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Of these films, which is your favorite?

  • X-Men: First Class
  • Arthur Christmas
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  • The Last Station
  • Gnomeo & Juliet
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GLASGOW HERALD INTERVIEW - August 2003

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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.


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 than this.

"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
Mancunian.

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 rubbish."

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 my life".
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.


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