Each of us has had a McAvoy moment

 

Each of us has had a McAvoy experience.

 

It’s been there in The Last King of Scotland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Atonement or X-Men,  that split second of being transported by those glass-clear baby blues to the life of a young doctor in Uganda, the goat-esque muse, that servant’s son sent to war because of a young girl’s lie, and the confident mind leading a pack of like-mutated individuals to collective victory.

Add to these the hostage-taking, crass-talking fiend that McAvoy delivers in Filth opposite Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots and Eddie Marsan and the still young actor has managed a mean cross-section of the globe’s citizens. With a recent win for Best Actor at the UK’s Empire Awards, and plenty of time to still rack up accolades aplenty, McAvoy seems set to become the century’s most acclaimed Scot. And so it seemed somehow on point, but also counterrevolutionary, to meet up with the actor at the Royal Suite of London’s Mandarin Hotel to capture these images.

James McAvoy

BC: The awards speech you gave at the Empire Awards was less a vehicle for inspiration and more an advertisement for alcohol?

McAvoy: I know. I, truly, did not have a speech, so (laughter) it's quite good to fall back on your theatre training and particularly the panto[mime] training.  Audience participation never really goes down badly if you manage to get them to participate. So, the only thing I thought I could do in that room was get everybody drunk and, you know, to be fair, they did it and it's the only awards acceptance speech I've ever ended with the truly Scottish term, "Get it up you." (laughter) Which is usually an aggressive term. I don't know why I ended that way, but it was just the stream-of-ever-so-slightly-drunk-consciousness.

BC: (laughter) Was Filth the first time you shot in Glasgow in? Or have you shot in your home town before?

McAvoy: It's probably the first time I'd shot there since The Last King of Scotland (which was only for a couple of days). I'd shot there before on a movie when I was about 17.
It was a real eye opener for me coming home and working in my hometown. Not that I had moved on from Scotland, I love Glasgow, but I had got the feeling that it had changed a lot. I come back every year, a couple times every year to see family, and I always felt it had moved on a little bit, that it’d changed and moved in a different direction from me, and I felt quite sad about that.
Anyway, I went there to make Filth, spent 2 months shooting there and just realized it was fine actually, it was the exact same and, you know, some of the style had changed, but in essence it was still the city that I had grown up in. It was a big eye opener and I knew immediately, my wife and I and our kid, we loved being there, so we bought a little flat there and we go up there a bit more often, now, which is nice.

BC: Was it your decision to shoot Filth in your home town? Was that something that was important to you?

McAvoy: No, not at all. I don't really feel a weight of responsibility to tell stories about Scotland, in particular, I just want to tell good stories, and do good films.  And Filth, as well as the fact that it's Scottish, must be the best script I think I've ever read, without a doubt, and that's why I got excited about it.

BC: And you shot in a bunch of different places, right?

McAvoy: Yeah. The bulk of it was shot in Glasgow. We did a week in Edinburgh, strangely, which is where it's set. We did a few days in London, Belgium, did 10 days in Sweden, did 3 days in Hamburg, we were all over the place, man. A lot of that was to qualify us for funding.

BC: And this is your first producing credit?

McAvoy: Yeah.

When I was first trying to figure out what I was going to do when I was out of school, seeing the world was kind of important to me.

BC: Does that just mean you take less pay and get more of the back end or did you otherwise help it come to be?

McAvoy: Yeah, we didn't have any money, so you get the back end deal, which involves you being a producer. They're not really expecting you to do any producing. I certainly didn't do any producing while we were making the film. I kind of rang Jamie Bell, phoned him up a lot, just to make sure that he was going to do the film. He was quite important to the funding. And that was all I did as a producer before we wrapped, really. After that, my job as producer became much more meaningful and much more hands on, which we never expected it to.
It was never the grand plan that I would do that, although, the director quite often said when we were shooting, "We're going to use you, we're going to need you." And I didn’t know if he was talking shit or not. And then I ended up doing quite a lot of producing for about 3 or 4 months when we were editing.
And that was an eye opener, I don't think that I'd do it again out of choice, I'd do it if I felt really strongly about a project that I thought was being compromised or something, but Filth was the one to do it on. I really care about the film I'm really proud of Filth, so I felt like I had to step up and do that to help the director. I was there to back him up, to be an artistic barrier in a lot of ways between him and the – well meaning and often times valid – voices that were bashing down his door at the time. So he got to be left to do what he's got to do.

BC: It's definitely a captivating film, if you allow yourself to be swept up in it. It's got the right amount of sheer madness and an intensity that makes you want to take that ride.

McAvoy: Oh, nice to hear, mate. It's interesting, astute what you say there, “if you allow it to sweep you away.” I do think we managed to sweep away a lot more people than we thought we would.  We never planned to have as big a success in the UK with it as we did. We never thought that would happen. But then, there’s those people who just will not allow themselves to go with the film, and that's totally fair enough. The joy, for some people, is that in the first 20 minutes they are still saying, "No, this film is not for me, this is fucking bullshit." And by the end, they're fucking crying and shaking and they have empathy and sympathy and feeling for him at the end – It's the complete opposite of how they felt they would react at the end of this film.
And that's one of the things I'm most proud of with this film, it's designed for cinema. When people see it in the cinema, they can't leave (or they very rarely leave), so you can take huge liberties with them. So many movies are scared of losing their audience, but one of the best bits about film is when you turn your audience off and then you get them back, on purpose, you know what I mean?

