March 28, 2002
I fell into acting says Oats hunk; Scots actor and climber Rory McCann on the mountain plunge that changed his life.
STRAPPING Scott’s Porage Oats man Rory McCann cheated death after falling an incredible 70 feet in a climbing accident.
And now the fall is the basis of a new Channel 4 comedy series, The Book Group.
The background to Rory’s character Kenny is based on his own horrific accident - but in the television show, he is paralysed and wheelchair-bound.
Luckily for Rory, he recovered from his horrendous injuries, which included a fractured skull.
Rory, 33, explained: “I was holding on to an overhung cliff face on a Yorkshire cliff. I was on my own and I didn’t have any ropes. I had 15 feet to go, but I didn’t have any strength left and couldn’t do the last move.
"For 10 minutes I held on, then went ‘f*** it’ and aimed for a patch of green. I just saw green, green, green and then ‘bang’. I thought I was going to die." A friend saw Rory fall but couldn’t drive, so with two broken ankles, broken wrist, broken arm and fractured skull, Rory drove to hospital, his mate changing the gears.
He said: “I couldn’t believe I drove away from that with four stookies and a head bandage. I lost a life there.”
Later, the 6ft 6ins Glaswegian gentle giant told writer and director Annie Griffin about his fall and his life-long love of climbing. Now she’s used it for The Book Group about an American woman who comes to Scotland and forms a book group to make friends.
But the people she attracts, such as Kenny, aren’t exactly what she expects and each week we follow their stories.
Being in a wheelchair is a completely different image to the one that has made Rory a international star as the kilted hunk in a white vest who promotes Scotland’s most famous breakfast.
But Rory doesn’t want to be just the face of Porage Oats - he is desperate to become a full-time actor. This is a perfect opportunity, as the series goes out at 9.30pm on a Friday night - Channel 4’s comedy prime time.
And he’s also won a part as Peter Mullen’s brother-in-law in Young Adam, which stars Ewan McGregor and is currently being filmed in Scotland.
RORY is on the cusp of becoming a successful actor - something he’s dreamed of for years. As well as Young Adam, he will soon be seen in London’s Burning as a jealous boyfriend.
For research for The Book Group, Rory met wheelchair users with spinal injuries to see how they got about. He also went round Glasgow for a day in a wheelchair, which was an eye-opener.
He said: “Everyone was extra friendly and slightly patronising. I think many able-bodied folk find it hard to know what to say or how to act with disabled people.
"It did make me think about what life could have been like after my fall, but I’m still amazed I lived, let alone walked away without a permanent injury."
But then everything about Rory McCann is amazing. He’s had the sort of life many of us only dream of.
Three years ago when he was offered the chance to be the Scott’s Porage Oats man, he turned it down several times because he wanted to climb the Matterhorn. The producers had auditioned 400 people - but the first time Rory was asked, he was too busy painting the Forth Bridge.
At school, Rory was bullied for being small and skinny. He became a lumberjack and broadened out and that started his love of rock climbing.
He had his first taste of acting at an early age. At 17, he was climbing in Wales and was going past a slate quarry when he stumbled on filming for the fantasy epic Willow.
Director Ron Howard, who this week won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, was looking for extra cast and Rory blagged his way in. He recalled: “They didn’t want me at first. They were looking for drunks who were big, so I stood up and said ‘I’m 6ft 6ins and I’m from Glasgow’.
"My scene was having to look terrified, but every time I looked up, my friends would make me laugh. Ron would say: ‘Hey, Scottie, don’t laugh’. But I couldn’t help it and was chucked off set."
Having grown a beard for his new role, Rory is happy to keep it and ditch the kilt so he doesn’t get recognised as much.
Rory, who lives with Hazel, his doctor girlfriend of four years, said: “People come up and poke me and say ‘there’s the Porage man’. But it was a great privilege to do the adverts.”
He was keen to do the new television drama Rockface, feeling he was Scotland’s only real climber and actor, but was told they already had Clive Russell - another strapping Scot.
But that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for acting.
He confessed: “I would prefer to cut down some trees for pounds 100 than do a ropy character, but I want to become a full-time actor - I’m still cutting down trees and every time, I hope it’s my last job.
"My hands are knackered - I’ve got white finger from the vibrations of the chainsaws like miners who use heavy equipment down the pits.
"I’m 17 and a half stones going up trees that are about to fall down. I’ve been lucky once and I don’t want to risk it all again."
The Book Group will be shown at 9.30pm on Channel 4 from April 12.
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