MANCHESTER ONLINE INTERVIEW - June 2003
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THIS time last year James McAvoy was in Prague fighting giant sand worms and dealing
with his incestuous love for his sister.
The role of Leto II - heroic heir to a kingdom and sister worshiper - in American
mini-series Children of Dune was about as far as it is possible to get from
his two most recent TV parts in the acclaimed Paul Abbott drama, State Of Play,
and Craig Cash's Manchester-based comedy, Early Doors.
"Children Of Dune was a great giggle," laughs McAvoy. "Honestly,
it was a typical American mini-series, but when I was younger my two favourite
books were Lord Of The Rings and Dune, so when Children Of Dune came up I was
all 'oh yeah, go for it. I can't believe I'm going to be Leto.'"
Talking to McAvoy, 24, is a highly entertaining experience. Exuberant, charming
and impressively talkative, he rattles sentences off at high speed in a Glaswegian
accent, gesticulating constantly with his hands and breaking off only for a
quick cigarette or three. Trained at the prestigious Scottish Academy of Music
and Drama, his rise to fame has been sudden following his two most recent and
very different roles.
As Liam in Early Doors he plays straight man to Craig Cash's pub of losers
and loners, an experience he clearly loved.
But it is his role as cocky freelance journalist Dan Foster in the compelling
State Of Play in which he stands out - not an easy feat in a cast which includes
John Simm, David Morrissey and the show-stealing Bill Nighy as editor Cameron
"I was really worried about playing Dan because it's quite a fine line
between being cocky and being attractive," McAvoy admits.
"It's really hard playing a character who the audience have to identify
with because you keep thinking 'well what if everyone's just thinking he's a
cocky so and so.'"
His initial nerves were, he says, eased by the closeness of the cast, in particular
Nighy, who played his on-screen father. "Bill's just brilliant," he
says. "I used to sit with John (Simm) and we'd be like 'oh my god, did
you see how he did that?' and then we'd imitate it. Course, then I got worried
that I'd end up imitating him when I was actually acting."
It's easy to see McAvoy passing time on set mimicking the cast. During the
hour and a half we spend in his spacious temporary flat near Ancoats, he does
a great Billy Connolly, a very good Craig Cash and runs through a series of
accents from the broad Glaswegian of his grandfather to the posh London of his
character Josh in recent Channel 4 drama White Teeth.
His conversation is similarly eclectic, taking in the trauma of supporting
Celtic, films and books he's enjoyed, and why fencing is better exercise than
"Honestly, it is really," he says, grinning. "We were taught
it at drama school and I've kept it up. Although I'm dead out of shape now."
And, he admits, it's hard to find the time now that his career has really taken
off. He is currently filming new Paul Abbott drama, Shameless, in Manchester
and Alderley Edge for Channel 4 and has just finished making Bright Young Things,
a film set in the 1920s and directed by Stephen Fry.
"That was incredible because I got to meet Dan Ackroyd," he says,
"Mind you, I think he thought I was a bit of a tool because I couldn't
really speak to him, I was so overawed."
There will also be a second series of State Of Play, one which concentrates
on the journalists. "Actually, I read that in the papers before it was
confirmed," he says. "And I thought, oh well, maybe it'll be completely
different and set in a Manchester newspaper or something but then they phoned
and said 'so are you up for another series?' and I was all 'yeah, of course
As to who actually ordered the murder of Sonia Baker in this series, McAvoy
is sworn to secrecy.
"Oh, I'm not saying anything," he says, leaning forward to put out
his cigarette. "Well, actually..." he teases. "Nah, I'm not telling,
except to say it's amazing - watch it on Sunday. It's not just who but how it
all works out."
The final episode of State of Play is on BBC1 at 9pm on Sunday.