Kevin McKidd on Scottish Roots, Brave Accents, Grey’s Anatomy and His Brush with John Carter
Among the many familiar faces in Disney-Pixar’s Brave – or familiar voices, rather – is actor Kevin McKidd, who joins fellow Scots Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, and Robbie Coltrane in bringing the tale of a 10th century princess to life in colorful detail. Earlier this week, Movieline spoke with the transplanted McKidd about his beloved home country, his Brave brogue, and the breakthrough moments in a career spanning his early turn in Trainspotting to his current gig on Grey’s Anatomy.
Tapped for Brave, McKidd (who also lends his voice to the popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare video games) contributed not one, but two voices to the animated adventure: He voices the honor-bound Lord MacGuffin, one of three battle-happy noblemen in King Fergus’s domain, and the lord’s awkward son Young MacGuffin, a bashful would-be suitor prodded to vie for the hand of the headstrong Princess Merida (MacDonald).
For the role of Young MacGuffin, the Elgin, Scotland native offered his own solution to a stumped Pixar’s filmmaking crew searching to find the right unintelligible accent for the character. McKidd shared that and more with Movieline, discussing the post-Trainspotting “lean years,” the TV roles on Journeyman, Grey’s Anatomy, and HBO’s Rome that established him Stateside, his brush with Disney's John Carter, and how the one-time engineering student forged his own path, a la Brave, to embark on his acting career: “There’s no point living unless you’re actually following the path you feel you should be on, you know?”
I’ve never been to Scotland. You have obviously been, a few times.
How could you not go to Scotland? It’s beautiful. You should go! Go now! Go today!
Okay, I’ll just go right after this! But tell me, from your perspective having grown up there, how well do you feel Brave captures the feel and the spirit and the culture of the place you’re from?
I think it really captures it – it’s almost like they took the best parts of Scotland and stuck them in a film and put them in Photoshop, kind of improved on Scotland. I didn’t think anyone could improve on Scotland but I think Pixar did.
What are the best parts of Scotland?
The glens, and the beautiful lochs… the amazing islands. I love the islands on the west coast of Scotland, they’re stunning places to visit. You take ferries from different ports to different places – the beautiful, white, sandy, clear beaches with no pollution. It’s a stunning place, but also the people are hilarious. I really miss the people. They’re your own people – or, for me, they’re my own people. And I do miss that.
There also must be such a sense of the mythic history, so rich in this place. Growing up in Scotland, surrounded by these beautiful landscapes – did you feel that sense?
Yeah! There were castles near where I was from, and I’d cycle my bike out there and we’d have picnics. There’s Duffus Castle, near Elgin, so there’s definitely that kind of epic historical nature to the landscape that’s there, that’s never far away. It’s just part of your life as you grow up. And we’d have standing stones just stood around in fields, with cows walking around them, that are ancient – truly ancient!
How did you come to Brave? It’s great that so much of the voice cast is actually Scottish.
They just called me – they said, "We want you to be in this film!’ I said, "Who are you?" [Laughs] "Pixar!" "Pixar? I’ll do it!" And then they said it was about Scotland and I was like, brilliant! So it was a double-whammy for me, because just to be asked to be involved with Pixar is a big badge of honor. Then for the film to be about a place that I really love, was brilliant. So I didn’t even think about it for a second.
At this point it’s interesting to hear the projects that different folks recognize you from – you’ve done notable television and film work, but many people also recognize your voice from your video game work.
Oh yeah, from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare! It’s huge, that game. It’s absolutely massive. And I didn’t realize how big video games are until I did them.
Did the Brave call come before or after your gaming voice work?
It was during, actually. I’ve been doing the Brave movie for four years, and I did Modern Warfare 2 and 3 over the course of two years. So it was all around the same time.
Which of your works do you think inspired the Pixar folks to call you up for Brave?
I don’t know! They just said, "We think you’re a really good actor and we’ve been a fan of your stuff." I think a lot of people at Pixar were very into Rome, on HBO. It was a great show. So I think that was the thing that made them go, "We’re interested…" I know that Andrew Stanton was very interested in me for John Carter, which I couldn’t do because of Grey’s Anatomy, so I think my name was around there.
Which role was it, in John Carter?
I can’t remember!
