That Guy File #9: Peter Mullan


August 24, 2011 by abbyo

Where you’ve seen him: Session 9, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1), Children of Men, the Red Riding Trilogy, On a Clear Day, The Magdalene Sisters, NEDs, Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Braveheart, Riff-Raff

Peter Mullan is a seriously cool guy. You know it the moment you see him in anything. He’s a tough-looking character actor with a thick Glaswegian Scot accent who often plays hard living working-class guys, criminals and drug addicts, characters whose stories he knows from experience. Before Mullan broke into acting around age 30, he was a gang member, a bouncer, and, after college, taught theater in prisons and community centers. Rough-around-the-edges characters are ones he knows well. He’s like the Scottish Danny Trejo, but with less tattoos and a Marxist activist core.

Chances are good you’ve seen Mullan as a supporting player in something like “Shallow Grave,” “Braveheart” or “Children of Men.” But his most recognizable performance, for those of my generation, anyway, is as troubled contractor Gordon Fleming in “Session 9,” the low-budget horror film that scared the pants off countless high school kids in 2001 (I have strong memories of seeing the film at a sleepover in 9th grade).

Mullan’s acting is probably best defined from his memorable performance as Syd, the corrupt refugee camp officer from “Children of Men.” Here’s a scene:

Syd’s tough, complex, and kind of slimy, an entertaining but more or less wholly nasty character. He’s an example of the kind of acting Mullan is best at: threatening, untrustworthy guys who are still totally interesting to watch. He looks like the kind of person who wouldn’t think twice about giving you a sharp smack if he thought you needed it.

But Mullan’s acting is only the beginning of what makes him so interesting. As I mentioned before, he’s a Marxist and activist, who took a leadership role in left-wing theater companies during the Thatcher years and was a vocal critic of Tony Blair and Britain’s labour party. He’s also an accomplished director whose films reflect his background and politics. He picked up awards at the Venice, Paris, and British Independent Film Festivals for his feature-length directorial debut, 1998’s “Orphans,” and got the Golden Lion award for 2002’s “The Magdalene Sisters.” His latest, last year’s “NEDs” is a film about the 1970s Glasgow where Mullan grew up, comprised both of his memories and his observations from teaching theater.

Mullan will next show up as the protagonist of Paddy Considine’s dictorial debut, “Tyrannosaur,” a character with a checkered past and a shot at redemption. It looks like it’s going to be a great but tough film, from what I’ve seen and heard, and given Considine’s previous collaborations with Shane Meadows, a director known for personal, gritty features. If Mullan’s back catalog is anything to go by, it should be another in a long line of powerful, hardcore performances.


5 thoughts on “That Guy File #9: Peter Mullan

  1. I need a Glaswegian Scot accent.

  2. […] as with the likes of other great “that guys” like Wallace Shawn, Peter Mullan and Stephen Tobolowsky, Schiavelli’s professional life wasn’t only limited to acting. He was […]

  3. Jen says:

    I can’t believe you forgot to mention his heart-wrenching role as the father in Spielberg’s “War Horse”!

    • abbyo says:

      Well noted, Jen! At the time this was published, War Horse hadn’t come out yet (otherwise it definitely would have been mentioned).

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