Culture

Hot Scot, Craig McGinlay

Craig McGinlay was supposed to be an international rugby player. But instead, this week he’s starring in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Time for a round table with the man himself

Words by
Aleks Cvetkovic

Craig McGinlay must have been a fairly typical kid. ‘I used to dream of being an action hero,’ he says, hailing a familiar memory. ‘I always wanted to act. At 10-years-old I was running around in a Superman costume. But living in Paisley, you find yourself thinking “how is this going to happen?”’

Over the last couple of years, the ‘how’ has become ‘when’ for the cheerful Scotsman – and the ‘when’ is now. McGinlay is about to burst onto screens and into the national consciousness playing one of King Arthur’s closest henchmen, Percival, in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which opens in UK cinemas tomorrow. How did this happen?

“I always wanted to act, but living up in Paisley you think ‘how is this ever going to happen?'”

McGinlay’s route to stardom started painfully. In 2004, he was playing rugby for Scotland U20s when he dislocated his shoulder during a World Cup match against Italy. The injury signalled the end of what could have been a rewarding career as a professional sportsman. ‘It happened in a click and it strikes you dumb,’ he remembers. ‘All you can think is “what the hell’s happened?” I thought I had 15 years of rugby ahead of me.’

His future suddenly shapeless, he turned to modelling and was scouted by an agency, which led him to work with Guy Ritchie on a Haig Club whisky commercial and then on to King Arthur, which Ritchie directed. Even so, the move from rugby stadia to silver screen never looked likely – until two years ago, McGinlay had no acting experience to speak of. ‘Acting wasn’t a part of my childhood and my school never pushed it – it was a sporty place,’ he says. ‘Rugby was always going to be my career. It was the only thing to do.’

Not surprisingly, the 31-year-old isn’t bitter about the life he never had. ‘If I think of the feeling of walking out onto the pitch in my Scotland kit and singing the anthem in a World Cup, it still doesn’t compare to walking onto set in Warner Bros,’ he admits.

Craig McGinley, Marcus Wareing, The Jackal magazine

McGinlay with Marcus Wareing and Robin Swithinbank, The Jackal's Editor-in-Chief, at the magazine's launch party in Veneta earlier this year

But then for the boy who wanted to be an action hero, King Arthur is a dream come true. The film is a bloody, no-holds-barred romp through the first portion of the Arthurian legend, with plenty of Ritchie’s signature touches: quick-cut action sequences, colourful use of bad language and dry one-liners to counter the gore. ‘Sons of Anarchy on horses, half Snatch, half Game of Thrones,’ McGinlay concludes.

It’s also given him the opportunity to work with a childhood hero. ‘Guy has long been one of my favourite directors,’ he says. ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are so iconic. Guy’s always been a positive mentor. Just the fact that’s he’s cast me twice now has been a confidence boost’.

“I’ve gone from being afraid to getting stuck in, that’s the key change in my life”

McGinlay is brimming with optimism – as he should be. Next up is an independent film called Tellurian, filmed in St Andrews and due for release in July. He’s also appearing in a new History Channel series called Knightfall, slated for August/September, which he describes as a Game of Thrones-esque dramatisation of the fall of the Knights Templar. Starring Tim Cullen and produced by Jeremy Renner, it’s already getting fans of gritty historical drama hot under the collar.

‘I’ve seen what can happen in the space of a couple of years’, he says. ‘I’ve gone from being afraid to pursue my ambitions to getting stuck in. When I was younger there was no one to tell me, “you can do this”. That’s been the key transition in my life over the past few years.’

Then what? McGinlay was cast in Knightfall by Debbie McWilliams, who is one of the casting directors for Bond. It’s an interesting tit-bit for those who subscribe to the theory that McGinlay is in the running to be the next 007. Let’s not forget that in Fleming’s books Bond is a 33-year-old Scotsman with a beard – sound familiar?

If there is something to give away, he’s keeping his cards close to his chest. ‘It’s not likely, but of course I’d love to play Bond if it was ever to pop up. The 14-year-old me wouldn’t even consider the possibility, but today, a part of me thinks, “well why not? Let’s see what the future holds.”’

Who knows, he may yet be the one to pull the sword from the Bond-shaped stone.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is out in the UK tomorrow, 19 May.