SCOTT Vickers could see there might be trouble ahead. Here he was, an English actor famous for playing a gay man on television, on his own on the Squinty Bridge in Glasgow and coming towards him was a big group of teenagers in football tops. He knew this might not end well.
But he needn’t have worried. As soon as the teenagers clocked him, they started pointing at him and shouting over, but it was obvious pretty quickly that they weren’t threatening or intimidating. Far from it. All they wanted to know was what was going to happen next to DC Will Cooper, Vickers’s character on River City. Their big question was: were Will and Robbie going to get back to together?
More than a year on from that encounter on the bridge, Vickers says he is still amazed by how well it went. He knows there was a time when gay characters on television attracted ridicule or anger – he also knows homophobic attacks happen on the street. But his four years on River City until 2015 coincided with increased acceptance of gay and lesbian people and the introduction of gay marriage in 2014 – in fact, Vickers believes the encounter on the bridge is evidence that, in a small way, River City was part of the change.
“There was a massive impact,” he says. “I’d be walking down the street and people would get into conversations about being gay and it was creating dialogue about it. It was very meaningful and I reconnected with a lot of gay friends of mine who brought it up. A soap can promote awareness. It can help change attitudes.”
Vickers has been reminded of the Squinty Bridge incident today because it happened just up the road from the coffee shop we’re sitting in. We’re meeting because Vickers is well into his new career as a film-maker and has been readying his new film, Mother, for release in the new year. His family, he says, call him Man on a Mission and you can see why: as soon as we sit down, the 39-year-old actor is in promotion mode: eyes, teeth, the lot. This is probably how, against the odds in an industry that is still to properly take off in Scotland, he is making some progress.
The new film, he says, is inspired by the movies he loved as a teenager growing up in Cheshire: Jaws, The Shining, and Bladerunner. He also loved Misery and says Kathy Bates as the obsessed, possessed fan was the kind of horror he was trying to find in his own film. A monster doesn’t have to be green or alien, he says – a monster can look like a mother.
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The problem was trying to get the film made. Even while he was in River City, Vickers’s real ambition was always to be a producer and film-maker and eventually he left the soap to set up his own production company New Light Films with a business partner Steven Little. An he had already had some success by then: in 2013, he made a short, Advance to Contact, although another project, Devil’s Project, never got made after being picked up by a Hollywood producer. Another, an apocalypse film Catalyst, could not attract the funding it needed. It is all about the funding.
“Making a feature film is extremely difficult,” says Vickers. “Finance, the logistics, the number of people that have to come together in a certain amount of time. I’ve been trying to get a feature film made for the last ten years. Devil’s Patriot was when I started to learn about how difficult it is.”
The answer, he says, is to invest much more at the grassroots level of the industry rather than build a big new shiny studio, which has been touted as the best way to develop Scotland’s film industry (there are a number of plans floating around).
“To be honest, a big studio is a bit irrelevant,” says Vickers. “A studio is just a big building. It’s just somewhere for outside productions to go but as soon as someone in America goes ‘oh I don’t want to film there anymore’ it’s gone.
“I think people need to be clear on what they mean by a Scottish film industry – I see it as being a grassroots industry, but it’s very much about an industry for hire here, whereas I would like to see home-grown filmmakers - producers and companies making films in the way that Hollywood does. We’ve got fantastic people in the UK – actors, crews, directors, probably the best in the world, but the funding comes from outside. People think it’s a magical thing – we’ll build a studio and suddenly we’ll have a film industry. No, a film industry comes from the people doing the business, earning money from it and growing their business.”
Vickers would like to do that with Mother, although he would not necessarily be averse to taking another acting job if it came up. Acting, he says, has not always come easily to him, although he was always encouraged by his dad, who was an electrician, and his mum, who was a legal secretary. He got his first professional job, in a panto, when he was still only nine years old and later moved to the States where he did well in musical theatre.
Breaking into serious acting in his late 20s was not so easy though. “I just kept pushing and pushing,” he says. “I did as many short films as I could, I worked for free, and I did as much acting as I could that was on the fringe of professional.”
However, there was a period in his twenties when there was no work coming in and he had to move back in his parents. “It was a very bleak spell,” he says. “I had no work and nothing on the horizon for almost two years, I was broke and had to move back in with my parents; I considered quitting the industry and going to uni. In acting there were hundreds of me – guys that looked like me, could act like me, and were better than me, and it was very tough.”
Vickers also had to struggle with some personal tragedy in his life when his sister Jeannine died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage when she was just 30 years old. The shock led to Vickers suffering from profound depression which was eventually diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, a condition that is usually associated with soldiers who have experienced trauma during combat.
Vickers says the symptoms were with him for ten years in all, although he says he is fine now - "those troubles are a distant memory". You deal with it how you can, he says, you get through it and the key to recovering or managing the condition is to find the kind of help that is right for you. In Vickers’ case, it was therapy and attending retreats where he could find some peace and quiet.
Making his film on the subject, Advance to Contact, also helped. “A huge amount of soldiers were taking their own lives and many people put it down to PTSD and since I had had PTSD and got through it I wanted to understand what was going on with soldiers,” he says. “I knew that PTSD can happen to anyone, all walks of life and for many different reasons but a disproportionate amount of soldiers were killing themselves, I wanted to help in some way.”
Vickers says Advance to Contact also helped him professionally and gave him some of the credibility he needed to get his career in feature films going; in time, it also gave him the confidence he needed to leave River City. “I had been in the show for four years and I was ready to move on,” he says. “River City was a great job but my ambition was to produce feature films and had been for a long time and I knew that in order to make a serious go of it I needed to put all my time and energy into it.”
Which is what he’s doing now. Vickers is a regular visitor to Film City in Govan, the industry hub that provides office and production space to film-makers. He’s also been working with Blazin Griffin, the Edinburgh game and post-production company on getting Mother ready for release. This is not some vanity project, he says, this is serious film making. “I wasn’t going to waste my time making a cheap film that looks s**t,” he says. “I’ve been in the profession a long time, I’ve done a lot of TV and this is not going to be a waste of time.” Mother has been made by a Man on a Mission.
Mother will be released next year. For more information: www.newlightfilms.com/mother
Man on Fire by Tony Scott. The film has some amazingly creative cinematography, the script is beautifully written and based on an incredible true story.
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, a phenomenally talented investigative writer. He combines brilliant storytelling and humour while on a crazy adventure talking to psychopaths and experts. It’s also really informative.
Don’t have a favourite, I have really eclectic tastes: Metallica, Adele, 30 Seconds to Mars, Linkin Park, Coldplay, country/folk and I have to admit I really like Love Yourself by Justin Bieber.
The best advice you’ve ever received
The world doesn’t owe you anything. Don’t expect someone else to hand you a career, or worse, believe you are entitled to one.
Your ideal dinner party guests
Jon Ronson, Ricky Gervais, and Tim Minchin.