Martin Compston: Plucked to stardom from a school corridor

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Martin Compston speaks to BBC The Edit's David Farrell about Sweet Sixteen

He is best known for playing Detective Inspector Steve Arnott in Line of Duty but Scottish actor Martin Compston vividly remembers how he got his big break into acting as a schoolboy.

He was pulled up by a teacher in the corridor of St Columba's High School in Gourock and told that a film crew were looking for kids to star in a film.

"I remember Mr Harkins saying "what they're describing, I think you're exactly it. I think you should go and meet them'," he told BBC Scotland. "Looking back, that probably means a wee guy that had far too much to say for himself."

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Martin Compston (left) made his acting debut in Sweet Sixteen 20 years ago

Compston auditioned and landed the lead role in Ken Loach's gritty drama Sweet Sixteen which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The film tells the story of Liam, a teenage boy from a troubled background who dreams of starting afresh with his mother as soon as she has completed her prison term.

Liam's attempts to raise money for the two of them are set against the backdrop of the Inverclyde towns of Greenock - where Compston is from - Port Glasgow and the coast at Gourock.

It went on to win the Best Screenplay Award at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.

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Martin Compston was an unknown schoolboy before starring in Ken Loach's gritty drama set in and around Greenock
Image source, Getty Images
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Martin Compston (third right) at Cannes with Ken Loach (second right), Rebecca O'Brien (right) Paul Laverty (left), William Ruane (second left), Annmarie Fulton (third left).

"In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago but in other ways I have such vivid memories of it," Compston, 37, said. "I have recently seen videos of my time in Cannes - that voice, it's like nails on a chalk board, even going through me. I'm like 'what you on about kid?' but I'm very proud of it.

"It was a great time in my life and I'll be forever grateful to Ken Loach, Paul Laverty (screenplay writer) and Rebecca O'Brien (producer) for taking a chance on me and setting me on a path to, so far, a very lovely career."

To celebrate the 20th anniversary, Sweet Sixteen is being shown at Glasgow Film festival on Sunday with Compston taking part in a Q&A afterwards. It has already sold out.

'Greenock will always be home'

The actor, who lives between Scotland and Las Vegas with his wife and toddler son, is proud of his Scottish roots and speaks with great affection for his home town of Greenock.

Speaking from his Vegas home, he said: "I do love it here but Greenock is, and always will be, home. It's where all my family and friends are. We're very lucky to have two homes - it's fantastic to have this [Las Vegas home] as a sort of getaway for me.

"I am so grateful for how kind people are to me at home, especially in Inverclyde. You always feel like people are rooting for you in Scotland but it's nice to get here and just have the anonymity.

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Martin Compston speaks of his hometown of Greenock with great affection

"It's quiet - I don't need to plan my trips to Tesco or whatever and get a disguise on. I can take the wee fella to the park and I can be silly with him, not having to worry about cameras and stuff. But at the same time I get home next week and I'll be home for the rest of the year practically and I can't wait.

"I'm under no illusions how lucky we are to have this sort of dual life. We are very lucky that where we live in Greenock we're in a great spot and my son loves it over there. He's a lucky, lucky boy."

On being a dad, Compston said: "I'm probably a bit calmer because you have to be. I think most people would have described me as sociable, I was fond of a night out. I still am but you have to pick and choose your battles these days. When my wife is away working I've got to be parent number one which is great."

After seeing Compston with a London accent in Line of Duty, many fans assume he is English and are surprised when they hear him speak with a Scottish accent as he does in his latest drama, Our House.

Image caption,
Martin Compston (right) is close friends with his Line of Duty co-stars Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar

"I've been doing it [acting] 20 years now so I hope people are starting to get the message," he said.

"People ask me all the time why they put me in an English accent [for Line of Duty] but it was never a discussion, I'm an actor, it's my job and the character was from London.

"It's hard, it's another element. You go in and have to do incredibly dense dialogue for 20 pages with amazing actors - throw an accent in there it can be tough.

"But one of the good things about being able to keep my own accent is I feel with the Scots we can turn on a bit of charm."

'I love them to bits'

Asked whether Line of Duty will return for a seventh series, he said: "We are in no different position than we have ever been. It's probably just that there's more attention around the show now and more people want to know if we are coming back.

"But we've always left a massive gap between shows - up to two years at a time- so Jed (Mercurio - creator) will just take his time and if he feels there's a story to be told he'll get in touch with us. We'd all love to work together again but just in the right circumstances."

Compston has built up a great friendship with Jed Mercurio and fellow Line of Duty Actors Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure over the years.

"We've been doing Line of Duty for over 10 years now so they're a massive part of my life," he said. "They are genuinely some of my best friends."

The group will all be heading to Greenock on Saturday night to take part in a fundraiser for Ardgowan Hospice, which is supported by Compston.

"I got on the phone to the guys and right away the three of them said 'let's do it', he said. "When it comes to stuff like that I love them to bits - they are all coming up and we'll raise a few quid for the hospice."