|The future looks even brighter. It's been work, work, work for James McAvoy since
he left drama school and the best may be to come, reports REBECCA McQUILLAN.
GLASGOW HERALD INTERVIEW - August 2003
(1551 total words in this text)
AFTER seeing James McAvoy playing a thoroughly English reporter in the BBC Sunday
night drama State of Play earlier this year, it takes a moment to place the
Glaswegian voice at the other end of the phone. "I'm so, so sorry about
this," he says, explaining that our meeting in Manchester city centre will
have to be rescheduled as he is needed on the set of the Channel 4 drama Shameless
earlier than expected today.
Instead, he suggests we meet at his flat and do the interview. Just don't make
too big a deal of the state the place is in, he says. It seems a few libations
were had there last night.
When I arrive, he is waiting on the landing, dressed in jeans and a dark blue
shirt, and running his hands distractedly through his floppy hair with the slightly
shellshocked air of someone who didn't expect to have a party last night. He
ushers me into the airy lounge/ kitchen and hops up the stairs to get me a glass
of water. By the sink, a neat row
of green bottles is the only remaining sign of last night's impromptu get together.
It may not yet be lunchtime, but it has clearly already been a busy day for
the 24-year-old from Drumchapel.
Then again, if there's one thing that James McAvoy is used to, it's being busy.
If, alongside the exuberant non-stop chat that gets into full
flow as soon as he sits down, there is an air of something like wonder about
him, it's hardly surprising. Since graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy
of Music and Drama in 2000, he has not been unemployed once. Things are going
well for him; very well indeed. He admits to
feeling a little nervous when people tout him as the Next Big Thing, but after
the three years he's had, the label is inevitable.
In January, fresh from finishing State of Play, he was taken by motorbike to
begin filming the same day alongside Peter O'Toole, Jim Broadbent, Stockard
Channing, and Dan Ackroyd in Stephen Fry's directorial debut, Bright Young Things,
an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies.
He was then offered representation by an American agent after the success of
Bollywood Queen, in which he played the lead, at the Sundance Film Festival.
He is now in Manchester filming Shameless, written by Paul Abbott (who also
wrote State of Play and Clocking Off) and he has had to turn down a film in
the US in favour of what is set to be his most challenging role yet, playing
a young man with muscular dystrophy in the latest film by Damien O'Donnell,
the director of East is East, and Inside I'm Dancing. It doesn't get much better
"Touch wood, man," he agrees. "It's been crazy, never having
to play the same role twice and constantly feeling that the work that's being
offered is getting better and better and better. I've never felt that I've made
a step back. Maybe I've not done it as well as I could some of the time but
at least I've been given the opportunity to improve myself and to learn."
With large blue eyes and a compact frame,McAvoy emanates youthfulness, a quality
he has deployed to good effect playing soldiers and romantic leads. He has avoided
being typecast, however, not least because of his versatility and a strong ear
for accents. These pepper his chat, bubbling up out of every so often, especially
his Terry Christian-style
Yet although he has been based in London for three years, he is as Glaswegian
as Sauchiehall Street. A pupil at St Thomas Aquinas school in Scotstoun, acting
had not even crossed his mind until the director David Hayman, who lived next
door to his English teacher, came to the school.
The class was reading Macbeth. Six months later, Hayman asked McAvoy if he wanted
to audition for his film. "I said totally, aye. I didn't think I'd get
it, but I got it," he recalls, adding with a sheepish smile: "I was
After landing a couple of other small roles, he decided to try out for drama
school. He grins broadly: "At the interview I was sitting down
and they were saying, why do you think we should let you in? I just went, Because
I think I'm dead good . . . but I still think I've got loads to learn'."
He collapses backwards on to the sofa with a hoot of laughter. "Such an
arrogant weebastard, so I was."
After graduating, he moved to London from drama school, and since has played
a variety of roles, including Josh Malfen in White Teeth, Liam in the pub-based
comedy drama Early Doors, and Leto in the sci-fi series Children of Dune.
Very little of his work has been Scottish, he observes, with a note of regret,
but being Scottish has done him no harm, what with heavyweight
Scottish talents making waves on both sides of the Atlantic. "For me, if
it does help it's because someone might like a charming Scottish type
that they put on you," he says, "But, yeah, Ewan McGregor and Dougray
Scott, they're doing great guns for us because they're big, gorgeous, beautiful
men, and they can do it, they can lead movies."
Born and bred in Glasgow, McAvoy lived in Scotstoun until he was seven, before
going to live with his grandparents in Drumchapel. He stops
short of going into the reasons for the move, describing it as "family
stuff", but says that his granny and grandad were "very strong in
He recalls school as "brilliant. I mean, it was an absolute giggle. We
played in a band and had some really brilliant times," he says. His sister
is also in a band.
As an ardent Celtic fan, he missed not being in Scotland for the Uefa Cup final
against Porto. "I was there," he says, pointing to the edge of the
sofa, opposite the TV. He had invited cast and crew members from Shameless back
with him and they were sitting chatting while he sat glued
to the TV. "I think the worst moment of that evening was when Bobo Balde
got sent off. He's sitting there in the tunnel crying his eyes out
and I'm crying my eyes out for the poor guy, and all of a sudden I look round
at everyone and they're all just staring at me."
McAvoy's girlfriend, Emma Neilson, 22, whom he first went out with at 16, is
also a Scot, from Edinburgh, but like McAvoy she lives in London where she is
training at the Central School of Speech and Drama. All in all, he only returns
to Scotland occasionally. "It gets you down, but
you've got to take the work when it's there," he says.
Besides, the offers he's getting are not the sort you turn down.
Shameless, set on a Manchester estate, is loosely based on Abbott's childhood.
He plays a middle-class Londoner who falls in love with a young woman who is
responsible for all her siblings and extended family.
Also coming up is a second series of State of Play, a tale of investigative
journalism and government corruption set at a London-based paper called The
Herald (based, in fact, on the Guardian, which the cast visited in preparation).
McAvoy is thrilled. "I would do that job if my role was two lines,"
he says, expressing the hope that the show will go
Cracker and run series after series. He may have an American agent, he says,
but "I'm still a British actor and I'm still a Scottish actor".
The nature of the game has changed for him, though. "Before, I was just
an actor people called in and if I was good, I got the job. But now people are
expecting me to be good," he says. "That opens doors to you."
It also presents more of a challenge, but it's a challenge McAvoy seems more
than ready to meet.
Bright Young Things opens in October.