CRAIG MCGINLAY – Interview with the Scottish Actor

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The meteoric rise of Scotsman Craig McGinlay is nothing short of dazzling. From a career playing professional rugby, to the shining lights of Hollywood – this talented and multi-faceted actor is headed straight into the stratosphere of superstardom. After his rugby career, McGinlay became a strength and conditioning coach for elite athletes before being scouted by a modelling agency. After moving to London in 2014 he signed with United Talent and scored himself a coveted role in the iconic Haig Whiskey ‘Haig Club’ advertisement alongside David Beckham and directed by none other than Guy Ritchie.
From there, McGinlay has gone from strength to strength, adding impressive roles to his resume. Catapulting him into A-list territory, McGinlay was offered a starring role in Ritchie’s ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ film, alongside a cavalcade of phenomenal actors including, Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou and Eric Bana. He also stars in popular TV series ‘Knightfall’ and ‘Outlander’, as well as starring in and producing the sci-fi action film, ‘Tellurian’, due out this year.
McGinlay is the real deal, the genuine article, the one to watch. Down to earth, hard working, driven, multi-talented and (yes, we’re not blind) devilishly handsome, he is about to sweep the world off their collective feet.
Currently filming in Mumbai, India, I was fortunate enough to chat to Craig about working with film icons, what drives his ambitions, and why paisley patterns tug at his heart strings.

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Photography by Laurence Dunmore.

Your foray into acting has been somewhat of a fairytale, scoring a coveted role in the amazing Haig Club ad directed by the one and only Guy Ritchie and starring David Beckham. How did that role come about and were you pinching yourself about the icons you would be working with?

I was a professional sports scientist and strength and conditioning coach training various professional sportsmen in rugby, soccer, and elite level athletes in various disciplines such as hockey, swimming and badminton for the Commonwealth and Olympic Games. They were doing a commercial to promote the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and they asked me to step in as the weightlifter in the commercial along with all other professional athletes from boxing, cycling, judo, etc. The commercial was released and I was approached to play the lead in a short film ‘Bloodloss’ (2015) which won Best Short Film Thriller & Horror at the likes of LA & Calgary film festivals. I decided to join an extras agency in Scotland to get a feel for being on set. I did a couple of extra roles in TV shows and loved it; loved being on set. I was then offered an audition to feature in a whisky commercial which turned out to be Haig Club filming alongside David Beckham and was directed by Guy Ritchie. I clearly remember standing in Glencoe seeing David cruising through on a Triumph, Guy Ritchie behind the monitor, John Mathieson (Director of Photography) behind the camera, and Mark Wolf doing the aerial shots from his helicopter (has also worked on the Bond movies) and I realised that was it. That was the moment I decided when I finished working on Haig Club I’d quit my job and move to London to follow my dream of becoming an actor. Although it was a commercial it was a huge crew behind it. Virtually Guy’s crew that he would work with on any film, so it was a huge scale and an incredible experience for me. It gave me a real buzz to work in film. It was great to work with Guy, David, John, and Mark as well as everyone else in the crew. Everyone was very welcoming and I had a lot of fun working on this.

McGinlay (far right) in the Haig Club ad directed by Guy Ritchie and starring David Beckham.

Guy Ritchie then invited you to play the role of Sir Percival in his epic feature film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. How did that conversation come about and what was your initial reaction?

Following on from working on the commercial with Guy I moved to London and got an acting agent. A few months later I was then cast by Guy to play Sir Percival in his epic fantasy movie ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ and this was just an epic experience. Incredible. From the size of the sets, to the costumes, and the sword fighting and stunt training; it was an amazing film to work on. I had an absolute blast and will be forever grateful to Guy for giving me the opportunity to work on my first ever feature film. Always loved his movies before I met him so to work with him twice now… I feel very lucky. Hopefully the opportunity will arise again.

The cast of ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ was impressive to say the least. Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou and Eric Bana (who I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing before). Did you feel like you were being thrown in the deep end of the acting pool or did you just take it all in your stride and relish the kick ass opportunity? 

