You don’t do that unless you care.
Art of the possible
Horsebacking around Renaissance France as a reimagined Prince Charming doesn’t obviously establish one’s credentials to play a dastardly superspy – unless Tom Cruise happens to be watching. Apparently Tom had a private screening of Ever After and immediately identified Scott as the ideal candidate for rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose. Don’t trust me: Emilio Estevez attended the screening at Chez Cruise and later relayed the story to Scott.
“Emilio says, ‘lemme tell you man, I know exactly how you got that part. And I'm like, how did I get the part? And he's like, I was sitting there with Tom, he was screening Ever After. And he saw the movie and he's like, ‘that's the guy I want. He's the guy.”
Scott flew over to meet Cruise and MI2 director John Woo. Naturally, the meeting took place at Tom’s place. “This guy was at the top of the stairs with a baseball captain on. ‘Hey, how are you doing? I’m Tom.’ I'm like, ‘I know who you are!’ And then we hung out.” The pair even shot some pool; Cruise is supposedly a fine player but Scott grew up in the pubs of Fife and duly ran the table. “I thought I might have fucked it up,” he grins.
A relative newcomer to Hollywood, landing such a huge role – surely Scott must have felt a bit of pressure? “I didn't feel any pressure. I had a great time.The pressure was all on Tom because he was the star! Thankfully it did really well. But I just remember having a great time. Loved it.” MI2 became the highest-grossing film of 2000: there’s a reason Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise.
Notoriously, the delayed production of MI2 caused Scott to miss out on playing Wolverine in the first X-Men film. It’s an interesting ‘what if’ but not a particularly nourishing one after 20 years. Maybe, like Hugh Jackman, Scott would still be wedded to the character today; maybe he would have hated the superhero experience and promptly bailed out.
Certainly Scott views his career with equanimity. “It's easy sometimes to look and go, oh I wish I'd done this, I wish I'd done that. Or, why didn't I say yes to that? But you have to focus on the things you have done as an actor. I take a lot of solace from that.”
(A few years ago, Jackman spoke to the Hollywood Reporter, recalling an encounter with Scott soon after replacing him as Wolverine. “I met him early on and I said to him, ‘Man, I am sorry.’ And he said, ‘It’s just business, but you have just gotten one of the greatest roles out there, so go crush it. I just remember being so impressed by that and his class.”)
Scott remains as enamoured with writers as when he discovered Arthur Miller in the school library. He still sounds thrilled when discussing the legendary Robert Towne penning the screenplay for MI2. “I've worked with one of the greatest ever writers in the history of cinema. There you go. And Enigma was adapted by Tom Stoppard from Robert Harris, who's a brilliant writer as well. So I've been pretty fucking fortunate in many respects.”
Another famous face was involved with Enigma: Mick Jagger produced the film. “It was surreal. Fucking cool. Every day he was on set. I hung out with him a lot and that was very exciting.” Were there any nights out with the Rolling Stone? “Couple,” says Scott, and laughs in a manner that suggests I shouldn’t expect much detail. “He was great fun.”
You could use a similar epitaph for Scott’s career. He’s spent the past two decades showcasing his talents in every type of project imaginable, playing characters who span the whole spectrum of the moral compass. Typically for Scott, Crime has coincided with his memorable role as the flamboyant Uncle Tony in Nick Love’s A Town Called Malice, a performance as vivid as Ray Lennox from the other side of the law. He’s simultaneously criminal and copper, tormented addict and charismatic bon vivant, supporting player and leading man.
“As an actor you go, can I do this? Can I do that? Most actors think, 'I can do anything!' but you can't. You have limits as an actor. But I've always felt that I had the ability to play different characters from completely different backgrounds. It's always been what's kept it interesting for me.”
You and us both, Dougray. You and us both.
Watch Crime now on ITVX