Did you go as far as to actually converse with Stanton about the film?
We got close to meeting, and then the studio just said, "No, we can’t release him from Grey’s, so don’t even bother." It was a shame.
It’s been interesting to follow your career all these years – the first time I saw you was in Trainspotting.
Yes. That was a long time ago…
At what point do you feel like you really broke through?
I think there were a couple of points, really. I think it was Rome that was the thing, because I had quite a lot of lean years after Trainspotting. I did a lot of cool work but very low budget and very indie stuff. I think it was Rome that was that game changer for me.
That was also just about the time that cable television was emerging as this fantastic medium for storytelling, and look at it now.
Yes – this force! I’m still so proud to have been a part of that show, and I miss that show. I’m so happy to be on Grey’s, but there was something about Rome – it was this real boy’s own show, it was about all these male relationships and these strong female characters, and it was really just an amazing show to shoot.
Grey’s Anatomy in itself is quite a touchstone – isn’t landing that show a sign that you’ve made it?
It’s kind of cool – I’m still pinching myself that I’m on that show.
I was also fond of Journeyman…
I loved that show, and I miss that show. I saw Kevin Falls, the creator, yesterday – he was playing golf with his son and I was behind him. We were reminiscing, it was great! We’re still good friends. That was a brilliantly written show, Journeyman – it just didn’t get the traction it needed. It’s hard these days in the business world, in the TV world. A TV show has to be a massive hit straight away, so it was unfortunate that it didn’t last. We sat through the writer’s strike and then we thought, “Shit, we’re going to have to just leave, and go back to the U.K.” – and then Shonda Rhimes called me. She said, “We want you for this show.”
You and your family were ready to go back?
Yeah, we were going to go, and Shonda said, “I want you to play this guy, Owen Hunt.” I knew Grey’s was a hit, but I didn’t know much about it. But it’s been a blast ever since, and I feel very, very fortunate, to be honest. Because I’m just this guy from a village in the highlands of Scotland, you know?
Well, going back to your roots – you play not one, but two characters in Brave. The resemblance is stunning, by the way.
[Laughs] Oh, thank you! I like the hairdos.
You play Lord MacGuffin and his son, two very different characters in the periphery of Merida’s kingdom. It’s interesting to see how the vocal performances come through, because some of the dialogue is so minimal. But the younger MacGuffin has a very particular accent…
It’s kind of a great joke, to give him an accent so thick nobody can understand him – even other Scottish characters in the film.
It works pretty well. They wanted the young MacGuffin to be completely not understandable, and they were asking my advice on how they should do it. I said, “The one thing I can suggest is, there’s a dialect from the home area that I’m from which is called the Doric, and it’s a very thick, almost Norwegian dialect that most people, even in Scotland, can’t understand.”
Can you understand it?
I can understand it because I grew up with it, my grandfather spoke it. But a lot of people familiar with that area can’t understand it. So I did some for them and showed them a few YouTube clips and they were like, “Oh my god, that’s amazing! That isn’t made up?” I said, “No, it’s real!” So I feel pretty stoked that I managed to get this crazy dialect from my home area into a massive Disney film.
I love that – not to mention the fact that the character is so cute.
He’s very cute. Well, he’s this shy boy, very big-boned – he’s shy like I was. I kind of channeled myself as a ten-year-old boy, because I was a painfully shy child.
When did that change for you?
Probably about age 14, because then I started acting and that was the thing that drew me out of myself.
The themes that resonate strongly in Brave, aside from the fact that this is the rare female heroine who doesn’t need a love interest and gets to fight her own battles, involve the relationship between parent and child, and the idea of teenagers forging their own path in life. Do you feel that you relate to that sentiment yourself?
I relate – I shouldn’t have been an actor. I should have been like a plumber, or something practical. I went to university to study engineering.
I just knew that I wasn’t going to be happy. I could feel it in my gut, I could just feel it. So I made a change. I didn’t tell anybody, but I applied to drama school in addition, and got in, and then told my family that I was going in another direction. People were really cool about it, surprisingly! I think that can be a challenge – I was expecting them to be really not happy. But I think you have to do that sometimes, you have to just follow your gut. There’s no point living unless you’re actually following the path you feel you should be on, you know?
Brave is in theaters today.