When Alex McLeish was manager of Hibs, I invited him to the premiere of Mission: Impossible 2 in London, even though I’d never met him. I sent off the invitation with a note, but I heard nothing back so I assumed he wasn’t coming.
We were all in the VIP area when my wee nephew came in and said: ‘Alex McLeish is in the foyer.’ Tom Cruise was there and so was Russell Crowe and Kylie Minogue, but as soon as my family heard the Hibs manager was there, they were like, ‘Alex McLeish!’ and went over towards him – he was much more important. Tom Cruise said: ‘Who’s that?’ I said: ‘Tom, that’s Alex McLeish, 77 caps for Scotland. He’s a hero – and he’s the manager of Hibs!’
Alex and I just clicked and we’ve become very, very good friends. Alex is a massive movie buff; he watches movies religiously in his spare time. He has a great memory for films that he’s seen and can quote lines from them. His memory is for lines; mine’s for a pass from defence into attack. I’m a huge movie fan myself but my first love is football. He always wants to talk about films and I always want to talk about football! He’s very successful, incredibly committed, dedicated and meticulous. We understand each other. We’re from the same background and have the same values. Alex’s family know my family from way back. He was born two streets away from where my father was born in Barrhead in Glasgow.
Alex and his wife Gill came to see me when I was in a play called To The Green Fields Beyond at the Donmar Warehouse in London, and I introduced him to Ray Winstone afterwards. Ray’s a huge football fan too; he follows West Ham. We made a pact: I support the Hammers in England and he supports Hibs in Scotland.
I tried to explain the Hibs thing to Tom Cruise once. He’s a very physical guy but he’s not into football. We were talking about sports teams and I was trying to explain my passion for Hibernian Football Club. I was saying, like: ‘The club started in 1875 as a way to get the local orphans off the streets, so the Irish priests formed Hibernian and it was a wonderful act of kindness by the priests to try and instill some sense of community and of worth into the young people of Leith.’ But American actors don’t really get football.
Alex and Gill also visited me on the set of a film I was shooting in Germany late last year called The Poet, about a Russian assassin, and he became an extra in it. There was this scene in an art gallery in Munich and I said to Alex, ‘Do you want to be in it?’ and he says, ‘Aye’. I told him to stand there and look at a photograph on the gallery wall. Paul Hills, the director, was well up for it. Every time they cut, I said to Alex: ‘Alex, no, no, feel the moment; get into it more. I don’t believe you! Imagine you’re looking at a fantastic footballer.’ It was funny, me giving Alex acting lessons.
This is an extract from the Observer’s ‘My Team’ feature