The Scottish actor, who is known for his recent role in the BBC crime drama ‘Traces’, hit TV series ‘The Night Manager’, ‘Line of Duty’ and ‘Rome’, speaks about his fencing days at QMU, lockdown writing and his love for Edinburgh.

Born and bred in Fife, Michael studied at Kirkcaldy College of Technology before joining what was then Queen Margaret College. Initially, he enrolled on the Stage Management course before switching to Acting and graduating in 1988.

Over the past 30 years, Michael has built a successful career in TV, film and theatre. His impressive resume includes big-budget productions and working with some of the industry’s best known directors. 

We find out how it all started during his school days in Ballingry. 

What sparked your interest in acting?

I have my sister to thank for that! She was a member of Fife Youth Theatre and when the cast member who was playing the role of Tony in the group’s production of ‘West Side Story’ dropped out, she encouraged me to try-out for the role as she knew I could sing. So I went along, auditioned and got the part. That’s when I fell in love with performing. As a teenager, I lacked confidence, and acting gave me the opportunity to express myself through the voice of someone else. I see acting as a form of therapy – the story-telling and the role-playing enabled me to grow.

It was at Fife Youth Theatre where I met my friend, the actor, Dougray Scott. At the time, he was studying drama at Kirkcaldy College of Technology. Dougray was the one who opened my eyes to the possibility of studying drama and the idea of performing as a career.

At school, I performed in as many productions as I could and became a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society. I also took a part-time job at Lochgelly Centre and it was fascinating watching all the different artists come and go.

What was your first paid acting job?

"During my first year at QMC, I appeared in an episode of ‘Taggart’. Our lecturers encouraged us to gain professional experience while we were studying. It proved invaluable, especially for the TV industry, having the insight into how things are run on a shoot and the production language used on set."

What did you do after graduation?

I got married! Just after my graduation, my wife Natalie and I collected our wedding cake and travelled to England where we got married a few days later.

When I first started out, I performed in a lot of theatre productions. My first role was in the stage version of ‘Whisky Galore’, with Jimmy Logan’s theatre company. Jimmy starred along with Russell Hunter. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my career - acting with two Scottish performing legends.  After that, I went on to work with the Traverse Theatre. I also performed with Communicado, Dundee Rep, Royal Lyceum Theatre and Wildcat Theatre.

I did a few BBC Radio productions and commercials as well, but I soon realised that if I wanted to establish a career in TV then I’d need to break into TV quickly, so I sought out more TV acting roles.

What aspect of your QMC course has proved vital for your acting career?

The greatest lesson I learned at QMC was that accurate listening is the most important part of acting. You can’t respond effectively if you’re not deeply engaged in listening.

Other significant aspects of the course include the posture and physical movement work with Christine Raffaelli; the study of voice control and projection with Marillyn Gray; and textual analysis with Calum Mill.

What are your best memories of QMC?

"I had a fantastic three years at QMC. The training was hard-work but our lecturers were amazing. They inspired us to be our best."

My happiest memories are performing in student productions directed by the brilliant Marillyn Gray and Calum Mill. It was wonderful to learn from their wisdom and experience.

Another highlight was being part of the QMC fencing team, travelling around the UK, competing in tournaments and winning a fair bit of silverware! Our coach (and fencing and stage-combat lecturer) Bert Bracewell was hugely motivating.

I also played in a folk band with other Queen Margaret College students, which was great fun.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned during your career?

The most important person in the room is the audience. The top directors have also been the ones who invest the time with actors during the rehearsal process to encourage the best possible performances, ensuring stories are told in the most impactful way to keep audiences engaged.

You once said that being in the same rehearsal room as Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale during the National Theatre’s production of ‘King Lear’ was an education. What was it that was so extraordinary?

It was utterly brilliant, watching them analyse and discuss every word and phrase, and how best to perform it. There was a ‘wow’ moment every day during rehearsals.

Playing the Duke of Cornwall in King Lear was the first time I’d performed Shakespeare in my professional career. Although, I’d done a lot of theatre, I’d spent a good deal of that time acting in new plays by Scottish playwrights such as ‘Knives in Hens’ by David Harrower, Gregory Burke’s ‘Gagarin Way’ and many plays by David Greig.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with many talented and inspiring people all through my career.

Which roles have you most enjoyed playing?

"I loved playing the lead role in the National Theatre’s nationwide tour of ‘Macbeth’. It’s been the most challenging role, both physically and mentally, but also the most rewarding one. It’s such an intensely dark and powerful play and being Macbeth has left an indelible impression on me."

I also enjoyed being Ivan Sujic from the Canadian detective series Durham County. It was a fantastic production to be part of. From the crew, cast, storyline and location – it was a great experience.

Are there any roles which you’d love to play?

Lots. I’d relish playing Macbeth again and Eddie Carbone from ‘A View from the Bridge’ is another dream role.

I’m also a huge ‘Inspector Rebus’ fan; perhaps I’m drawn to the Fife connection! I’ve spent a huge amount of time reading the Inspector Rebus books on trains to and from auditions, and when I’ve been away from home filming.

I love traditional folk music and I’m passionate about the radical and influential folk singer and songwriter, Euan MacColl.

Another role is the Scottish-born American naturalist, conservationist and writer, John Muir. I’m a great admirer of his life and work.

You’ve been involved in productions in some lavish locations around the world. Do you have any favourite places?

"Being able to travel and explore new places as a result of a role is great, especially when the family have been able to come and visit me."

I cherish the time I spent in Italy during the filming of Rome. I immersed myself in its culture; the history, architecture and food. It was very special; maybe it’s something to do with my Italian ancestry.

My time with the National Theatre of Scotland’s touring production of ‘Black Watch’ was superb. We performed in amazing cities around the world; Sydney, Wellington, Toronto and New York.

I also visited some spectacular locations in Majorca, Morocco and Switzerland that were used in The Night Manager and I enjoyed filming in Montreal for Durham County too.

What’s your greatest acting achievement?

That I’m still acting and have the passion to do more.
It’s a tough industry and it hasn’t always been easy, especially the breaks between acting jobs and the long-spells away from home. The word I’ve heard most in my career is ‘no’ but you can’t let the set-backs affect you. At the end of the day, acting is a job and you need to keep striving for the next opportunity.

Do you have ambitions to write, direct or produce?

Yes, definitely.

"The natural progression is probably to go from acting to directing but during last year’s lockdown, I spent some time script writing. Writing is something that I’ve been interested in doing for a few years and lockdown gave me the opportunity to put pen to paper."


I’m fascinated by folklore and history so I explored these areas. But as I worked on the script, the ideas became bigger and bigger and started to stray away from the original storyline, so I’ve taken a short break from writing, to think things through and decide on what should happen next in the story. Who knows, maybe the script will become a novel!

What are you enjoying most about living back in Edinburgh?

Everything. It’s an amazing city, steeped with character and depth. From its people, the arts, the architecture, its history and myths (stories you couldn’t write!).

What’s next for you?

I’m due to start filming the second series of the TV crime drama Traces, which is set in Dundee. I play DI Neil McKinven.

Photo credit: Leila Nardone