To be honest everyone was so welcoming that I was never made to feel like an outsider stepping into the new world of acting. The cast were amazing to work with and hang out with and I believe working on this for 6 months really helped me to develop as an actor. I’m still learning and always will be developing and improving, but this opportunity accelerated my development by learning from so many different actors who have worked at the top level for many years. It was like the most incredible acting workshop you could imagine.

McGinlay (far left) on the set of ‘King Arthur – Legend of the Sword’ with fellow cast mates.

It looks like you and your cast mates had a blast filming – was there an instant camaraderie on and off the set? Can you name names and tell us who was the funniest, the messiest or the one who always ran to the catering table first?! 

We got on so well. If there was a break in filming or we had 15 minutes while they changed lenses or camera angles we’d get together and train, sometimes doing push up and chin up challenges. Guy is a black belt in Jujitsu so he was instrumental in getting involved too and training with us. It made things a lot of fun. We were all training hard for the movie so always hungry lads on set – when there was food on the go we were all in!

What was your most memorable experience from filming King Arthur?

Too difficult to pick out just one moment. I loved working with Mike Lambert and Eunice Huthart doing fight choreography and stunt training, respectively. They both have so much energy, so it was amazing working with them. Also Dan Napreous who runs ‘A Devils Horsemen’ horse riding for film team. Stepping on set everyday was incredible. Jaw dropping. The sets were huge. Working with Guy and his team everyday was an amazing experience.


Still from the Guy Ritchie film, King Arthur.

What resonated with you most about Guy Ritchie’s directing style?

When we all stepped on set everyday Guy would shake your hand, hug you, say good morning. He made us all feel like part of the team and he was always on set and very hands on. He had his own vision and he got his point across very clearly and effectively. I had an amazing experience working with Guy and I learnt a lot.

There’s a strong push on social media to reunite the King Arthur brotherhood and have a sequel. On a scale of one to ten, how likely is that going to happen? (Cue baited breathe around the globe…)

Not sure in all honesty. Fingers crossed they do.

You played the guest lead role of Aldred in the TV series Knightfall. Are you subconsciously following roles that relate to the Knights Templar and allow you to be kitted up as a knight in shining armour? (No one is complaining of course).

I think because I had the beard and gained a lot of muscle mass for the role as Sir Percival I was then seen as that type of casting for a time, but now I am clean shaven and have tidied myself up a bit, so to speak, so it has opened the doors to other roles. It’s important to play varied roles and I want to show that I can challenge myself and be out of my comfort zone.

Photography by Chris Davis.

You are starring in and producing the upcoming sci-fi action drama, ‘Tellurian’, which is due out this year. What part of production are you at and is this your first producing venture? If so, what aspect of producing do you enjoy the most and will this be something you pursue with greater passion?

This was my first producer role. I enjoyed helping with the casting process and sitting in the edit room with the director, writer, and DOP from time to time. I’m not hugely hands on with this project – I’d like to be more so but it has been difficult now that I am filming in Mumbai, India, for most of this year and the production company are based in Scotland. However, I am on hand to give advice over the phone and via email and we do regularly communicate to hopefully get the best out of the project. I am also co-developing another series that this production company are involved in, so it’s always good to work with people you can trust and believe in. I think that I will continue to write and develop scripts that I am working on at the moment and, who knows, possibly direct one day, but in all honesty I need to focus on acting. I have only been doing it for almost 3 years so I need to continue to develop and improve – I don’t want to get side tracked by trying too many things at once. However, understanding the writing, producing and directing process is immensely advantageous in developing as an actor and understanding how it all works.

Talking about passion, you were born in Paisley, Scotland. Does your heart flutter whenever you see that teardrop motif?

It does! I love Paisley and Scotland. Very proud of where I grew up and where I’m from and love going back to visit my family and friends.

You have been involved with the National Trust for Scotland as one of their ambassadors, keeping in the company of fellow actor Gerard Butler. What do you love most about your country and what is the best thing about coming home for you?

Immensely proud to be approached to be an ambassador for NTS. So proud of Scotland and having traveled more around the world since I started acting I really appreciate Scotland more and more whenever I go back. I love Paisley as I grew up there, but I really enjoy days out in Glencoe, Loch Lomond, and Gleneagles. I used to go on holiday every year to Elie and St. Andrews so they hold a strong place in my heart. I love coming home and seeing my friends and family spending time with them and playing golf in my downtime from work.

