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Of these films, which is your favorite?

  • X-Men: First Class
  • Arthur Christmas
  • The Conspirator
  • The Last Station
  • Gnomeo & Juliet
  • Atonement
  • Becoming Jane
  • Wanted
  • Starter For 10
  • Penelope
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • Other-Inside I'm Dancing, Wimbledon, CON, etc

[ Results | Polls ]

Votes: 4
Comments: 0


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Lucky Jim
28th June Daily Mail Weekend magazine

Since starring in the thriller State of Play, James McAvoy has been lauded as the new Hugh Grant. Lina Das discovers how the hit series has transformed his life - and why Stephen Fry thinks he is the new bright young thing

James McAvoy flops into the chair and pronounces himself "absolutelyshattered." His dark brown hair curls foppishly over his blue eyes and you can't help but notice that there is something of the young Hugh Grant about him. His tiredness is unsurprising really, as over the past few months he has been working nonstop, in the Craig Cash comedy, Early Doors, but most memorably in the sensational BBC political thriller State of Play. "It's funny," he says, lighting up a cigarette, "but I can normally walk down the street and not be recognised at all. But, since doing State of Play, I've had more comments from people than I've had throughout my entire career."

State of Play was the most raved about drama in recent years. Centring on mysterious deaths, Whitehall conspiracies and a group of young, tenacious, journalists eager to uncover the truth in a maze of lies - and obfuscation. It boasted an impresive cast - David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald and the wondrous Bill Nighy. But it was the relatively unknown McAvoy who charmed his way into our consciousness as hotshot London journalist, Dan Foster. His elationship with father Cameron (Nighy), the paper's charismatic editor may not have been the drama's central pairing, yet it was a touching and truthful portrayal of a father and son who communicated with hundreds of thousands every day through the newspaper and yet who singularly failed to communicate with each other.

"When I was told Bill was going to be playing my father," McAvoy begins, "I was like `Well, I'm about five foot seven and he's about six foot seven - how's this going to work?' But working with him was just amazing. He has the heart of a rock star, actually, and I think he's probably missed his real calling. He was one of the lighter people on set and, because it could sometimes get quite intense when we were filming, he was the one who gave energy to everyone in the group. John Simm was lovely too - very amiable. He'd just had a wee baby and so he was very happy."

The news is that, although viewing figures for the show weren't as good as they deserved to be (around five million), the BBC has already commissioned a second series focusing on The Herald's newsroom staff. "And even if they only gave me two lines," insists McAvoy, "I'd jump at the chance to be in it.
When we were filming the first series, we were sworn to such secrecy I couldn't even tell my girlfriend who did it. The writing by Paul Abbott was just amazing and I'd love to be a part of something like that again."

State of Play was the show that brought McAvoy to our attention, but it is just one credit on an already impressive CV for the 24-year-old Glaswegian. Roles in Band of Brothers (`I met Tom Hanks and he was great - he took me aside to tell me not to get freaked out by all the stuff around me because I came into the show late and all I could think was, `Oh my God - this is Tom Hanks!'), White Teeth and the cult TV series Children of Dune have highlighted his promise. Yet, with State of Play, McAvoy's status as a sex symbol and gradute of the Hugh Grant School of effortless charm seems to have been cemented.

"Me a sex symbol?" he gasps, blushing, embarrassed though not a little pleased by the compliment, "well, maybe in my own mirror! To be honest, though, my fans tend to be women over 40 who like their men baby-faced or young girls who are way too young for me. Or men. I spent the first year of my career playing rent boys, so that might have something to do with it," he sighs, looking somewhat disappointed. And does he get much fan mail? "Well, I have received some, but I could never write back to anyone - that would just be so bigheaded, don't you think? I really don't think that I'm famous at all and, hopefully, if fame ever happens it would just be a by-product of me doing good work. God," he says, disgusted with himself, "how pretentious did that just sound?"

For an actor, McAvoy is remarkably unaffected and chatty. Is he very happy? "Och," he says, "I can't believe the way things are going. I just walk around feeling very lucky that things are going so well."

Initially, he harboured no ambitions to become an actor. Hailing from the tough Drumchapel area of Glasgow, he had, he says, "absolutely no clear idea of what I wanted to do." He fell into acting when "a film director called David Hayman (A Woman's Guide To Adultery, Harbour Lights) came to our school to give us a talk about Macbeth. It was a pretty rough school and all the pupils started calling him names, but when he'd finished, I was pretty interested and went up to him to say thanks.

He phoned my English teacher afterwards and said that if I ever wanted to do any floor running or work on set, then he'd be happy to help. Four months later, he asked if I'd like to audition for a part in his new film (The Near Room) and I did and got it, but was rubbish in it," he laughs. "I ended up working in a bakery for a spell, but I kept thinking about how much I enjoyed acting and tried to blag my way into roles in The Bill and that kind of stuff. Eventually, I thought, `No, I've got to do this properly.' He enrolled at the prestigious Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and has, he says, `a lot to thank David for.'

As well as good looks and charm, McAvoy also brings an endearing vulnerabiltiy to his roles and not without reason. He is at pains to stress this his childhood was "very normal - I don't want to make a big thing out of it," and yet McAvoy's was certainly an unsual and fractured upbringing.

Born in 1979 in Scotland, McAvoy was one of two children - his 21-year-old sister Joy now sings in a band. "We grew up in a working-class area." When McAvoy was seven, his parents split up and the young James was sent to live nearby with his grandparents, James and Mary Johnstone, while his sister stayed with her mohter. "My sister and I never really got on that well as kids although we get on brillaint now. I was a bit emotionally screwed up by the time my grandparents took me in, although I wasn't a bad lad as such. There was a bit of hassle between my mum and dad, but my gran and grandad effectively brought me up and put a straight head on me. I don't call my gran `Mum', but I do call my mum `Mammy'. I'm very close to my grandparents. They're amazingly wise people."

McAvoy is vague about the problems besetting his parents, but adds that "my dad was probably not the best dad in the world. He married too young and had kids too young. I don't see my father at all - the last time I saw him, I was 13. I do worry about people thinking this is a real sob story, because it isn't. It's just the way things turned out. My grandparents were wonderful - they really sorted me out. They instilled a lot of confidence in me.

Kids can take on a lot of guilt when their parents split up and it took me a while to be able to say to myself, `Well, it's not my fault they screwed up.' But I suppose all that stuff makes you the person you are. So many people come from broken homes these days that it doesn't seem anything out of the ordinary. And anyway, kids are pretty resilient; I just accepted the situation and I think I was a positive kid. While all the other kids were freaking out in their exams, I always had this feeling that everything was going to be all right in the end.

As well as film credits such as Bollywood Queen and Regeneration, and TV work such as Murder In Mind and Inspector Lynley Mysteries, McAvoy also played Private Steven Flowers in the Donmar Warehouse production of Privates On Parade, not bad for someone who came into acting almost as an afterthought.

Did his rather shaky upbringing make him more sensitive to playing roles? McAvoy shakes his head. "I don't think so," he says. "I don't think I'm a bad actor, but I certainly haven't reached my full potential yet." His girlfriend, Emma Neilson, 21, is studying to be an actress and, although both are now based in London, "we made a conscious decision not to live together."

The couple have known each other for nine years and, although McAvoy says that
Emma is "the only person I've ever been in love with," he admits that his upbringing has made him slightly reluctant to get married. "I suppose it's made me extra careful about settling down. We've talked about marriage but we feel we're too young. I'd love to have kids one day, but I think we're too focused on our careers right now."

McAvoy's next big project, out in October, is Bright Young Things, the film making the directorial debut of Stephen Fry. An adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, Bright Young Things was, says McAvoy, one of the best projects he has worked on. "Stephen was great, always trying to make us feel at ease and he was just funny and witty and clever all the time. He'd start talking and we'd be hanging on his every word because we just loved listening to him so much and then he'd stop talking because he'd get embarrassed. The world the characters live in is very wild and hedonistic and so Stephen took us to Cliveden for a few days before we started filming just so that we could get a feel for the life we were meant to be living. It was great. One of the girls even got to sleep in the bedroom where Christine Keeler and John Profumo were meant to have stayed."

McAvoy will also be starring in the next big Paul Abbott drama, Shameless, which promises to be every bit as engrossing as his previous work, State of Play. "You know," he smiles, "I just can't believe how well things are going at the moment, although a part of me is still waiting for it all to disappear one day." Somehow, I don't think McAvoy has a great deal to worry about. Hugh Grant had better watch out.

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