In this exclusive interview, the reluctant sex symbol talks about the physical challenges of his first slick action flick, why period dramas and blockbusters aren’t really all that different, and what it’s like working with Angelina.
Calling James McAvoy a “hot Scot” probably won’t impress the Glasgow-born Wanted star, who is far more comfortable chatting about football games with friends in British pubs than he is pondering any presumed international sex appeal. “It’s completely something I brush off and laugh at,” says McAvoy with a melodious Scottish brogue, pushing a hand through his brown shaggy hair. “It’s not something that I’m comfortable with. I don’t think about it.” He punctuates this sentiment with a laugh. “I think it’d be a very interesting person if they said ‘Yeah, I do sit around contemplating how sexy I am.'”
This summer’s highly anticipated action flick will be quite a change from the Shakespearean roles he cut his teeth on while studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
“You want to do stuff that’s really different and really challenging, not just psychologically but physically as well,” says McAvoy of his part as Wesley Gibson, recruited by Fox (Angelina Jolie) into the Fraternity, a secret group of weavers-turned-assassins whose orders come from a giant Loom of Fate.
While he does a perfect American accent with ineffable ease — “I just sort of winged it,” he shrugs, “and there were a lot of Americans on set” — and shows a mastery of biting dialogue, McAvoy’s role demanded an intense transformation of both body and mind, not to mention a facile wielding of firearms.
“One of the things that really attracted me to the film was that the basis of the journey begins with this clinically depressed person,” remarks McAvoy. “I thought that was quite a true and sad place to begin. [Wesley] gets more and more expressive as the film goes on. He’s a provider of fantasy — for both men and women. He goes from a depressed to a psychopathic place, and he’s done some questionable things. He’s murdered a lot of people. I think he’s probably very screwed up and probably a very bad person. His character is certainly empowering, but I hope not an inspiration.”
It’s “camp as knickers, with a kind of real guilty pleasure at the end,” McAvoy says of the lush-looking film. In fact, McAvoy often found himself “absolutely shattered physically at the end of the day” after performing some of Wanted‘s gravity-defying stunts, including one where he leaps over an elevated train.
“That was pretty hardcore,” remembers McAvoy of the scene. “There’s a car doing 30 miles an hour and I had to jump on top of it. We’d start off at five miles an hour, then six, until we’re up to thirty.” He cracks a witty smile. “And the entire time there’s a voice in the back of the head saying, ‘Stop this now, you f**ing idiot.'”
Yet McAvoy says there’s not a drastic difference between working on period dramas like Becoming Jane and a big-budget popcorn thriller. “Making a movie is quite a chaotic thing,” he explains, “so, weirdly, there are a lot of similarities. Financially, there are more people concerned with money on [Wanted], you know, such as the stunt team concerned that we’re about to blow $300,000 dollars on a stunt that might take three seconds. And that leaves you a little bit in a place of isolation, but also in a great place of freedom.”
Starring opposite such Hollywood luminaries as Morgan Freeman, and Jolie also presented both its artistic and personal perks. “When Morgan got cast, I was beside myself,” effuses McAvoy. “Getting to work with him was just a privilege. And Angelina — she was really cool, and we got along well. She’s a fantastic actress, just a chilled-out lady, and a fantastic person.”
Costar Thomas Kretschmann, who plays the rogue assassin that kills Wes’ father, is equally complimentary. “James McAvoy is the perfect actor. It doesn’t get better than that. I think he deserved an Oscar nomination for Atonement and The Last King of Scotland. As an actor, I’ve been just… in awe. He never did a wrong take, he’s very smart, he knows what’s important, and he’s a nice person.”
“I didn’t want to run back to Jane Austen,” jokes McAvoy of the physical toll Wanted took on his body, “But the next film I did was sent in 1910 [The Last Station]. I just wanted to do something different again. Hopefully the next thing I do will not be action based. Hopefully, it won’t be like anything I’ve done before. I want to keep on doing new things.”