Former Newcastle Eagles' basketball star Ian Whyte on his life onscreen

PUBLISHED: 10:10 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:36 20 February 2013

Screen star: Ian Whyte

Screen star: Ian Whyte

Roger Tames meets the former North East sports star who's a giant presence on screen <br/>as well as on court

Newcastle Eagles basketball fans might recognise one of their former stars in a new film coming out soon, and not just because of the unmistakeable figure he cuts.

At a towering 7ft 1in tall and with nearly a decade in the movie business behind him, you might have thought Eagles fans would not need to be particularly eagle-eyed to spot former England international centre Ian Whyte on the silver screen.

But the sportsman-turned-actor has usually been draped in latex and wearing the head of some inter-gallactic fantasy figure as he adds his considerable physical presence to titles such as Alien vs Predator and Game of Thrones.

Now the man who spent five seasons at the centre of Newcastles basketball team is being given a part based on the pure acting techniques he has mastered in his second career. Whyte plays a normal (albeit tall) character in the North East based police drama Harrigan starring Stephen Tompkinson which will be released soon. You even see his face.

Its a mark of the progress Ian, who played 80 times for England, has made as an actor since he quit basketball in 2003. The story behind his dramatic career change even reads like a film script.

A phone call came out of the blue and changed my life, he said. It was from the Eagles Sam Foggo (now Sam Blake, wife of club owner Paul) who said the casting director from a film company wanted to speak to me, would I like to call back? So I phoned a lady who said they were looking for a fit, slim seven feet tall guy to audition for a physical role in Alien vs Predator. I went to the audition where I was dressed in a wet suit, balaclava and mock-up of a predators head and told to run around.

The director liked what he saw and the basketball international spent six months filming as the lead predator in a sci-fi extravaganza that may not have troubled the Oscar judges, but still grossed an eye-watering $172 million. It was, Ian said, a surreal experience.

An appearance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was his next assignment, as a stunt double for an 8ft 6in Frances de la Tour. The HBO series Game of Thrones shown on Sky Atlantic has more recently taken Whyte into television.

Ask the man whos easy-going friendliness supports the gentle giant clich if hes preferred his acting career to his time on the bastketball court, then it prompts a certain reluctance to commit. A diplomatic answer suggests hes enjoyed both, though life as a thespian has been no soft option.

I never knew how tough acting was going to be, he admits. I have to train like a madman, in the gym every day and working just as hard as when I was playing. In basketball, you have to play one or two games a week. In acting, every day is game day.

Whyte has made his way in his new world without the benefits of drama school and says he has been lucky to learn from some of the best in the business, especially on the Harry Potter film.

For a man who admits he never considered an acting career, his wikepedia entry as an actor makes only passing reference to a basketball CV that compares with the best of his era.

So look out for him in the new Harrigan film. Hes never been a hard man to spot either in an Eagles vest or a Predators head.

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