CANNES, France – Paul Brannigan, the untrained actor who stars in Ken Loach's latest movie, has gone from being unemployed in a rough Glasgow neighborhood to nude scenes with Scarlett Johansson.
But he still doesn't have a job.
That says something for the veracity of "The Angels' Share," a rare dram of comedy from Loach that raises issues of youth unemployment and urban violence in a Scottish caper tale.
Brannigan carries the film as Robbie, a troubled lad who discovers he has a nose for fine whiskey. The movie, which screens Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, follows Robbie and his jobless chums as they plot to get their hands on some priceless single malt.
It's being feted on the French Riviera, but Brannigan says that once he returns to Scotland he will be unemployed.
"I do four hours a week football (soccer) coaching, and that's just the way it is," said the 25-year-old actor, who was discovered by Loach's screenwriting partner Paul Laverty doing voluntary work in a community center. "There's thousands and thousands of kids like Robbie in Glasgow."
Brannigan's life has changed in some ways, though. There's a trip to Cannes to be snapped by photographers and quizzed by journalists, and a love scene with Johansson in "Under the Skin," a forthcoming film about an alien who visits Scotland in human form.
Yet, he says, his stroke of fortune almost didn't happen.
"The first and second auditions they called me for, I didn't go. I wasn't really up for it," Brannigan said. "Things were tough, I had no money, it was Christmastime, and I'd got a loan I wanted to pay back. I thought, well if I make a couple of hundred quid (dollars) that will see me through.
"Hands up, I would say to Paul — he saved my life. I'd nowhere to turn, I've got a kid, who knows what I'd have done for money."
"The Angels' Share" marks Loach's 11th trip to Cannes, where he won the Palme d'Or in 2006 with "The Wind That Shakes the Barley." It's the most lighthearted work in years from the master of gritty social realism, and a change of gears from his last film, the bitter Iraq War drama "Route Irish."
But the 75-year-old director hasn't lost his seriousness of purpose or eye for society's outsiders.
In some ways Robbie resembles Billy Casper, the central character in Loach's landmark 1969 film "Kes," who finds a sense of purpose in training a hawk.
"The big difference is Billy Casper in 'Kes' was in the 1960s and he had a job," Loach said. "Robbie in 2012, he doesn't have a job. It's a mark of how far we've gone back."
And just because the film is a comedy doesn't mean Loach has mellowed. He and his colleagues are outraged that British censors demanded they trim the film's bad language to get a rating that would let viewers 15 and over see it.
Loach said they were restricted to seven uses of a four-letter word starting with "c'' that is sprinkled liberally throughout the Glaswegian vernacular.
"The British middle class is obsessed by what they call bad language," said Loach with avuncular exasperation. "A word that goes back to Chaucer's time they will ask you to cut, but the manipulative and deceitful language of politics they use themselves."
He wants society to "re-examine what is bad language and have respect for our ancient oaths and swearwords, which we all enjoy."
Profanity wasn't the film's only linguistic issue. It was screened in Cannes with English as well as French subtitles — to the director's chagrin.
"We did fight the idea quite hard because it's perfectly comprehensible," Loach said, although some non-native English speakers said they were grateful for the help.
The film will bring Brannigan plenty of exposure — something he also got in "Under the Skin" as a man who is seduced by Johansson's alien.
"I took my clothes off — she didn't take her clothes off," Brannigan stressed. "It was fun. She was an absolutely fantastic girl. I was quite nervous at first, but once I got to talk to her, she was fine."
But she was very much the star — and Brannigan is from Glasgow.
"She had her own bodyguards," he said. "I had an umbrella."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless