There's something strangely exciting about seeing somebody become unexpectedly great at something on screen – I'm thinking of not just Robbie and the whisky -tasting but also Billy and the kestrel training in Kes. Were you aware of that connection and can you explain the appeal of that idea?
I have to say, it was never part of a discussion. And certainly, in terms of writing the script, it just wasn't in my head at all, really. I think you have to just be true to the characters and the premise and everything must arise out of that. I mean, you never think, 'Oh, what are the film references?' We'd never have done that, from the beginning. Obviously there might be an overlap with other films, that's inevitable, given the way the story works, but when you see all these kids, you can see them bristling with [potential].
Paul Brannigan [actor who plays Robbie], the actual man, couldn't get work. And I only had to be with him for twenty minutes to see what a sophisticated kid he is. He's smart, the way he reads a situation, he's funny, he's witty. I saw him organising that troublesome group of people that were in gangs before but are playing football now. The way he handled them, a trained psychologist wouldn't have been able to do it. Getting them to calm down, using humour, backing down a little bit, you could see it if you just watched.
But he couldn't get work. So that shows you how far they try. And with the whisky element, it's lovely from a story-telling point of view because there's so many levels to it: there's the craftmanship of making the whisky, there's a journey to learn about it. It's Scotland's national drink and many of these kids have never tasted it, they've never been to the countryside where it's distilled; there's the pretension of the rich and powerful, who'll buy a bottle for a hundred thousand. So there was a rich area for us to pursue there. And it's also assumed that [the lads] will never be – they even say themselves, 'Who's going to take it from scumbags like us?'
I mean, the idea of unfulfilled potential is just very old and appears in all kinds of stories. I mean there used to be an image for it back in the day, it would be wild flowers on a bomb site. It's the same image, isn't it? People with beautiful potential but in circumstances that will never allow it to be fulfilled.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film, both of you?
I mean I love some of the comedy moments. I've seen this film so many times and I love it when you catch something new every time. And the one I really, really like is very understated, it's when they go up to the flat and he holds his wee child and he's listening to Grace and you can see the possibility of this really affects him. I love the way Paul plays it and I think Ken just didn't interfere with his instinct when he was directing, because he just looks up and he says, 'Why are you doing this for us?'
It's so close but still so far, he still distrusts it. There's so many levels underneath it and he does it low-key and it's almost like he doesn't want to get himself excited about the possibility of something so normal and so beautiful. In a scene like that, you feel for the baby and you feel for him and then it's almost like a kind of fear of kindness and I love it when you get lots of levels in one scene that's so simple.
Oh, well, the scenes with the gang are always very good, because the interplay is very nice and there's several of those. And when they're trying to work out whether there'll be any way in which they can intervene into the auction of this cask of fine whisky and they're sitting round scratching their heads and Albert, who's not the sharpest tool in the cutlery box is struggling with his suggestions. So Albert's struggle, I always like to watch.
Did you cut anything out that you hated to lose?
No, not really. I mean, you always shoot one or two more scenes that you expect to use and we lost one or two scenes but no, nothing. The battle with the censors was diverting and infuriating in equal measure, because their ideas of what is good and bad language is so steeped in the English middle class that it drives you mad.
What with Glasgow's particular fondness for one word, I can imagine ...
Yeah, the one that rhymes with the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.