TO a generation of children, James Mackenzie will forever be Raven, the mysterious leather-clad, immortal warlord in the multi-BAFTA winning CBBC show of the same name.

Their wee brothers and sisters will recognise him as Molly’s dad in CBeebies hit Molly and Mack, and their parents might know him as Gary from River City.

But the actor’s latest incarnation is entirely different from anything he has played before.

“I’m playing Scotland’s most famous poet, and he’s a ghost,” grins James. “That’s a bit different.”

James stars in The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns, Gillian Duffy’s comedy play with songs which comes to Eastwood Theatre next week neatly in time for the annual celebrations surrounding the Bard's birthday on January 25.

It’s the story of heartbroken author Ariel Winters, who takes herself away to her aunt’s old cottage in Ayrshire to get over her cheating ex.

As she celebrates Burns night alone, wishing that the right man would show up, she is visited by the ghost of Rabbie Burns who appears to give her some dating advice.

“It’s about love and relationships and men and women – but it is a comedy, so it’s done with tongues firmly in cheeks,” smiles James.

“It’s quite a thing to play a character so well-known and I am mindful of that, and of the great actors who have played him before.

“But this is a contemporary take on his story, and a bit of fun, so hopefully I will do him justice."

James lives in Biggar with his wife, the actor Helen McAlpine, and their three-year-old son Magnus.

He grew up “surrounded by acting and actors”, so it was unsurprising when he followed his father, Michael, into the industry.

“Although when I was wee, I wanted to be a rally driver or a JCB driver for a living,” he smiles. “When I was five, I was an extra on the telly show my dad was working on – it was an American mini-series called The Campbells, and I remember spending days just running about freezing Argyllshire, getting muddy and cold. I told him after that I definitely didn’t want to be an actor…”

But with an actor father and a mother who worked in theatre marketing and production, eventually the pull of the industry was too strong.

“It seeps into you,” says James. “I went into it with my eyes open though. I knew it wouldn’t make me rich and famous.”

He grins: “Unless I become James Bond of course….”

James’s dad actually auditioned for the role of 007, he reveals.

“It was in the 60s, and it was George Lazenby who got the part,” says James. “My dad would have been a strange Bond, though – six foot two and a skinny drainpipe, with long flowing locks of hair!”

James and Michael have acted together on River City, where James is Tall Ship barman Gary Trenton and Michael played the charity shop owner Alasdair Quinn, and there is another, spookier link between their careers.

“My dad’s first job in the early 70s was playing a mind-reading, magical detective on a show called Ace of Wands,” says James.

“They changed it to Tarot in the end, but they were going to call his character Raven……”  

The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns features some of Burns’s great songs and poems, including My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, Ae Fond Kiss and Auld Lang Syne, although James, who appeared in musical Sunshine on Leith, says he would not class himself as a ‘singer’.

“I’m an actor who can haud a tune,” he grins.

Raven was James’s first job after drama school, but he had been acting professionally since the age of 15.

“I’d done Taggart, a play at the Lyceum and I had an agent, but I wanted to actually go and learn my craft,” says James. “I wanted to learn how to use my voice, to learn the techniques actors need, and I knew going to drama college would allow me to do that in a safe place, where you could try out things and make mistakes.”

James graduated from Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh on a Saturday and started work on Raven on the Monday. The show aired between 2002 and 2010, challenging a group of six young ‘warriors’ to a series of challenges over the course of three weeks, with the kids guided in their quest by the shape-shifting Scottish warrior.

Recently, CBBC brought the show back with Aisha Toussaint in the lead role and a return for James as her mentor.

“I was really lucky, and I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved on Raven,” he says. “It was a fantastic experience and I loved it.”

“Getting the chance to come back in the new series, as a kind of mentor for the new Raven was brilliant.”

He grins: “I’m like a feathery Obi-Wan-Kenobi….”

The Ghosting of Rabbie Burns is at Eastwood Theatre on January 27 and Oran Mor on January 29.