Brian Beacom

TAM Dean Burn always conjures up a very close approximation of Satan when required.

Anyone who has seen the actor in TV roles such as gangster McCabe in BBC Scotland’s River City, or his monster rapist in Sky drama Fortitude will confirm.

And he’s not afraid to reveal a delightful borderline madness either, evidenced on stage by his Mad Hatter.

Yet, away from performance the man is a bigger sweetie than a giant packet of Fruit Pastilles.

What’s intriguing however about the Leith-born actor is how he so readily accesses this entirely convincing darkness.

But how can someone, as he did, play out a “hard-core” rape scene in Fortitude, yet just a hours later find himself telling kids across Britain about the Gruffallo?

And if actors have to call upon certain experiences to transmit the worst of feelings, what sort of trauma has he endured, what form of soul-corroding cesspit has he had to crawl out to give him his starting position in the likes of Trainspotting?

“I actually had a really happy life growing up Clermiston, this council estate above Edinburgh Zoo,” he recalls, smiling, over coffee in a Glasgow hotel.

“It was like being in the country. We had woods and fields all around and we could climb the fence into the zoo at night. There was such a strong sense of community my parents didn’t want to leave that house.”

Tam’s dad was a joiner whose sons Tam, Russell and Philip, went on to represent a council house success story, becoming an actor, a musician and a professional footballer.

But where was the angst, Tam? You don’t produce incredible shades of light and dark without some form of context?

The most demanding part of early life seems to have been which books to pick at the school prize-giving. Was Clermiston that close to Walton’s Mountain?

“No, not quite,” he says, grinning. “Growing up there was great but at 18 I was desperate to get away from home, given us three boys were in the one bedroom. But my ma’ and da’ just wouldn’t move out of the area. It was driving me demented until an actor pal offered a room in a flat.”

When Tam announced he was for the off it caused great consternation.

“It was a nightmare for years,” he says with a rueful shake of the head. “I was the first person in my extended family for years to move out of the house without being married. My ma’ was black affronted.”

Tam wasn’t the cliché child actor at all, desperate to perform. “I did the gang shows when in the Cubs, though. And my ma’ loved getting me dressed up to go guysing.”

The actors adds, with a shake of the head; “I remember going round the doors wearing a Girl Guide uniform with bloomers on underneath.

“But I only really became interested in acting at Craigmount High. We had a great theatre space and high powered drama teachers in Joyce Heller and Ken Morley (who would go onto become a Coronation Street star, as the iconic Reg Holdsworth.) I loved it and I once adapted Huckleberry Finn for the stage and appearing in it.”

Yet, Tam’s intelligence mitigated against developing his love for acting. “Because I was set to do O levels and Highers I couldn’t do drama anymore. That was it. Gone.”

It didn’t matter too much. The teenager planned to become a journalist, yet fell at the first hurdle.

“The closest I got was the short list for a traineeship at the Scotsman,” he recalls and adds, grinning. “But it’s as well I didn’t get in. I would have become an alcoholic. That was the world at the time.”

He also had an excessive personality, which found a home when he formed a punk band, The Dirty Reds. But why give up on journalism so readily? “I thought ‘Who wants to know what I have to say?’”

What? He simply couldn’t take rejection. So he signed up to be an actor? He grins at the irony.

“Yes, but as an actor you get chosen, which gives you validation. But with writing I didn’t know if someone really wanted to read what was in my head.”

Thoughts turned to professional acting when he saw an ad in the Edinburgh News, ‘Actors Wanted’.

He wanted to be the Scottish James Dean. Yet, acting all felt too middle class. Burn was 30 – he’s now 59 - before he accepted his role in life as an actor and enjoyed stints with the likes of TAG Theatre Company, based at the Citizens’.

Yet, where was the angst coming from, which emerged in his performances?

“There certainly was an anger,” he admits. “I did have a temper, which fortunately I could let loose on stage.”

Part of the anger was directed at governments. In 1990, Burn stood for Glasgow Central on the Communist Party of Great Britain ticket. (He managed to achieve triple figures).

“I guess I always had a sense of injustice.”

Every now and then Tam gets the chance to appear on stage or on film and let loose with the madness, to reveal the dark, quirky character, as in the case with new film Moon Dogs.

The story follows teenage step-brothers Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) and Thor (Christy O’Donnell) as they journey from Shetland to Glasgow for very different reasons. Aspiring Irish singer Caitlin (Tara Lee) beguiles both boys and passions come to a head at a music festival.

“It’s a lovely wee film and I’ve got a nice part as a sleazy folk promoter who’s also in charge of a fish factory, filmed in Shetland and Ayr.”

It’s not just anger that emerges in Burn’s performances. It’s raw emotion. The actor once said “I bruise a bit too easily.” Does this suggest a lurking darkness he has to work hard at containing?

“Oh yes,” he agrees. “I’ve never tumbled into full-blown depression but I am a needy f****r.

He and partner Emma, a press manager, have a seven year-old daughter, Morgan, whom Burn clearly dotes on. (He has a 30 year-old son, Skye, from a previous relationship whom he is immensely proud of).

“I could plumb the depths which meant I’ve been an emotional roller coaster, and this could be hard for anyone associated with me.

“But I’m gentler now. I’m not so up and down and not so desperate.”

Yet, he can produce the angst on screen when required.

“I hope so,” he says, grinning.

* Moon Dogs is in cinemas September 1. For details see