James McAvoy, 35, is best known for Atonement and the X-Men blockbusters and recently won the Scottish Bafta for comedy crime drama Filth. The Glasgow-born actor talks about why acting was never his first love, the EE Rising Star Award, and his upcoming take on Frankenstein
WAS ACTING YOUR FIRST LOVE?
No! Acting was something that came out of nowhere really. A director gave me an audition out of the blue. I’d never done drama classes. I’d never even done kiddie drama or anything, so it was a fairly left-field thing. Drama school was responsible for making me really love acting. I went to drama school not even certain that I wanted to be an actor; quite foolish. But luckily it instilled in me a real love for acting. I’m kinda lucky really to find something that I ended up loving, even though I’d never really considered doing it beforehand.
CONGRATULATIONS ON THE SCOTTISH BAFTA FOR FILTH – AN AMAZING MOVIE
Thanks. You’re very, very kind.
IT’S A SHAME IT DIDN’T DO BETTER ACROSS THE POND. WAS IT TOO ’BRITISH’ FOR THE AMERICAN AUDIENCE?
It’s always been difficult. It’s not the first time selling something that’s very of its nature and very of its country. This isn’t a bad thing by the way, but if we’re selling costume dramas or we’re selling that kind of thing, then they seem to go for it, but if you’re selling stuff about working class people, they’ve got to be ’American’ for them to get it, and it’s always been like that. I can’t think of too many films that have broken out there massively and become commercial hits. What we always hope is that we can make our money back in our own country, which is not often the case. We’re really pleased that in the country that bought it, the people got it, and they got it big as well, which is really great.
YOU WERE THE FIRST WINNER OF THE EE RISING STAR AWARD. WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR YOUNG ACTORS?
It’s that thing where it does the same job as Best Newcomer… and a little bit more as well. It’s voted for by the people, and I like that a lot. You get your peers who put you in there, and then they hand it over to the people who actually go to the cinema, so you get a really true representation. It’s not just who the industry think is good and needs to be celebrated and lauded, but you also get a sort of hard facts and figures based on the audience. People in the industry tend to go: ’Right! Loads of people tend to like that person. Maybe people will go and see them in a movie’. It’s as simple as that really. And it’s a really, really good thing. But at the end of the day, awards ceremonies are not designed to be a boost to peoples’ careers; they’re celebrations of work. What’s also nice about the EE Rising Star Award is it’s not even a celebration of one gig; it’s a celebration of a body of work, which is something that only usually happens for older actors, and the people who have been much more in the fabric of the industry, but for a young actor to get celebrated for a body of work that has been taking place over a year or a couple of years, is actually really nice, you know? So it’s a cool award and I’m really glad it’s still going strong.
WHICH UPCOMING ACTOR HAS IMPRESSED YOU OVER THE PAST 12 MONTHS?
George McKay’s very good; I do like him. Oh and who’s the young guy who’s in Starred Up and ’71? Jack O’Connell – yeah; he’s been very impressive.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THIS YEAR’S ELEANOR RIGBY?
The opportunity to tell a story about adult love and all its complexities and hardships and all its emotional violence. It was really a very grown-up approach to a love story, and it has a kind of truth to it, and at the same time it managed to obtain a sort of romantic transcendence, which was all down to an amazing writer who also directed it. A guy called Ned Benson, and he’s done a fantastic job on it.
WERE YOU EVER IN THE RUNNING TO PLAY SCOTTY IN JJ ABRAMS’ STAR TREK?
Ahhh. I shall never reveal. I never really say ’yes’ or ’no’ as to whether I’ve been in the running for something; I don’t think it’s really cool for the actor who gets it, but Star Trek is brilliant and I remain a committed Trekkie.
ONE OF YOUR PENDING MOVIES IS VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN. AS THE EPONYMOUS LEAD, HOW DO YOU APPROACH A ROLE SO ICONIC?
Just the same as always really. You’ve got to figure out what you think the story is; identify what you think everyone expects to see; how much of that you decide you’re going to give them, and then how much you’re going to do different. The script actually does a fair old bit of that for us; the script concentrates on the relationship between Dr Frankenstein and the character who isn’t even in the book – on Igor Daniel Radcliffe – so that’s the main central crux of the story. It’s gonna be a different character than the one who was obsessed with creating flesh. It’s the one who went away, had a holiday, got better, came back again and went, ’Oh no! What have I done?’ It’s not that guy anymore. It’s somebody much more in the moment. It’s something that I think will be a good thing actually.
- Next year is the 10th anniversary of the EE Rising Star Award, the only accolade at the EE BAFTAs voted for by the British public. Nominees will be announced and voting will open on Wednesday, January 7, 2015.