James McAvoy was not well known a year ago, but now the Scottish actor is, as they say, hot. From “The Last King of Scotland”, which established McAvoy to a new audience, through to his latest projects, the young actor is on the road to stardom, not that he is taking his success for granted.
Opening this month is the small indie film “Starter for 10”. Set in 1985, McAvoy plays working-class student Brian Jackson who navigates his first year at Bristol University. The actor will also be seen opposite Christina Ricci in “Penelope”, the Jane Austin biopic “Becoming Jane” and “Atonement”. He spoke exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Question: Your career is certainly up and running.
McAvoy: Yeah, it’s getting along nicely at the moment. I can’t complain.
Question: When you’re looking for a project, why this particular one? Why Starter for 10?
McAvoy: if I’m being really honest? I would say that when I received the offer to play Starter for 10. I wasn’t really at a point in my career where I was looking for projects. I was just looking for work and it was a good job and it was either do that or do something shit. So I had to do the good thing. So, it’s only really recently that I’ve got to the point where, you know, it’s about me looking for the right project and all that sort of thing you know. Last King of Scotland is followed by Starter for 10, then followed by a film called Penelope but all just the jobs that were offered to me, you know. Then after that I started to have some more choice about things.
Question: Having made your foray into independent films, do you think that the roles are still more interesting anyway even though you – you’re right. I mean even though you didn’t have a choice as such, you still were able to play some really rich characters.
McAvoy: Yeah, no I know. I think the independent film can be a hell of a lot more interesting and quite often is and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to have a career that has gone there whilst at the same time, over the last seven years I’ve done some very mainstream things, some real mainstream shit as well. And I’m sure I will again at some point but I think that I’m lucky that I get the opportunity to do some nice independent films like Last King of Scotland. Starter for 10, whilst it’s a mainstream movie, I feel like it’s got a real social political context. Do you know what I mean? It reflects all the common themes and whilst it’s still a mainstream feel good movie, I feel it’s actually based in a real place that exists other than Notting Hill which I don’t believe exists as it’s portrayed in that film, you know?
Question: So was it easier for you to draw on this character in Starter for 10 because of its’ reality?
McAvoy: Yeah I think so. I think he’s quite representative of a lot of young men who go to university and I recognised a lot of myself in him and it was very easy for me to draw on my own experiences to play him.
Question: How important is it for you to try and maintain your Scottish identity as an actor?
McAvoy: Not particularly important at all really. I don’t really care whether I play Scottish people or not. I just really want to play good roles, and play interesting characters in interesting stories. And if they’re Scottish then that’s fine but if they’re not, I don’t really mind. I’ve only – I mean I’ve been acting for eight years and have played about three Scots in that time. I don’t think I’d played a Scot for four years when I did Last King of Scotland. But to be honest with you, I don’t really feel any great loss. I mean it’s important for me to retain my Scottish identity as a person in real life but as an actor within my profession, I don’t really – it’s not a priority.
Question: Do you still live in Scotland?
McAvoy: No I live in London.
Question: As a young man, even though the work is certainly coming in now, what challenges do you face trying to find characters that are really interesting to you?
McAvoy: I don’t know. I don’t think I have found many challenges to that. I’ve been exceptionally lucky over the last seven years. I’ve had to play a couple of times – at the beginning of my career – characters who maybe weren’t very demanding or that interesting really and it’s only happened a couple of times. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve always played interesting roles, you know. I’ve always played people who are very conflicting and to me that’s sometimes an interesting type of person.
Question: How surprised are you by the kind of success that Last King of Scotland has attained?
McAvoy: I’m not surprised because I always knew it had the potential to be a very good film. I am pleasantly surprised because not every very good film gets any level of success at all. Even if it goes well technically, it doesn’t always mean that the audiences like it.
Question: Tell me about Penelope. That sounds like a really lovely little movie.
McAvoy: Yeah it is actually. It’s a nice film. I suppose it’s a kind of allegorical fable in terms of modern celebrity obsessed culture and this kind of body fascist state that we seem to be living in at the moment where if you’re not perfect you have to kill yourself. If you’re not thin enough, if you’re too fat you’re fucked and all that kind of stuff. I think that’s what the film’s about. It’s sort of an allegory for that kind of stuff.
Question: What else is happening with you now?
McAvoy: Then I’ve got a film called Becoming Jane which is about Jane Austen and that’s coming out in March in England and then August in America and then after that there’s a film called Atonement which is an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel which is directed by Joe Wright. ….
Question: Who do you play in Atonement?
McAvoy: I play the male lead. I play a guy called Robbie Turner.
Question: So you get to work with another unattractive female actor then?
McAvoy: Yeah it takes quite a lot from me to not get pissed off about that but, yes. There’s been a lot of really nice looking ladies that I’ve been able to work with recently so I’m very lucky. But I actually wondered about the believability of these relationships. What else? And then I’m going to go and make a film called Wanted in April.
Question: And you play?
McAvoy: I play a young man called Wesley Gibson who, upon learning that his father has been assassinated, is given the opportunity to seek revenge and Morgan Freeman is co-starring.
Question: Now James, why did you want to become an actor in the first place?
McAvoy: I didn’t particularly – I was given the opportunity to be in a film when I was eight years old. I hadn’t had any experience whatsoever in any way and I took it.
Question: And are you more impassioned by it the more you do it?
McAvoy: Yeah I think I am. I really enjoy it. I love the actual job of being an actor on set in the middle of my own kind of, trying to figure out how best to tell this story. I really, really, really enjoy that and I get a huge kick out of it.
Question: Is that all you want to do or do you have aspirations beyond being in front of the camera?
McAvoy: Yeah I think I would like to direct one day or something.
Question: You would like to direct? Write as well or just direct?
McAvoy: Yeah I don’t really think I’ve got the talent to write.