Hollywood star Burn Gorman and novelist David Profumo opened the 2023 salmon fishing season on the River Tay. Gayle Ritchie caught up with them at Meikleour.
If the name Burn Gorman doesn’t ring any bells, the chances are you’ll recognise his face.
He’s often cast as the villain or anti-hero, perhaps a result of possessing a rather distinctive, although undoubtedly handsome, face.
The Hollywood actor has featured in Game of Thrones, Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, The Dark Knight Rises, The Man in the High Castle, Pacific Rim and its sequel, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio movie – and he’s set to star in the next Hunger Games film.
Burn, 48, also landed a lead role – alongside novelist David Profumo – in the Tay salmon fishing opening ceremony on January 16.
I first catch sight of him on the banks of the river at Meikleour, chatting to fellow anglers.
His face is set in a sort of fixed, serious, pensive mould – I’m loathe to say he’s scowling – and he has the definite aura of a celebrity about him.
That grave expression transforms into a warm smile when I approach, and the ice is broken with a handshake and the clinking of (small) celebratory drams. Toasting the river is customary, right?!
While known for playing, in his own words, “baddies and jerks”, a quick Google reveals him to be a fun, down-to-earth sort of guy, with a huge passion for hip-hop and a talent for beatboxing (mimicking the sounds of a drum machine with your mouth).
This makes him a less intimidating character in my mind, and within seconds, we’re laughing and joking away.
He’s surprisingly self-deprecating; there are no airs and graces here!
Our main focus, of course, has to be fishing. What is it about the sport that’s got Burn hooked?
“I like the visceral nature of just having a rod and a lure and getting out there,” he muses.
“I’m not a very experienced salmon fisherman, but I do like to be out in nature and on the river.”
The youngest of four children, Burn was born in Hollywood in September 1974 to English parents. His family relocated to the UK when he was seven years old.
“I was a child of the 70s and 80s so I was thrown out at the beginning of the day and told to come back at dinner time,” he tells me.
“I used to live on the Thames, near Eton, Windsor and Slough. I got permission to start fishing there off the weir, and my first fish were little gudgeons and perch.
“I became obsessed with catching little things like that. It was very much about whiling away the hours with friends.”
These days, Burn is passionate about the conservation and education aspects of angling.
“If we don’t look after the eco-system, if we don’t educate the next generation, then we’re going to lose it,” he says.
“I’d like to do more fishing, particularly on a beat like this where you’ve got some of the best salmon fishing in the world. I’d also like to see more young anglers getting into it again.”
Burn is acutely aware of the mental health benefits of fishing and is keen to promote the message that the outdoors is good for us.
“We are primal beings – being in nature has so many effects that we probably don’t even know about, cognitively and health-wise,” he reflects.
“It’s about switching off and being peaceful. Fishing really can help mental and physical health.”
It’s fitting, then, that the official opening of the Tay is on Blue Monday, arguably the gloomiest, most depressing day of the year.
Describing it as a “tough, dark time”, Burn says occasions like the opening ceremony can bring “a little light and hope and fun”. Just the tonic!
“Fishing is the very definition of hope. It’s one of the most hopeful pastimes. The hope that the weather holds, the hope that you’ve got the right tackle and bait, the hope that you get the best spot on the beat, and finally the hope that you might yield the biggest catch of a lifetime.
“But even if no fish is caught, you’ve spent peaceful hours in beauty, tranquillity and jaw-dropping surroundings.”
Love of Perthshire
So what brought Burn to Perthshire in chilly January – apart from the fact he loves the area, and angling?
His sister has lived in Aberfeldy for 29 years and he often pops up to see her, so it made sense to drop in on Meikleour for the big day.
And we're off! The 2023 River Tay salmon season has begun! On a glorious but, decidedly chilly, morning with @MeikleourSalmon, actor Burn Gorman and Provost Xander McDade performed the blessing of the river while Burn and David Profumo made the first casts of the season. pic.twitter.com/L37qGkYUTm
— Tay Salmon Board (@taydsfb) January 16, 2023
“I love Scotland. It’s a place close to my heart,” says Burn.
“I try and come up every year for Hogmanay and do the Loony Dook, jumping into Loch Tay (on New Year’s Day.”
When I ask whether he does this in “just his trunks”, he laughs. “You got it, yeah! Absolutely! It sets the tone for the year ahead.”
AN ACTOR’S LIFE
Burn had his first professional job at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow – A Christmas Carol – in 1997. He describes this as a “real introduction” to the people of Scotland, to showbiz, and “good drinking!”
“I’m a character actor and in the UK that means you can work in TV and film, and radio and whatever,” he says.
“You’ve got to work with what God gave you, and with a face like this I get very interesting parts, usually baddies and jerks, and long may it continue! It pays the mortgage and I’m very lucky to be doing that.”
He’s more than happy to play the baddie, finding it a form of “true therapy”.
“Villains are the most fun!” he beams. “Who wants to be the hero and have to get your six-pack out?
“Playing the baddie is a much better laugh, and also, it’s true therapy. It means I can be relatively normal in real life and then at work I can pretend to be a jerk.”
Burn is hugely excited about his role in the upcoming Hunger Games film, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, (due for release in November) having been cast as Commander Hoff.
“That’s filmed in Berlin. It’s a prequel,” he explains. “It tells the story of Snow, again, another villain.
“The director Francis Lawrence is very supportive. Working on a movie like that, you already know it works, so it’s a pleasure to come on board a bit later and have a good time. I’m lucky in that respect. I sort of pop up like a bad penny.”
Playing the baddie is a much better laugh, and also, it’s true therapy. It means I can be relatively normal in real life and then at work I can pretend to be a jerk.”