BC: Sorry, I was going to say, some of them might only be brought on board at the end by whatever club colors the scarf is.

McAvoy: (laughter) Yeah, the Jambos (Heart of Midlothian football club fans – the club is nicknamed The Jam Tarts – rhyming slang for “Hearts”]. They’re in a lot of trouble at the moment. But yeah, I think it's quite interesting that in Irvine [Welsh]'s  stories, good people, like generally good people are Hibernian fans, Hibs fans, and all the bastards, all the villians, are Hearts fans. There's a little bit of Jambo hatred featured in all of his films, I think.

BC: Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, who wrote the novel for Filth, has been fairly active on Twitter in promoting the film--

McAvoy: Irvine? Yeah. We’ve had his sort of unwavering support from really early in the whole experience and it's been lovely to have, especially for me. I’m a big boy, and if he didn't really like what I was doing with the part, honestly, I wouldn't lose too much sleep over it, but I will get really excited about it if he thinks I'm doing a good job with one of his finest novels. He was vocally going out of his way to be supportive from the first week of rushes and he was just so excited and it’s an amazing feeling to have, to know you have the creator of this whole thing behind you.

BC: Did you talk to Danny Boyle at all about it. He made Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting into a cult  phenomenon, and you worked with him on Trance a couple of years ago.

McAvoy: After Danny did the Olympics we had to do some pick ups on Trance, and I'd already filmed Filth at that point. So, I came in and we would have a chat, and he gave me some really good pointers and pieces of advice regarding, basically, how to operate as a producer… and how to talk to and get what you want from producers and financiers and distributors – all that kind of stuff. And he was amazing that way. He's proper. He's been around the block, he's very generous and he loves film. He's been so complimentary about the film, and he's also hand-picked [Filth director] Jon [S. Baird] to take over from him on this TV show called Babylon. A very dark, satirical comedy about the state of the British police force.

 

BC: It seems like quite a few of your projects are coming out in the US over the next 12 months. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby that played at Toronto last year, X-Men coming out at the end of May, and Filth playing on VOD and theatrically – Does your mind go a little bonkers trying to remember all the details?

McAvoy: Not really. Eleanor Rigby feels like quite a long time ago, so when I have to start talking about that, it might take a bit to recount. And Filth was a long time ago that we made that, but the good thing about the junket thing, and the good thing about getting press is that you get to refine your memory of something.
Sometimes, I'm on a phone call and it takes about 5 minutes before I realize that I'm not talking about the film that I think I'm talking about. [Laughter] And unless the person on the other end asks, "What was it like working with Patrick Stewart?” I realize I've been talking about Filth and I meant to be talking about X-Men. Meanwhile, I’ve been saying, "Yeah, he's really fucked up and he didn't appreciate the boundaries of what the audience can take", and everybody's going like "Fuck. That professor's going to be really dark." And… well… he is actually, but not quite like this.

BC: You mentioned all those different countries you shot in for Filth, but even Chronicles of Narnia shot in four or five different places as well, and you shot in Montreal for X-Men, and New York is a big part of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. Is that important to you? Do you like running around to all these different places?

McAvoy: I've been really lucky, all around. When I was first trying to figure out what I was going to do when I was out of school, seeing the world was kind of important to me. I didn't know how I would achieve that and I thought maybe the navy would be a good thing. But… what I ended up doing was just being in Glasgow for 3 years doing classical acting training. But that has enabled me to see more of the world than I ever would any other way. And one of the lucky things as an actor is you get access to a place that you never get in any other form of travel. You get to work in Parliament buildings and you get to work at the top of mountains, you take, say, a helicopter to work every day on Narnia. On Frankenstein just now, we were working in these five story castles on a cliff’s edge doing 5 weeks of stunts and stuff. You know, you just get really unique, incredible and privileged access to places that you would never get in any other gig, and I'm really lucky to do that, and I know I'm lucky, and it's one of the things that keeps me excited about my job.

BC: Is there a place that would entice you to do a project – just to be in that place?

McAvoy: Yeah, I'd really like to do something in the Hebridean Islands in Scotland – the  Western Isles – maybe some kind of epic swords and kilts affair. Or something about the Highland Clearances, I find that quite interesting.
But, also, I love mountains, the Himalayas. I'd love to get up and around in there.

BC: Do you take any souvenirs from sets? What do you have from, say, Filth and X-Men?

McAvoy: X-Men, I stole one of Professor X’s psychedelic pink, 70's shirts, which is awesome. From Trance, I've got my knife, it's got my little motto to myself written on it – took that.
From Filth, do I have anything from Filth? I don't think I took anything from Filth. I loved playing Bruce and I truly do think he's one of the characters I will miss playing more than any of the others I've ever played. Him and MacBeth, two of the most fucked up people I've ever played, those are the two characters that I'll miss most.
Yeah, I don't always take something but, if there's something worth taking and it's not some 2,000 pound piece of equipment, then yeah, I'll nab a little something.

BC: Whiskey or beer?

McAvoy: Whiskey.

BC: Stones or Beatles?

McAvoy: Stones.

BC: Cheese or chocolate?

McAvoy: Oh, actually, I'm only recently getting into both of them. [Laughter] I mean, I've always sort of liked chocolate, I've never really liked cheese. I'm now starting to like sheep's cheese and shit like that so, I think it's a tie between the pair of them. If you could have chocolate covered cheese, then I’d think about that.