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Ken Stott as Rebus

He's played Hitler and two cops, but Ken Stott is now the people's choice - and the writer's favourite - as Edinburgh's most famous detective

KEN Stott has been in some dark places in shows such as Messiah, The Vice and Uncle Adolf, but he admits the hardest thing he's ever had to do was be a Hibs fan in his new role as Rebus.

The 50-year-old Edinburgh actor takes over from John Hannah as writer Ian Rankin's DI John Rebus.

Gruesome murders Ken can handle - he's seen some of television's worst - but becoming a Hibs fan and running on to their pitch at Easter Road was almost more than he could stomach.

Ken laughed: "It's the hardest thing I've done on screen - I'm a big Hearts fan. But, in truth, having the chance to run on the pitch, which I did in this series, even when it wasn't my team's home ground, is real boys' own stuff and I got a big thrill from it."

Ken takes over the mantle of Edinburgh's most famous crime fighter from Hannah, who was dumped last year after only four episodes. This was despite one of the episodes, Black & Blue, pulling in nine million viewers.

The two new feature-length films, to be screened next month, are The Falls, in which a killer leaves distinctive clues by the butchered bodies of his victims, and Fleshmarket Close, involving murder in the immigrant population of Edinburgh's Knoxland Estate.

Writer Ian Rankin, like many fans of Rebus, thinks Ken is the perfect choice for the grizzled, hard-drinking copper.

Rankin said: "Ken does look the part. He really does. He's got a world weary quality to him and I think that'll work."

Ken himself believes it was inevitable he would portray Rebus.

He laughed: "The people of Scotland demanded it. For years whenever I went home to Edinburgh people would stop me on the street and tell me there was this character in a book I was perfect for.

"And so I acquiesced - but only because the character is so good."

Ken, who played Hitler in Uncle Adolf and two cops in ITV series The Vice and BBC series Messiah, is joined by Claire Price as DS Siobhan Clarke and Jennifer Black as his boss, Chief Super Gill Templar.

With the filming on location in Edinburgh and Glasgow, returning to his home town of Edinburgh gave Ken mixed emotions.

He admitted: "There was something rather poignant about filming in the place I grew up. "It was a sentimental journey. I got the chance to visit many old friends while I was there and I saw a lot more than usual of my son Bill, who is currently studying history at Glasgow University.

"I've only once before played an Edinburgh man in Edinburgh and that was for a film called The Debt Collector, in which I starred with Billy Connolly."

Raised in Edinburgh, where his father was a teacher and his Sicilian mother a lecturer, Ken first fronted a band that played with Billy Fury, Hawkwind and Slade, before heading to drama school in London.

Afterwards no Scots theatres would take him on and his first job in 1974 was at the Lyric in Belfast.

In his home town he revisited some old haunts during filming of Rebus.

Ken said: "We filmed at George Heriot's School where my father was assistant head teacher and I was a pupil. In fact, we filmed in exactly the spot where I performed in my first stage production. It was a melodrama and I forgot all my lines - a traumatic experience all round."

Before being chosen to play the leading man, the actor admits he'd never read a Rebus book. He's since read some of the earlier ones, which he thought would give him the most clues about Rebus' character.

LIKE many of Ken's most notable characters, such as DCI Red Metcalfe in Messiah or DI Pat Chappel in The Vice, Rebus is flawed - an anti-hero who doesn't play by the rules.

"Rebus is an alcoholic," Ken explained, "but like most alcoholics you wouldn't necessarily realise it.

"It wouldn't be feasible to play a drunk - after all, he is a good cop and gets the job done - but when we make more films his character will continue to seep out."

Ken admits he can easily identify with many of Inspector John Rebus' character traits. He said: "I couldn't easily play a man whose basic philosophy I didn't agree with, whose convictions, political or emotional, were totally against my own.

"Rebus is a character rooted in reality. He has strengths and weaknesses like any man. He is a human being capable of enormous depth.

"A main difference is that I don't have a belief structure involving a god as he does. I was bought up a Catholic until about the age of 10, but I have no religion now. But as an actor it is a very interesting path to explore.

"Rebus finds solace in any religious place, be it a church, synagogue or temple. He likes to be around people doing good It is an antidote to the horrors he faces at work."

Critics who may moan that Ken is playing yet another cop will get short shrift from the notoriously gruff actor, who is quick to point out there is an element of humour in Rebus.

"The scripts have created a little bit of humour, albeit dark humour, that Rankin would approve of," he said.

And Rebus is also more of a hit with the ladies than Ken's previous police incarnations. In The Falls, Rebus becomes romantically involved with Miranda Masterson (Sharon Small), a curator at the Museum of Scotland.

Ken added: "I think women see something in him they want to mother and look after, but at the same time they see him as a protector."

Fans of the original book may be disappointed that not every twist and turn in Rankin's story have made it into the two new films, written by Daniel Boyle, who has also penned Inspector Morse and Hamish Macbeth. But at 90 minutes apiece, Ken believes the spirit of the books has been captured.

He said: "We could never hope to plot them all and would only end up disappointing fans and viewers alike. However, we have the essence of the stories in character-driven films.

"Rebus is a very effective cop yet unorthodox in his methods, which is more satisfying to play."

SMG have been commissioned by ITV to make four more Rebus films with Ken and Claire Price, with shooting beginning in spring 2006. Now, however, Ken is on stage at Wyndham's Theatre, in London's West End, in Heroes alongside Richard Griffiths and John Hurt.

He said: "It is wonderful to be back on stage, although exhausting with eight performances a week.

"It gives me a real feeling of serenity when I come off stage each night to have a shower, a cold beer and reflect on the show# Rebus will be screened on ITV in the first week of January