As a former fitness coach and professional rugby player, you have to have a fire and determination within you to push physical and mental boundaries. What aspects of your training has, and continues to, assist you in your acting career?

Having played rugby in a World Cup in Italy at Under 20’s level and having conditioned various athletes around the globe, I have gained experience and understanding of drive, determination, and dedication – all of which are crucial in the acting industry. Even pumping myself up pre-match before a big rugby game and the way I would prepare has been influential for me when stepping on set and being pumped up and ready to go. The steps it takes to improving yourself as an elite athlete has similarities to that of improving and developing as an actor.

Do you miss playing rugby professionally? And would you have imagined all those years ago on the field that this would be your career path now?

I clearly remember stepping onto the pitch in Italy to play against the Italians in a World Cup match. Turning to the crowd singing the national anthem made me so proud and it’s a moment I will never forget. I didn’t think that moment could be bettered. However, when offered the role as Sir Percival in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ and stepping on set to film for the first day was even better than stepping onto the pitch to play that huge match. This is what makes me realise I am so happy doing what I am doing now and want to continue to improve and develop. I’d never have thought 5 years ago that I would be acting. I have a long way to go but I’m hugely ambitious and want to go as far as I can in the industry and ultimately produce good work that I can be proud of.

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Photography by Chris Davis.

What has been your most surreal experience, on or off the set?

I think stepping on the set of a major blockbuster Hollywood movie for the first time was very surreal. I was asking myself, “why am I here, how did I get here” but then you have to step into the situation and grab the opportunity and not be dazed in the headlights. You have to realise when you have been selected to play a role you have been chosen because the casting director and director have chosen you for a reason so it’s now up to you to perform and to not let them down. I feel that’s been important for me in every role to date. Get out there, enjoy it and perform.

Can you share any stirring advice from directors or cast members that you found useful?

Charlie Hunnam writes and that has been good for me too. Helps me with the overall process. Djimon’s story from wanting to become an actor from a young age and working hard to get to where he is now (having been nominated for two Oscars) is very inspiring.

What’s next for Craig McGinlay?

I can’t share too much I’m afraid but I am currently filming in Mumbai, India, playing the role of a late 19th century British soldier and lead villain in a major Bollywood movie. The scale of this movie is incredible. Massive sets again and phenomenal costumes. It’s an amazing industry here and film generally is massive, so to play such an important role in a movie in India and feel so welcomed into the industry has been massively appreciated.

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Photography by Laurence Dunmore.

The most romantic thing you’ve ever done? I’m not one to kiss and tell.
First celebrity crush?
Michelle Pfeiffer and Jennifer Aniston.
Current celebrity crush? Couldn’t possibly say…
Best film scene of all time? Not sure about best but most watched is probably all the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve. He was a hero on and off screen and a top actor. Director Richard Donner famously said he thought he was the best actor he ever worked with. Christopher pulled off performances playing three characters in Superman 3. The hero in Superman himself, the evil/ bad superman, and the clumsy/geeky Clark Kent all in the same movie. All very different characters and he nails it. Great movies.
Song you could listen to on rotation? Scottish National Anthem.
Best travel spot in the world? So many but let’s say Sardinia, Italy. Loved going there 2 years ago as an ambassador for Eva Longoria’s charity. Beautiful part of the world but there is nowhere quite like Scotland.
Director you would most love to work with next? Guy Ritchie (again). Too many others… tough question but Ridley Scott is up there. Christopher McQuarry. Sam Mendes. Martin Scorsese.
Which superhero did you want to be as a kid? Superman for sure. My Mum saved a lot of money on clothes when I was a kid as I just ran around all day dressed up in a Superman costume.
If you could steal anyone’s job for the day, who would it be and why? Daniel Craig’s… I’m a huge 007 fan. Always have loved the James Bond movies.
If you could get around in just one outfit, what would you choose? Tailored suit.
Your everyday mantra? “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” – Christopher Reeve.

Photography by Chris Davis.

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