- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

LONDON — Ask Robert Carlyle what’s the scariest scene in the new thriller “28 Weeks Later,” and he responds with the diciest moment for his character.

There isn’t a flesh-eating zombie in the frame.

It’s probably why the filmmakers, creating a sequel to the 2002 horror hit “28 Days Later,” hired Mr. Carlyle in the first place. The movie lacks a marquee name, unless you consider the franchise the “star” — so why not grab a respected actor to ground what otherwise could be a pretty hokey story?

In the new feature, Mr. Carlyle plays a father of two who makes some regrettable moral choices while England recovers from an epidemic that nearly wiped out the population — a rage outbreak that turned everyday people into flesh-eating monsters. He’s part of a wave of residents trying to resettle their homeland.

Plenty pivots on not just the horror aspects of the feature, but the nuclear family that Mr. Carlyle’s character heads.

The Scotland native went into the project knowing it wasn’t just another gorefest, or ATM machine, for that matter.

“There’s no way Danny [Boyle] would just throw out a sequel,” Mr. Carlyle says of the film’s executive producer and director of “28 Days Later.” Mr. Carlyle knows plenty about Mr. Boyle’s motivations. He worked with the director previously on 1996’s “Trainspotting” and 2000’s “The Beach” and says he would film a sequel to the former “in a heartbeat” if it ever happens.

“Nothing surprises me that Danny does,” he says, adding that the director pitched in with “28 Weeks Later,” going so far as to film parts of the taut opening sequence.

Mr. Carlyle, compact and composed during junket interviews on behalf of the new film, liberally drops the “f-bomb” during the chat. It sounds almost whimsical in his heavy Scottish brogue.

British audiences first got to know Mr. Carlyle from a series of television projects, a list that includes “Cracker” (1994) and “Safe” (1993).

Stateside crowds found out about him via “Trainspotting,” in which he played the psychopathic Begbie. Subsequent roles would lean heavily on his penchant for the dark side, but his talent proved potent enough to escape any typecasting straitjacket.

The 1997 comedy smash “The Full Monty” announced he was more than just a snarl for hire, but he doesn’t shirk from dark roles; witness his high-profile part as the villain in the 1999 Bond feature “The World Is Not Enough” or the bleaker moments in his latest feature.

“28 Weeks Later” director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo says Mr. Carlyle was the first actor he turned to when casting time came around.

“He understands very well the character and played this kind of anti-hero before, someone who in a moment in his life decided to follow his survivor instincts more than love,” Mr. Fresnadillo says, alluding to a key scene early in the film.

For “Later,” Mr. Carlyle shared the spotlight with two teen actors, Imogen Poots and newcomer Mackintosh Muggleton.

“Kids can humble you. They don’t second-guess. They don’t think about it too much. You can learn from them,” says Mr. Carlyle, who, despite working nonstop since the early 1990s, admits his next acting gig could always be his last.

We can chalk up such talk to a blend of actorly pragmatism and self-deprecation because he already knows he’ll star in the 2008 feature “The Meat Trade.” The film is based on an actual body-snatching incident in the 1800s.

He also may shoot a buddy movie about the asexual bond between two men in their 40s.

“It’s a love story with one man’s love for another man. It’s low-budget, so it’s probably gonna happen,” he says.

The actor, who briefly attended the Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama at the start of his career, says he has long idolized some of England’s best actors from his formative years, such as Albert Finney and Richard Harris.

Films such as “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” and “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” “spoke to me, even when I was younger, even before I knew what a film was,” he says.

Today, with Mr. Carlyle’s work ping-ponging from British to U.S. features, he still relishes the sense of time and place evoked by those specifically British pieces.

“That’s not to say you can’t get that when you’re working with American films for the American market,” he says, “but it’s a different sensibility, and there’s less room for that.”

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