One to watch
ONE TO WATCH by Times Online - January 2004
(712 total words in this text)
James McAvoy holds the key to success, says Pauline McLeod
So dexterously impressive is the list of performing skills on James McAvoy’s
CV — rugby, boxing, fencing, acrobatics, gymnastics, fire eating —
that one can’t help wondering if he vaulted into acting via the big top.
“No!” he wails. “The circus freaks me out. My grandmother
took me when I was young, I was very scared and I have never been back.”
And the fire eating? “Er, that’s incorrect. But I can breathe fire,”
he adds helpfully. “Anybody can do it. All you need is a bottle of paraffin
and a match and you’re away! My friend showed me how to do it and I stood
in for this fire breather in a park in Glasgow when he went off for his lunch.
I must have done it for 25 minutes and earned about £25.”
His prowess at torching mouthfuls of fuel is restricted to parties these days.
Still, he was always game for a laugh (the circus aside), so when McAvoy was
16 and offered a role in the film The Near Room — the director David Hayman
wanted to cast young people with no acting experience — he didn’t
need to be asked twice.
“I hadn’t thought about acting until the chance was put in front
of me by a complete fluke. If I hadn’t got in to drama school, I probably
wouldn’t have become an actor because I’d have thought: ‘Oh,
well, it’s not for me’.”
As it is, only three years out of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama,
the 24-year-old Glaswegian is already the veteran of 11 movies and ten television
series, including BBC Two’s comedy Early Doors, as the improbably named
pub regular Liam Gallagher, and a louche young hack in BBC One’s State
of Play. His breezy chirpiness belies his measure, and a perfect ear for mimicry.
Take those cut-glass vowels that he employs in his role as the gossip columnist
Simon Balcairn in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things — sharp enough
to slice bacon.
Having just finished making the hugely challenging film Inside I’m Dancing
(he stars as Rory, a young man immobilised by muscular dystrophy) in Dublin,
McAvoy is taking a two-month break. Given this year’s workload, it is
a wise decision.
It will enable him to watch himself in Shameless, Channel 4’s flagship
drama series that has an audacious script by Paul Abbott (State of Play, Clocking
Off) and sees McAvoy plagiarising his own wildly chaotic northern upbringing.
McAvoy plays Steve, a middle-class Londoner with a working-class chip on his
shoulder who sweet-talks his way into the heart of Fiona (Anne-Marie Duff).
“He feels so much for Fiona that he almost stalks her. You want them to
be together but you also worry that he might dump her because he is such a fly
boy. Can he really be trusted? I think if I met the man I would want to kick
him in, because he’s not half as charming as he thinks he is.”
Shades of the would-be entrepreneur Carl, then, in Wimbledon, the hotly anticipated
summer flick that also stars Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst? “I’m
Paul’s annoying younger brother who thinks that he’s a bit smart
but is 25, quite lazy and still living at home.”
If McAvoy has any feelings of déjà vu about 2004 — filming
a second series of Early Doors, Shameless and (further down the line) reprising
Dan Foster, the bright young thing of investigative journalism, in a sequel
to State of Play — he is not complaining.
“I went through a phase when I was about 16 when I contemplated being
a journalist, but that’s where it ended. Far too much like hard work for