The National spoke with Scottish actor Paul Higgins ahead of the premiere of his new play This is Memorial Device - more information on tickets can be found HERE

1. Going to a seminary

I went to junior seminary when I was 12 training to be a missionary priest. That was a kind of boarding school in Coatbridge, not far from Wishaw where I grew up. But we lived there almost all the time.

It was an Italian order so I was sort of partly raised by all these Italian guys from a very different culture. I had a great time I have to say, though obviously I didn’t become a priest.

When I realised I couldn’t do celibacy and wasn’t sure about god – all the things you need to be sure about – I was still reluctant to leave because I had such good friends there.

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You hear horror stories about seminaries but I had never heard any about that one. That was a place we didn’t watch TV, we held things in common and didn’t really have possessions, we had time for meditation.

For a working-class boy from the west of Scotland, it was an amazing opportunity to see life in a different way.

2. Joining a drama club

After I left the seminary, I was going to go to the University of Glasgow. I had the qualifications but hadn’t applied because I was going to be a priest. I got left in the lurch and went to Our Lady’s High in Motherwell.

I joined the drama group and we got invited just to sing because I was a singer and the drama group did musicals. We went to a drama camp in Cumbernauld shortly before I was meant to go to university but the theatre director gave me the lead part in this thing we were devising.

I’d never thought of myself as an actor, not for one second, but he gave me the lead part and asked why I was going to university.

I didn’t really have an answer other than everybody being proud. So I took a year out and auditioned for drama schools and got into Central in London and that was a massive moment in my life.

3. Living in London

It was a big deal from a guy from Wishaw and being around people I’d never met before. People in my class, one person was the daughter of a very famous novelist. I’d never met anyone like that in my life so that opened my eyes and just living in that huge, multi-cultural metropolis.

At that time, certainly Wishaw, but even Glasgow was a more mono-racial, monocultural place.

4. Going to a cattle market

I went to research a job in Carrickmacross in Ireland and there was a cattle market there. Funnily enough I’d grown up next to a cattle market, cows used to come down our street with a field at one end and the market at the other. There’d be cow s*** all over the road.

In Carrickmacross, I’d be about 27, I had a look at this market for something to do and the cows were being unloaded from trucks and these boys were sitting on the wall.

One of them had a massive, long cane. His job was to just batter, very casually and without animosity, the cows until they got up.

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I went back to my digs and the only thing for dinner was beef stew. I couldn’t stomach it and I haven’t eaten meat since that night and that was 35 years ago or something like that. I thought it was for one night only but I’ve never touched it since.

5. Stopping smoking

I was a chain-smoker and a heavy drinker. But when I met my wife I decided to stop, I used to smoke about 50 a day. I once smoked 80 in a day so I stopped that and started running pretty much at the same time.

I’ve been running ever since and not smoking ever since and it was one of the best things I ever did was to stop killing myself.

6. Mike Alfreds

He’s a theatre director, an American guy that lives in London. I didn’t meet him until I was 30-something, in my early 30s anyway. I didn’t really understand acting. He’s written a couple of influential books, one is called Different Every Night.

But he was like three years of drama school in one month’s rehearsal. He completely changed my approach to acting and what it’s for and how it’s done.

To this day I’m influenced by his ideas. I worked with him a couple of times but he’s been very influential to a lot of people, guys like Mark Rylance.

He was a hard taskmaster, he annoyed people. He wouldn’t be upset by that, he knows he upsets people. But he taught me that it’s not about what your character is feeling, which you get obsessed with as an actor. They’re internal, they don’t communicate to an audience.

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If you think of what your character’s feelings make your character do, so still thinking about them, but taking it to the next level and asking what they make you do or try to do.

When you’re trying to do something with someone else on stage, that is transmittable to the audience. It’s not about your internal workings, it’s something you’re putting out into the world.

7. Writing

I always wanted to be a writer but didn’t believe in it somehow. I went to therapy for a while and started writing trying to understand my dad really. A play came out of that – Nobody Will Ever Forgive Us – for the National Theatre of Scotland.

I got over that hump of wanting to be a writer to managing to sit down and be able to finish something and see it produced. It was a great production, the director did a great job with the cast and I’ve kept writing since then. It’s stayed with me.

8. The Thick of It

I absolutely loved doing The Thick of It. I didn’t do it for that long. I think I joined for the second three which were then shown as a series of six but they were made as two batches of three.

The National: Paul Higgins with Peter Capaldi in The Thick Of ItPaul Higgins starred alongside Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It. 

I did a couple of hour-long specials which I really enjoyed because there was more scope for the characters and did the film (In The Loop). I had a great time doing it, I loved that process where you shoot a lot of material and they sort it out for you.

9. Stopping drinking and becoming vegan

This book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer turned me vegan pretty much overnight. I’ve been vegan for 14 years and I’m an ambassador for The Vegan Society. I’ve been a trustee of The Vegan Society as well so that’s a big thing in my life.

I also stopped drinking just past six years ago. I was very reliant on alcohol to relax, to socialise, every occasion was one for alcohol but stopping was one of the best things I ever did.

10. This Is Memorial Device

We did this play two years ago at the Edinburgh festival. I was doing another play and I got given the book This Is Memorial Device. I hadn’t read it, but it was sent to me. It’s set in Airdrie at a time when I was young, or younger than I am now.

We set up a meeting with Graham Eatough who is directing and adapted David Keenan’s amazing novel. I didn’t know how he could make it a one-man show. I should say it’s not really one-man because there’s taped interviews but there’s only one actor in the flesh.

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Graham did a fantastic job of adapting, I loved doing it and the audience responded well. It’s very funny and unusual in what it tries to do. It’s entertaining and it’s funny but you go on a journey with it that takes you to unexpected places, including me and I’m trying to take the audience with me.

It’s so good to be involved in something so engaging and entertaining but demanding as well and to find that audiences really respond to it is fantastic. To have another chance to do this, not just in Edinburgh but also in Glasgow, Aberdeen and London is a dream.