HE won our hearts in 1981 playing the leading role in the coming-of-age romantic comedy Gregory's Girl, before he embraced his dark side to become a successful crime writer.

Now John Gordon Sinclair has returned to the big screen in Nico 1988, a film about the final two years in the life of the late German singer Christa Päffgen, who was among Andy Warhol’s muses and sang with the Velvet Underground before she died, a drug addict ,aged 49.

Sinclair plays Nico’s manager but admits he almost missed out on the role after the Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli heard him interviewed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

He said: “In the interview I was asked whether I’d rather spend my time writing or acting and I’d said writing, so Susanna was then reluctant to call and ask if I wanted to do it because she thought I’d say no. She eventually got in touch but I’m now going to be careful about everything I say because it was a strange, circuitous route which made it come about.”

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After Gregory’s Girl, Sinclair went on to take parts in Local Hero in 1983 and Erik the Viking in 1989, as well as a series of roles on the small screen and on stage. He won the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award in 1995 for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in She Loves Me.

But aside from reprising the role of Gregory in Gregory’s Two Girls in 1999 – and playing a Seal Commander in zombie film World War Z – he’s rarely seen on the silver screen.

Sinclair, now 55, said: “I wish I could say it was a well thought-out process but it’s just how the work’s come, really. It’s not anything deliberate on my part, it’s really just the way it happened.”

Nicchiarelli describes Nico 1988 as “the story of Nico after Nico”. “People usually talk about her only in relation to the men she was with when she was young – Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Alain Delon, Iggy Pop,” she said. “I read once in an interview that ‘at age 34 Nico was finished.’ That’s not true. After her experience with the Velvet Underground, Nico became a great musician.”

Sinclair added: “It’s not intended to be a biopic, really. Although there’s biographical elements to it, it’s more like an artist’s impression of Nico in that particular period, towards the end of her life. What Susanna has done with it is like if you ask Picasso to paint Nico. It wouldn’t necessarily be like her, but you’d know it was Nico. It’s quite unusual.

“The character that I play is based on Alan Wise, who was besotted with Nico and thought she was a great artist. He spent a lot of time and energy trying to promote her, organising these strange little tours around Europe. We were filming in Rome, Liege and Nuremburg so it was a very interesting shoot.”

When asks if he’s a Nico fan, Sinclair admits he’s “more a fan of the spawn of Nico” and the people who were influenced by her.

He said: “There are a lot of connections to bands that I know, like Siouxsie and the Banshees, who all mention Nico as an inspiration. The curious thing about this film is Trine Dyrholm, who plays Nico, is a much better singer than Nico ever was, which makes the music much more accessible.”

Evening Times: Credit David McLean.

Sinclair is now working on a new acting project with Greg Hemphill – “I’m just waiting to read the script but I worked with him a couple of years ago and it was so great that it’s a no brainer,” he said – and will also pop up in Diana and I, a BBC2 drama to be broadcast tomorrow, at 9pm, which tells the story of Princess Diana's death by following four fictional characters who are all affected in different ways by the tragedy.

An accomplished crime writer, Sinclair’s first two books, Seventy Times Seven and Blood Whispers, received glowing reviews from critics. The third in the series, Walk in Silence, which is set in present-day Glasgow, was also well received when it was published in July.

Sinclair added: “I’ve written the first chapter of book number four so I’ll be getting that underway soon. Writing kind of is my main focus but, with the acting, if something interesting comes along, great. I’m all for it. I really enjoy the writing but I also enjoy the acting, when I do it.”

Sinclair will appear at Scotland’s international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland in Stirling on September 9.

The world premiere of Nico 1988 was at Venice Film Festival last week. A UK release date is yet to be confirmed.