Charlene Sweeney, 'At 74, Alasdair Gray changes the script with his film debut' (The Times, 27/02/2009)

He has enjoyed a long career as a leading artist, novelist playwright and political commentator. Now at the age of 74, Alasdair Gray, the Scottish polymath, has turned his hand to acting.

Later this year, Gray will appear in a short film, The Bedfords, based on the life of Sir Edwin Landseer, the Victorian artist best known for his iconic painting The Monarch of the Glen.

Gray plays the father-in-law of the 6th Duke of Bedford. The Duke was a lifelong patron and friend of Landseer, even though the painter had a long and torrid affair with his wife. Landseer was said to have been broken-hearted when the Duchess would not marry him once she was widowed.

While Gray has acted parts in his own plays at readings, and has had the odd cameo during the radio and television performances of his work, this is the first time that he has played a part in another writer’s script.

The 20-minute drama by the Scottish production company Brocken Spectre, was written and directed by Henry Coombes, the award-winning Glasgow-based artist whose previous short film, Gralloch, was selected for the Venice Biennale art show in 2007.

Another of his shorts, The Laddy And The Lady, was shown at film festivals all over the world.

Coombes approached Gray through Sorcha Dallas, the art dealer that the men are both associated with. She said: “When Henry was casting the film he had an idea for a role that he thought Alasdair would be ideal to play and I said I would have a word with him. It was a wonderful performance: Alasdair seemed to think when he had read [the part] it was not much of a stretch from his normal self.”

Ms Dallas said that Gray also contributed an unscripted voiceover to the film. “It was ad hoc, but it worked really well,” she said.

Gray said that he was surprised to be asked to appear in the film. “The writer and director had seen me performing in one or two things and thought I’d be good,” he said. “I don’t intend to take up acting – only if somebody pays me to do it.”

The film, which received funding of £50,000 from Scottish Screen, is to tour film festivals this year and through 2010.

Ciara Barry, the film’s producer, said they hoped that Gray’s involvement would help them to fulfill their ambition of developing the short into a longer feature. “The Bedfords is part of a bigger story about Landseer that Henry is developing with Brocken Spectre as a feature film,” she said. “Alasdair has a big audience out there, a lot of people like his work, so he is great for publicity in those terms.”

Although Gray has ruled out pursuing a new career as a film star, he is preparing for another role, this time one of his own.

On March 8 he is taking part in a public reading of his new play, Fleck, a modern version of Goethe’s Faust, at the Aye Write! Festival in Glasgow. Gray will play the part of Auld Nick during a conversation with Fleck, the play’s main character. He admitted: “I’ve only been acting sections of this play because I want to publicise it. I think it is funny, even though it has been turned down by all of the production companies I have sent it to.”