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The Last King of Scotland - James McAvoy interview

James McAvoy in The Last King Of Scotland

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAMES McAvoy talks about appearing in The Last King Of Scotland and why playing a different kind of hero put forward a different set of challenges…

Q. What are your hopes and expectations for the film?
A. My biggest hope was that I would be able to portray a character you felt empathy towards but not necessarily sympathy. He’s a representation of a Westerner who wasn’t heroic, yet not evil, but who was destructive, selfish and horribly flawed.

Q. You’ve taken on a wide variety of roles in recent years, from Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles Of Narnia to the romantic lead in Starter For Ten. This represents another departure for you. Is that part of a plan and what was the biggest challenge?
A. It was the opportunity to play something different – and to play a protagonist who is clearly representative of the audience, but who isn’t a nice, sympathetic heroic figure.

That’s an interesting thing to do because you’re not only playing the conflict within yourself, but also the conflict with the audience as well. There’s a conflict between what the audience expects and what they receive because they identify with my character and then halfway through realise that the person who reflects them doesn’t necessarily reflect them in a good light.

This film isn’t about a Westerner doing amazing things and being selfless in Africa, it’s about Idi Amin. There just happens to be a Westerner in it. I’m sure there are really good Westerners in Africa but if you look at our history and our presence in the region over the past 100 years, or 200 years, we certainly hasn’t been selfless. So, to portray that a little bit more truthfully – even if it’s in a personal relationship and not politically – that was also attractive to me.

Q. How do you feel about being referred to as ‘the next big thing’?
A. You can’t do anything about it. It’s really nice that people are saying positive things but you’ve just got to remain healthily sceptical because they can stop saying nice things at any time.

To be honest, I don’t know what to do with that information. I really enjoy doing my job and if it helps me do my job and carry on being diverse in different things and expressing myself in different ways and different vocabularies, then it’s great. But I do realise that sometimes it can be a bad thing.

Q. Would you go back to the old trade?
A. [Laughs] I can always go back to Sainsbury’s or back to the bakery. Listen, if it stops tomorrow I can’t grumble. I’ll settle for what I’ve got. But I don’t look too far into the future.

Read our review of the film