Next Big Thing ; Scots Actor Set to Follow in Footsteps of Pal Gerard Butler
By Paul English
HIS first showbiz outings featured Hollywood star Gerard Butler in the back courts of Paisley's Gallowhill housing estate.
Now River City actor Tom Urie is finally following his old playmate on to the big screen.
Tom and Gerard's families lived next door to each other in the late 1970s on the Renfrewshire scheme.
Gerard's big brother Brian was on the ice-cream van, while his wee brother played with his pal Tom, casting, scripting and directing their first movies in the street.
Both Tom and Gerard grew up to forge careers in the entertainment industry.
One became a big name, with a string of high-profile parts in big- budget Hollywood movies.
The other became one of the most popular characters in BBC1 soap River City and hit home-grown comedies like The Karen Dunbar Show.
But now Tom, 41, looks set to follow his pal on to bigger things.
He provides five voices in critically acclaimed animated movie The Illusionist, out this weekend and already being tipped for an Oscar nomination.
And he's just finished filming with legendary Hollywood director John Landis in the eagerly anticipated Burke and Hare feature, with Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis.
But while Butler's doing the red carpet circuit, Tom is losing invites to swanky premieres in his emails.
Sitting in a cafe in Glasgow's west end, Tom says: "Gerard was my best mate when I was wee.
My mum has these stories of us putting on shows and plays and things. It's funny that we both ended up as actors, with different degrees of success.
"I don't know if he'd remember me. We moved to the other side of the railway line when I was about five. I have to admit I've never seen anything he's been in but I love the big dramatic American voiceovers in the trailers, where he's 'Ge-RA-rdButler....'.
"I remember him when his mum was shouting, 'Gerird, get in'."
The pair's paths have yet to cross but the chances are they might soon, providing Tom gets on top of his housekeeping and his emails.
He laughs when he recalls missing out on the premiere for The Illusionist and says it's typical.
He says: "I didn't have a clue about the premiere. I found the email in my spam folder a week too late, "I actually couldn't even remember doing it and my agent had to remind me.
"I went down to the studios in Glasgow and did all the voiceovers in a day. I provide voices for five characters, one being a Scottish drunk."
The Illusionist is made by Edinburgh production company Django Films by French director Sylvain Chomet.
It tells of an old-school musician in the 1950s who travels from Paris to Edinburgh via Glasgow and the Western Isles, hoping to find somewhere to perform.
Film critics have heaped praise on the low-budget animation, in which Scottish locations are portrayed in a gentle style reminiscent of the classic Walt Disney movies of the last century.
Tom says: "It looks like someone has animated a watercolour.
"It's smooth and beautiful, just brilliant. The music is amazing too. It's done by Malcolm Ross from Josef K (the Scottish post-punk band). The party would no doubt have been brilliant. But it's one I was oblivious to - story of my whole life."
He describes himself as a cocky teenager when he landed a place on a music course at Perth college in the 1980s.
He went on to play live on the Scottish pop/rock scene, performing with the likes of Horse and Carol Laula in the 1990s.
Now an established actor appearing as Big Bob in River City, he has a string of theatre and TV credits to his name and plans to release an album and tour next year.
Signed to Warner Publishing, he and a pal Matthew McVarish write songs which are kept by t he publisher until a suitable act come s along.
Tom says: "I was approached after writing a musical called Sweet Oran Mor in Glasgow two years ago.
"We've written a load of songs for the publishers but we've not had that big bite yet.
"We wrote a song for Susan Boyle called Never Been Kissed, which we did the night my writing partner and I first saw her on Britain's Got Talent.
"We even went on The Hour and gave it to her brother but we don't know if it ever got to her."
His voice has featured on one monster-selling album but he got paid just pounds 75 for it and only discovered the success when he was out shopping.
He explains: "I've done session work as a singer and about five years ago I got a phone call from someone asking me to sing with some guy who had no money and was making an album in his bed room. I went and did the vocals and some guy who had no moneyand was making an album in his bedroom. I went and did the vocals and a year later I was in HMV and I heard it playing. I thought, 'I recognise that voice. Is that me?'" The album was Mylo's Destroy Rock 'n' Roll, which he'd recorded vocals for on twotracks.
He's credited in the sleeve notes but isn't too bothered that he signed up for pounds 75 and not a cut of the profits.
He says: "I'm not moaning - it's just one of those things. But I keep hearing myself popping up on TV programmes like The Holiday Show."
Tom has also written a song called Burke And Hare and let director John Landis hear it during filming for the movie.
He says: "I recorded it with my muso mates from Sammy Dow's pub in Glasgow. John wanted to hear it and emailed me back saying, 'Very good. But not for my movie.'
"But we're really happy with it, so we'll use it for something else. It was enough just to be working with John Landis."
The director is best known for Michael Jackson's groundbreaking Thriller video and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd film The Blues Brothers. A hero of Tom's, he was floored - literally - when he auditioned for the part.
Tom recalls: "They needed a fat guy, so I got the call. I had to have a massive heart attack for the part and so I went way over the top in the audition - snottering, slavering, fell over a chair, everything. But I got the part."
It also involved a nude scene for Tom, which he had reservations about, but did anyway. His weight does concern him but he admits it could also be a selling point.
He says: "You need all shapes and sizes in this game. I would like to lose weight but it doesn't preoccupy me. I always pass my medicals and I have a normal cholesterol.
"I'd like to blame genetics and I did have lots of big aunties. But I'm fond of the pies and I've never been sporty or into exercise.
"The other River City cast can go for their shopping and put on a hat or sunglasses or something. But this is like a costume I can't take off."