Actor and Author Scott Alexander Young

When I first visited Piran in 2004, it wasn’t quite the tourist hot spot it is today. But a quiet place. Call me old-fashioned, or just old, but I liked that, still do. However what I also like most about Piran is that it’s so picturesque. There’s a sense of history, but a comparatively peaceful history.

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How did you first get into the acting business?

Twice. Once at age 16, when I got picked up by a professional theatre in my New Zealand home town. Sadly, they fired me within a year. The artistic director told me “you’ll never be an actor”.

Over two decades passed before I tried acting again, when friends in Budapest convinced me to read for a part as KGB spy in TV mini-series The Company: which was being shot here. I got the role, and 11 years later, have appeared in over 25 TV series and feature films. Recent roles include Red Sparrow, The Terror and Emerald City. Lots of them, such as Red Sparrow, are ‘bit’ parts – but not all! I have certainly played some interesting and wildly different characters: From more Russian agents, to a Medieval henchman, from a New York publisher to a Kiwi Doctor; from the grubbiest cook in the British Royal Navy to a Steampunk butler. I am a pretty good mimic and try to be a trouper: one who doesn’t complain or hold things up.

Which film projects have been most exciting to work on?

Well, any day on a film set is a good day for a jobbing actor! But if I can show off/name drop for a minute, since going back into acting, I’ve played in scenes with, for instance, Jennifer Lawrence, Adrien Brody, Charlie Hunnam, Chris O’Donnell, Alfred Molina and many more. Naturally, the more important the character the more challenging/satisfying a role is. The money helps too! Best single pay day I ever had was 30,000USD for a Samsung TV commercial, (which never seemed to be shown anywhere – I cried all the way to the bank). But in terms of quality material and well, screen time, I not long ago finished on a new feature film called Curtiz. It’s a movie about a movie. In this case, we’re behind the scenes of Casablanca, the 1942 classic, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. I play Hal B. Wallis, who was the film’s producer. I love that era in cinema – and menswear.

What’s kept you in Budapest all these years?

I moved here in 2000 but have been back and forth a lot: working in Buenos Aires, London, Auckland, Florence, New York, Belgrade, Athens, Beirut and Seoul. But Budapest has become my home away from home, no doubt. Why? Well, because, it is, in the parlance of our times, awesome. There’s a melancholy and a faded grandeur about the city, one can only hope never entirely disappears, even in the headlong rush to gentrification.

What do writing an acting (well) have in common?

I am flattered you think I’m in a position to judge. But, speaking simply as a hard working practitioner of both trades: In some ways, writing and acting couldn’t be more different. Aside from learning lines, acting is such a social activity, hanging out with cast and crew, gossiping in the green room and so on. Writing, is, harder. It’s sitting alone for hours on end, fussing about with plots and words. (I know which I prefer.) But one thing they have in common artistically is the necessity to be a good observer.

What makes a good story?

Can I answer a question with a question? Is it, just maybe, a beginning, a middle and an end; in a satisfying order – plus interesting characters? There are other elements too. Atmosphere certainly helps. There’s an alchemy to it, that can’t be taught in writing workshops.

As for my own story structures, the first cats book seems, oddly enough, to really be a series of shaggy dog tales. But it sets you up for The Wilder Cats of Piran, the second book in the trilogy. Things really start to unravel in the 2nd book, then the yarns all tie together again, in the 3rd book, The Wildest Cats of Piran. Watch this space.

What do you like most about Piran? (Other than the cats obviously).

Well, I like it best off-season, let’s put it like that. When I first visited in 2004, it wasn’t quite the tourist hot spot it is today. But a quiet place. Call me old fashioned, or just old, but I liked that, still do. However what I also like most about Piran is that it’s so picturesque. There’s a sense of history, but a comparatively peaceful history. I mean, the fact there’s a violinist on the main square – instead of some conqueror on horseback. It all feels… so mellow. Dig a little deeper and you learn that the statue is of Tartini, the violinist who wrote the Devil’s Trill Sonata. It’s an enchanted space, in both senses of the word. Tartini is a character in the cats books of course, or rather his ghost is.

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Anywhere else in Slovenia strike your fancy?

I’ve travelled around Slovenia a bit, writing a story for NZ Destinations Magazine. Stayed in Ljubljana, Portorož as well as Piran – and went to Lake Bled. There’s a definite and irresistible fairytale aspect to it. In fact the whole country reminds me of one of those nation states of the renaissance that you read about. Starting with a capital city on a river overlooked by a castle on a hill… Of course, I’m sure it’s much more complicated for the people living there.

The book is of course entirely fictional and about cats, but is anything in there perhaps just a little bit autobiographical?

Only the stuff about General Rat. But I jest! It’s autobiographical in the sense that I got the idea for the book while on vacation in Piran. I was having lunch on one of the outdoor waterfront terraces when I noticed what seemed to be a band of cats underfoot, kind of working the tables; catching the scraps and crumbs that fall from forks and plates. It was like a vision. That, plus the fact my partner’s name is Felicia, and the wild cat Queen shares some of her finer qualities – I’ll leave you to speculate which.

The story seems tailor-made for the big screen. Will we ever see an animated version?

Good question! Hope so! I was really fortunate to have Moreno Chistè do the artwork. He is a fantastic illustrator, who has drawn for Disney and other big names. His pictures in the book might as well be blueprints for an animated film, and we have had some interest, though nothing locked in, yet. A lot of this is due to the efforts of publishing director Franz Sidney, and publisher Paul Olchváry of New Europe Books. (Sorry if that last bit sounded like an awards speech, but decent people deserve plugs.)

What does the future hold for Mr Scott Alexander Young?

Two more cats books anyway. Other than that, who can say? More good times! Now and in the next 6-12 months you can look out for me in the movies in Curtiz, Red Sparrow, and on telly in The Terror, National Geographic’s Genius Picasso and Intrigo/Samaria. You ain’t seen nothing yet, as the fella once said.

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The Wild Cats of Piran is available now from our shop. Interview conducted by Justine Dunn.