Comedy favourite Greg McHugh on swapping laughs for suspense with chilling new screen role
Now the man behind Scotland’s favourite squaddie is on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s scariest screen characters.
Greg McHugh is set to send shivers down the spines of viewers as a chilling ex-convict in dark comedy-mystery-thriller Guilt when it returns this month.The actor, whose other best known roles include the comedy Fresh Meat and the drama The A Word, plays one of the pivotal roles in the second series of Neil Forsyth’s BAFTA Scotland-winning show.
McHugh’s character, Teddy, is a haunting new nemesis for sociopathic lawyer Max McCall, who has just been released from behind bars and is has tracked down by his old prison cellmate.
McHugh says: "Teddy has developed some level of friendship, or so he thought, with Max. He is one of the few people that Max was genuinely scared of in prison.
"For me, it was about getting that mix of believing that they could almost be friends, but with Teddy also having this other side of potential threat and violence.
"Teddy felt that Max had opened an intellectual door to him, of reading and writing, helping and supporting him. He has never had that in his life. It’s a great set-up for understanding how Teddy’s journey progresses.”
In the new series, Teddy attempts to renew his trusted friendship with a reluctant Max and enlists his help to seek his own form of justice, but has his trust and loyalty betrayed.
McHugh adds: “Growing up in Edinburgh, I have definitely met people over the years who scared me. I would think back to people I’d met and go: ‘Right, what were they like and how did they hold themselves?’ I worked really hard on it.
“It’s all about the quality of the part and the quality of the writing. If you get a script of Neil’s quality you want to be involved in the project. To get to play this very different character was massively exciting.
“I wanted Teddy to be as terrifying as I could make him. He has to have the threat for violence.
"As an actor, playing implicit things is far more interesting to me than playing him smash someone’s head in. I would rather the audience were unsettled rather than shocked by his behaviour. That’s what I was aiming for.”
McHugh is joined by The Bodyguard star Stuart Bowman, Watchmen actress Sara Vickers, Downton Abbey and Doctor Who favourite Phyllis Logan, Chernobyl and Calibre actor Ian Pirie, and The Nevers star Rochelle Neil, while Mark Bonnar, Emun Elliott and Jamie Sives all revive their respective roles as Max, Kenny and Jake from the first series.
McHugh says: "The second series has got a different feel, which works within the tone Neil has set, but I think he’s maybe ramped up the slightly darker element.
"It still has that bleak, dark humour through it but it’s perhaps slightly more drama-led and emotionally led.
“It is not so much of a twisty, turny, whodunnit but has the depth of a complicated show, in a good way.
“It’s new, it’s challenging and it looks brilliant. Of course its got good actors in it but the scripts are so good that it makes you look better as an actor.”
McHugh was also a huge fan of the critically-acclaimed first series of Guilt and jumped at the chance to work with Forsyth again after appearing in his adaptation of his Bob Servant books.
McHugh says: “The first series was a brilliant example of what could and should be made in Scotland. It was a filmic, brilliantly-written and exciting piece of work.
"What really impressed me was that you had to concentrate on it. You got involved with the characters, but there was also a complicated narrative. That’s very difficult to do - we often spoon-feed audiences. Guilt is a great example of how all the elements come together.
"I thought it realised some of the potential of what could be made in Scotland. We need more of the unexpected, and more breadth and depth.
“How much west coast comedy and drama have we had over the years? Let’s start exploring Scotland for a bit more nuance.”
McHugh, who will be back on stage in Scotland this Christmas when he plays the lead role Aladdin in the Christmas pantomime at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow, has worked with Gregor Fisher and Rowan Atkinson on two separate comedy series, The Cockfields and Man Vs Bee.
However he has also been filming the fantasy series A Discovery of Witches and appeared alongside Christopher Eccleston and Morven Christie in the hit drama The A Word.
He adds: "There’s an odd assumption sometimes about a difference between comedy and drama.
"I have the same approach to a comedic character as the one I have to a dramatic character.
“It’s about ‘how do they think, how do they react to things, how do they walk, how do they hold themselves and how do they control themselves?’ I go through that process on my own and bring it to the set.
"Every actor wants to do as many diverse things as you can. I think we’re becoming slightly more influenced by the American model of people being able to do different things.
"Ten or 15 years ago it would have been a case of: ‘Greg McHugh is very much Gary: Tank Commander or Howard from Fresh Meat.’
“The industry has changed since then and I’ve worked very hard to open up more opportunities on the drama front.
"It’s about the quality of the part and the quality of the writing for me.
"If you get a script of Neil’s quality you want to be involved. To get to play this very different character was massively exciting.”
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