Burn’s last project was Guillermo del Toro’s 2022 film Pinocchio, in which he plays the Priest.
He describes this as a stop-motion re-telling of the classic story of a wooden puppet brought to life.
“I’m lucky to work with Guillermo quite a lot,” he says. “Pinocchio just won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature and hopefully will do the same at the Oscars.”
Games of Thrones
He also featured in several seasons of Game of Thrones, as thug, rapist and murderer Karl Tanner.
He loved it: “That was a pleasure. Some of the cast got to bask in the sun in Croatia, but the baddies and the Night’s Watch were mainly in pig excrement in Northern Ireland!
“They’re a great bunch of people. They work hard, play hard. It’s a massive thing. I’m only in a couple of seasons but I got to nearly kill Jon Snow so I’m very happy about that.”While Burn hasn’t filmed in Scotland for a few years, he’s full of praise for the nation’s film industry: “From the bottom up it’s absolutely stellar. A lot of productions film here. The natural beauty and the talent you’ve got is second to none.”
I can’t not mention Burn’s beatboxing talent – and I do so before he heads off. After all, he did win the first International Beatboxing Convention under the name of BB Burn in 2003, so it’s a BIG thing!
“Oh please, no, let’s not bring that up!” he winces.
When I ask if he still does it, he giggles, incredulous. “Nooo! I’ve got three children! They would be mortified!
“I try not to talk about it too much because it’s infinitely embarrassing, but I’ve always been a hip-hop head and I’m of the 80s, so I got into it and just happened to be good at it.”
There’s seemingly no end to Burn’s talents and he can also sing, or, as he says, modestly, he can “hold a tune”.
“I’ve done a few musicals but I’m sure musical theatre actors just look at me and cringe!
“I need to do more theatre; it’s where you grow, and it’s where you connect with the audience, especially after two years of the pandemic.”
PURSUIT OF PARADISE
As I sit down for a chat with David Profumo, the acclaimed London-born novelist and journalist, I feel something catch my shoulder.
“I did warn you about the Flying Condom!” he laughs. And he’s not joking. He did warn me. The Flying Condom is a lure with two tapered tails and a sharp hook designed to catch fish. I’ve caught my tweed coat on one.
Ever the gentleman, David helps me to unhook myself, and we begin our chat.
He tells me he caught his first fish aged five, having been introduced to the sport by his uncle.
“When I left university, I started as a freelance journalist and became the Daily Telegraph’s fishing correspondent in the 1980s,” he says.
“There were a lot of new fishing places opening up round the world. I had the pick of where to go. I was terribly spoiled. I managed to make a private passion of mine into something semi-professional.”
Born in October 1955, the son of former British government minister John Profumo, David’s 2006 family memoir – Bringing the House Down – covered the scandal brought about by his father’s affair with Christine Keeler in the early 1960s.
These days David writes regularly for Country Life, while his latest novel, The Lightning Thread, is described as a “dazzling work about the restorative power of nature and finding joy in simple pleasures”, and explores how fishing “embraces folklore, poetry, magic, drink and disaster”.
David, who lives in Blair Atholl, was hugely honoured to open the 2023 Tay salmon fishing season.
“It’s a great privilege to be part of such a historic occasion,” he smiles.
“When we cast our lines we become involved, in a lovely liquid way, with the complex history of Scotland itself.
“The salmon has long been iconic. In modern times, considering all it has to contend with, this creature’s continued reappearance strikes me as little short of miraculous, and it is still vital to the many rural economies in Scotland – it must not disappear on our watch.”
While David has fished in more than 40 countries, he says his “spiritual home” is here, in Scotland.
But he’s all too aware that the Atlantic salmon is a threatened species and “very imperilled”.
“What they’re trying to do with the Tay is maximise the number of young fish that go out to sea,” he explains.
“If you can increase the production of what we call the ‘smolt factory’, by planting out young salmon and giving them the best chance of getting out to the ocean where they thrive, then you’ve got a better chance of fish stocks coming back.
“Anglers obviously have a vested interest in having rivers and lochs full of fish but most of these salmon are caught and released unscathed, so it’s not anglers who are depleting stocks any more. It’s just that the poor old fish have a lot to contend with.”
Fish stocks down
In David’s lifetime, the number of fish in the rivers has gone down, he says, “dramatically”.
He adds: “I haven’t killed a salmon for quite a few years. I think one should be allowed to take one or two over a year to eat – you can’t get wild salmon any other way. But it’s not about killing fish. It’s about seeing the life of fish in our waters, and anglers are on the whole pretty good conservationists.
“Increasingly, as I get a bit older, it’s about the company in which you go fishing. It’s quite an attractive combination of being solitary and being convivial. The actual act of fishing has a sort of mental dimension to it.
“There’s a lot of imagination going on, and part of the fun of fishing is thinking about it even when you’re not on the water.
“Reading about it, writing about it, and having recollections. It’s a strange mixture of being meditative and quite calming, and also being furiously exciting.”
Creeping and crawling
While a fan of the Tay, which he describes as “impressive” and at times, “quite formidable”, David loves fishing in “intimate” Highland rivers.
“I like creeping and crawling around burns and in amongst the heather for trout. And a lot of fishing is inexpensive, if not free.
“That’s one of the glories of Scotland and one of the reasons I came to live here.
“Although angling, like most passions, has its various disappointments, I feel it has a profound association with happiness, and we can all be doing with a little more of that.”
- The official opening ceremony, featuring a piped procession and traditional whisky blessing, was hosted by Meikleour Fishings and the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board.
- Almost 100 anglers turned up to celebrate and make the first casts of the season.
- Proceeds from the day are being donated to the charity Angling For Youth Development and the Tay Rivers Trust.