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James Cosmo: ‘My friend said: They’re going to drink beer out of your skull’

For the most part, actors have now sussed out the art of the Zoom interview. The trick is to do it in front of a completely blank background, so the interviewer cannot possibly glean any personal details from whatever you happen to be in front of.

James Cosmo does not subscribe to this notion. We speak in mid-November and, when his Zoom screen clicked into life, he was vaping up a storm before a massive, illuminated wooden Christmas tree. True, he has played Santa Claus many a time, most memorably for most in the Narnia films, but also annually at his son’s school’s Christmas grotto (he was so good his son didn’t recognise him). Yet who knew he was this excessively festive?

“Well, I actually do little Cameo things”, he explains “It’s like an online, would you call it a convention? Where you meet people? Anyway, I really enjoy doing it. I do a lot in America, and Thanksgiving is happening soon, so we thought we’d make it look a bit nicer to cheer people up.”

Cosmo has now been working in film and television since the mid-1960s, delivering a specific type of burly authority figure to hundreds of productions. Most will recognise him as Jeor Mormont, Game of Thrones’ original Night’s Watch commander, but that shouldn’t overshadow the rest of his work. The sheer number of classics he has appeared in over the years is mind-boggling. Softly Softly, The Persuaders, The Sweeney, Braveheart, Trainspotting, Troy, Wonder Woman, Chernobyl, and the recent TV adaptation of His Dark Materials. Over the years, he has blossomed into one of those performers whose presence helps to reassure viewers that things will be OK.

Cosmo’s latest role is on season two of The Bay, ITV’s Broadchurch-alike detective show. Again, he appears as a figure of authority, in this case the intimidating patriarch of a grieving family. So the obvious question beckons. Are you the murderer, then?

“You know that character in The Simpsons? Johnny Tightlips?” he replies, slipping into a perfect wiseguy impersonation. “I’m not saying I did, I’m not saying I didn’t. What? The Bay? I don’t know The Bay. Who?”

It turns out that Cosmo is fanatical about The Simpsons. “If I went on Mastermind – which is very unlikely – my special subject could only be The Simpsons,” he says with all seriousness. If you were wondering, his favourite episode is season eight’s The Springfield Files, and he also thinks they should stop making new episodes. “You know, I always look at the screen and when it’s the 4:3 format, when it’s not widescreen, that’s how you know it’ll be a good one.”

He isn’t done. “I was talking to Andrew Neil a while ago. We come from places that are very close, and were born within a couple of years of each other. He’s had an amazing career, but he once told me, ‘Jimmy, I am the man who brought The Simpsons to Great Britain.’ Back when he was head of Sky. He was so proud of that, more than anything else.”

Gradually, I try to steer the conversation back to my original question. On the opening titles of The Bay, his name appears after everyone else’s – “And James Cosmo” – so surely that means he’s the murderer. “Oh, that’s one of your conversations your agent has, he starts to laugh; a big, rolling contented chuckle. “Personally I’ve got absolutely no interest in that side of things. I wouldn’t care if they didn’t put my name on any credits at all. Actually, I would prefer if it said, ‘Such and such was played by Some Guy.’”

Cosmo isn’t a man who seems particularly weighed down by ego. This might be the sheer longevity of his career – you don’t get precious spending decades doing one-episode guest spots on Minder and C.A.T.S. Eyes – but it might also be down to the nature of his upbringing. Cosmo’s father was James Copeland, a jobbing actor who hung out with the glamorous likes of Sean Connery and Peter O’Toole in London, but he also kept “flitting back” to live in Scotland with his mother and sister. School in Clydebank didn’t sit well with Cosmo, something he now attributes to being “exceptionally thick” as a child. Read from source….