YOU join us as Chris Reilly is having a go at reality telly. TOWIE fans, look away now. “My big dislike is for the scripted reality stuff. We’re here to deliver the bread and circuses to the population. And if that bread is rotten, if it’s toxic …”

Reilly pauses for a second, but he has not finished his point yet. “I think it’s contributing to entitlement. I think it’s contributing to an awful lot of negative things about society. that whole scripted trashy reality stuff … It’s just vile. I’d love to see that get wiped off the schedule.”

Unlikely given that it’s cheap, I point out. “Well, so’s a cheeseburger. But it doesn’t do you any good.”

Another pause. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.” He smiles. “I’ve said it now.”

When he’s not raging against the machine that is reality TV, Chris Reilly is an actor. You might have seen him in Call the Midwife, or Shetland, or EastEnders, or getting killed by Gwendoline Christie (in a particularly emasculating way) in series two of Game of Thrones (he came back later in another role. Which means he’s played both a Stark and a Lannister).

In short, Reilly’s been busy. Never more so than now. At the moment you can catch him on S4C in a bilingual Welsh noir entitled Bang (which he is happy to rave about given the chance). And then, more accessibly, there’s BBC 1’s current Sunday-night drama The Last Post.

The second episode aired last night. If you’ve caught it Reilly was the one with the mohawk and the tattoos (all painted on every morning, along with the fake tan) and the Scottish accent.

The one, in other words, whose presence reminds us that the British Army in Aden at the start of the 1960s didn’t consist solely of officers who went to Sandhurst, despite what the programme might otherwise suggest. (As the son of a squaddie who was in Aden at the time of the Emergency I know this wasn’t the case.) But acting is just the latest chapter in Reilly’s storied life. Now 39, in his time he has also been a labourer, ran a homeless accommodation and dreamt of going into space.

Maybe it’s that wealth of experience which explains why he’s not afraid of speaking his mind. And not just about reality TV. In our time together he will also talk about the issue of class in acting and about his reluctance to do theatre.

“I love it but there’s no money in it,” he says of the latter. “The big theatres are run by huge administrative offices with lots and lots of employees and the important people, who are on the stage, they don’t get paid the money.”

Reilly has been an actor for eight years now. In that time he’s had 22 professional jobs in film and on television. In 13 of them he’s ended up wearing khaki. “I must just look like a soldier,” he laughs.

Did he ever want to be one in real life? “I once went to join the marines. I wanted to fly fast jets. I didn’t have the eyes for it.”

It’s Thursday morning and Reilly is tucking into porridge in the café of Kelvingrove Art Gallery. He’s staying in Scotland at the moment to look after his mum who’s not been well. “I do plan on maybe going back to London. I’d love to go to America. But I’ll stay here until Mum’s better.”

Anyway, he says, London’s four-and-a-half hours away on the train. And you have to learn your lines some time.

The early reviews of Peter Moffat’s new drama have been lukewarm to be honest, but Reilly is proud of The Last Post. He loves its scale and ambition, enjoyed, too, the fun that went into its making; having the chance to bomb around the South African desert in a landrover in 45˚C heat, for example, and the three-week boot camp he did beforehand in Bulgaria with private soldiers, led by Tony Blair’s former bodyguard of all people.

“They told the maddest stories you’ve ever heard,” he says now of the experience. “The Russians hold this world championship body-guarding contest and one of them was the winner in 2010.”

What exactly does a world championship body-guarding contest entail, I wonder? “They just go around knocking people’s teeth out,” he suggests. “They’d sit around at night time and cut up their own home-grown tomatoes and their own home-made alcohol and sit with you tell you about how it relaxes your heart and all that.”


How did Reilly get here? Thing is, he says, “even though I’ve turned into what looks a rough-arsed monster,” he was, if anything, a geeky kid. He was born in Clydebank and moved to Alexandria with his father when his parents got divorced.

“Dad ran a bed and breakfast in Alexandria and he was also a nightclub bouncer to make ends meet. The bed and breakfast was more or less a homeless unit really, so there were occasions where it was quite cramped.

“My father encouraged both being good at school and also toughening up a little bit, because I was quite a timid child. When my mum and dad split up the male elements of my personality were more encouraged than the female elements. The more sensitive, artistic side I guess comes from my mother. My father’s an intelligent man but the more alpha side comes from that.”

That presumably is the side of him that wanted to go into space (he studied physics at university and remains obsessed with Elon Musk’s SpaceX project), or still dreams of playing James Bond. “I’m too fat now,” he laments.

After university Reilly worked on roads and railway, built a convent in Leipzig, and did time working in an office before finally following in his father’s footsteps and running a homeless unit.

That must require a level of commitment I’m not sure I would be up to, I tell him.

“It was the best and the worst of times,” he says. “You are able to make such a difference to people’s lives.

“If you’re driving along the road and somebody is hitching a lift there’s nothing you can do. What do you do? Stop and give them five quid?

“But if you’ve got a facility you can pick that guy up, put him in a bedroom until Monday morning, keep him warm, keep him dry, then take him into the social, make sure he knows his rights, get him a place, and then support him through his tenancy.

“Being able to do that for people is an amazing thing. But it takes up a lot of your time. If you’re living there, which I was, you’re doing 80 or 90 hours a week. And you’ve got no head space because you can’t say no to people when they need a form filled in or somebody is sitting with scissors in their eye. You need to deal with it.”

It’s quite a gear change to go from that to acting. One that comes with a measure of guilt, perhaps. “I do sometimes feel bad,” he admits. “I feel that acting is a selfish thing for me. I do wonder why I wasn’t strong enough to continue to do that.”

And yet he clearly loves acting. He started mucking about in amateur dramatics. Soon enough he was working backstage at Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera before going to drama school in Wales.

Eight years in he’s clearly established. On a sliding scale ranging from frustration at one end to fulfilment at the other, where would he place himself? “I’m a frustrated actor, but I’m a fulfilled person.”

What’s frustrating him in his career then? “I would say that it’s a very difficult business. Coming into it late makes it difficult. A lot of the people I go up against for roles have a name. “I get an awful lot of phone calls that say: ‘We loved you. We thought you were the best. But we’re going to go with a name because it will sell the show.’ That’s frustrating.”

He sighs. “I’d hate to come across as having a chip on my shoulder about being working-class and Scottish.”

Reilly is not convinced that there are no opportunities for working-class actors. It’s all about talent, he says. Talent doesn’t come with a class label. But he does think it’s harder for working-class kids to break into the business. “There is an economic factor that’s just insurmountable for a lot of working-class kids.”

Television doesn’t help itself either, at times. “What has been done badly is taking characters who are traditionally white males and jamming other genders and other races into them, rather than writing stories specifically for interesting female characters or interesting black or Asian characters. Don’t hamstring them by giving them shitty parts.”

Jodie Whittaker might disagree with him on this point.

We talk about ambition. “It’s a dangerous word isn’t it?” he says. “Ambition that’s not tempered with integrity is dangerous.

“This is such a desirable business. There’s a lot of want in this business, so ambition tempered with integrity is a good thing. Blind ambition, I think, is a bad thing.”

And he’s on the right side of that balance these days? “I’ve often been on the wrong side. That’s where regret comes in, isn’t it? When you don’t pay enough attention to your loved ones, or you think that your career is more important than they are. “It’s a lovely career, it’s a lovely job. But you need to remember that family comes first.”

Chris Reilly is an actor. But it’s not the only thing he is. That’s the reality of it.

The Last Post continues on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm.