John Gordon Sinclair: No more Mr Nice Guy

The actor/producer/director talks to John Mullin about living down 'Gregory's Girl' and his first novel – a violent IRA thriller

Gregory is 50! Yes, really. You read that right. The lanky schoolboy from Cumbernauld in the west of Scotland – he of Bill Forsyth's fabulous coming-of-age movie Gregory's Girl – has just hit the Big Five-O. Or, at least, the actor who played him has. And for many of us reared on the 1981 film, this is vaguely shocking.

Not that life's ticking clock seems to bother John Gordon Sinclair over much. True, he has hardly had the greatest of half-century celebrations. The botched legacy of an appendix operation when he was 12 required extensive stomach surgery around the time of his last birthday, and put him out of circulation for the best part of six months.

It cost him a belter of a role, he smiles ruefully. He was poised to take over from the award-winning Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull in Tim Minchin's accolade-laden West End production of Matilda when he was asked to try out one of the more energetic scenes. He had to 'fess up to the surgery, and accept that the rather juicy part was beyond him.

Sinclair's done well enough as an actor – he's had award-winning roles in stage musicals such as She Loves Me and The Producers, and will be seen next year with Brad Pitt in the post-apocalyptic thriller World War Z. But Gregory's lofty frame and cheery, feckless disposition have cast a long shadow. And, you surmise, may have cost Sinclair some roles.

"I'm proud of Gregory's Girl, and if I had never done anything else in my life, well, that would be enough. But it did tend to define me. It's everyone's first impression, and I've spent years trying to convince people that's not who I am."

Nor – and this might seem odd coming from someone who had a long, luvvie-type relationship with ultra-thesp Ruthie Henshall – is he entirely enamoured with the acting profession. They are, it seems, not his kind of people: "I always feel vaguely insulted when people call me an actor. I look on it as almost a derogatory term. I've never really thought of myself as one. Jane Horrocks is my one pal who is an actor, and the rest of my friends are the guys I came down from Glasgow with. I have always enjoyed the work, just not the stuff around it. I can't bear the 'luvvie, darling' thing."

So Sinclair – comic actor, star of musicals – has opted for another path: he has turned author. And his debut thriller, Seventy Times Seven, is something of a shock: it's pretty brutal. One scene involving a boiled kettle is almost unreadable. It's a fast-moving, wise- cracking story about two Republican brothers from Belfast caught up in the Troubles; about supergrasses, double agents, paramilitary brutality and SAS summary justice, set in Northern Ireland and in Nowheresville, USA. Its theme? Forgiveness, hence the title, derived from the Bible and Jesus's advice to Peter on how many times he should be prepared to forgive his brother.

Sinclair is entering a crowded market: Tom Bradby's 1998 novel Shadow Dancer, about MI5 and Belfast, has just been reprinted by Corgi to coincide with this month's release of the film starring Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough. Even Ian McEwan's latest, Sweet Tooth, is set inside MI5 and against a backdrop of the Troubles.

So why the dramatic switch of careers? Late(ish) fatherhood is the key. (His wife, incidentally, is a doctor, and they live in Surrey.) "We've got two daughters now. Eva's six and Anna's four, and I just wanted to try to do something that allowed me to be around for them. I don't want to be one of these absentee dads, so I've turned down some roles that would have kept me away from home. A couple of years ago, a firm rang me up and asked if I wanted to write my autobiography. I wasn't terribly interested, but I did have an idea for a film script that became the book.

"I've always been fascinated by Northern Ireland. I remember coming down from Glasgow to live in London around the time of the Harrods bombing and wanting to try to understand what it was all about. I just read everything I could. Plus, friends of mine had friends there – Clare Grogan who was in Gregory's Girl is one – and I've been going to Northern Ireland since I was 18 or 19. I've had some of the best nights of my life there."

Seventy Times Seven is set in 1992, but a second novel will bring the story into the present day. He has to deliver the manuscript in December, and he grimaces. "I'm not the most disciplined of authors. I'll never be a sit-there-and-write-1,500-words-a-day guy. But once you realise that, and start to use the odd half-hour here and there to work, it can be very productive."

We meet just after Gregory's Girl has featured in Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for London 2012 in the sequence showcasing the best of British cinema. He is clearly chuffed, and the truth is that – despite his insistence otherwise, and his rather dapper frock coat with mustard lining – there's plenty of Gregory still to see in Sinclair: the mannerisms, the accent, the way he laughs.

"Of all the things I've done, I'm very proud of Gregory, and of being in The Producers. But I'm proudest of all of this book. It sounds trite, but I'm the producer, director and actor all in one. It's all down to me, and that's some achievement. An author is really what I want to be."

One last thing: my seven-year-old daughter, I confess to him, takes her name from Gregory's Girl. He looks confused. "Dorothy? Susan? Madeline?" None of these, I say, and, when I tell him, he is – not unreasonably perhaps – incredulous, and insists on writing a lovely note in a copy of the book for her. See YouTube, and the dressing-room scene, for the answer.

Seventy Times Seven, By John Gordon Sinclair

Faber £12.99

'Danny McGuire had received the call just a few hours earlier. The thin, guttural voice on the other end of the phone sounded older than he remembered, but was easily recognisable: Lep McFarlane ... Danny's instinct on hearing the thick Newry brogue was to hang up, but Lep was the last person to have seen his brother alive ...'

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?