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Wanted - James McAvoy interview

James McAvoy in Wanted

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAMES McAvoy talks about appearing in new assassin action movie Wanted, getting into perfect physical condition for the movie’s many stunts and getting beaten up by co-star Angelina Jolie.

He also talks about the strangest thing he’s been asked to do in a film, the progress he’s making in his own career and whether he’ll be sticking around the action genre for a while.

Q. Wanted marks a bit of a change of pace from Atonement, doesn’t it?
James McAvoy: It’s an incredible change of pace, style and everything for me. But that was really why I did it. When I look for something to do, I ask myself is it different? Is it challenging? Does it make me employ a new acting style, or something like that, or a new genre? This satisfied all those things. But I still wasn’t certain that it would be anything other than just another action movie that went straight to DVD until I looked at Timur [Bekmambetov]’s previous work and thought it was definitely going to be different. It made me very, very excited.

Q. Did you know what you were letting yourself in for in terms of the physical preparation?
James McAvoy: I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for! The 16-year-old boy inside of you goes: “Yeah, do an action film!” I never go down the gym but to have a reason to do it is quite exciting and to have someone force you to do it is quite advantageous. So, for six weeks before we made the film I did that and I loved it. Four weeks in, I was still feeling great. But at about the fifth week in, I was doing stunts for 12 hours a day, and then going to the gym for 90 minutes at night and I was like: “You know what, you can stick this!” But my trainer, Glen Chapman, who really is brilliant and who kicked seven tonnes of poo out of me every day really forced me to do every day for the next three months and I’m glad he did because I wouldn’t have been able to get through this film if I hadn’t been fit.

Q. Have you kept it up?
James McAvoy: No. I’ve been to a sauna a couple of times in the last 11 months.

Q. Did you have any idea what the end product would look like on the screen, though?
James McAvoy: I knew from watching Night Watch and Day Watch that I was very excited and that if Timur did in any way make this film look like them it was going to be something special and more than just an average action movie. Also, the fact that it was so clearly not for all the family as well was something I’ve not seen for a little while. I appreciated that because I thought there aren’t many superhero movies out there catering for just adults.

Q. Angelina Jolie has done a lot of action stuff before. Was she helpful to have as a co-star?
James McAvoy: She was great. The thing that I really appreciated from her more than anything else – because she had lots of tips and advice – was that you shouldn’t take herself too seriously. She kind of kept reminding us that if you can’t have fun making an action movie, then you shouldn’t be making an action movie.

Q. Were there any specific tips she gave you when it came to the action scenes themselves?
James McAvoy: I remember one time we were on top of a train and having to jump over a bridge. I was on a big wire and had to crash through a fence and I kept saying: “Actually, this is really painful.” And her best piece of advice was: “Just shut up and enjoy it!”

Q. Was there a certain degree of male pride kicking in ever when Angelina’s kicking you to a bloody pulp? Did you want to match her?
James McAvoy: Oh yeah, totally! I don’t think, in that scene, that my character tried to swing a punch in the script. But in the film my character says: “I’m going to kick your f***ing arse…” And he swings for her. That was totally added because I felt completely undermined as a man and thought I should try. But I failed to do that and she beat me up even more! But listen, in fight scenes you do two things: you swing punches and you take punches. Swinging punches is fine but for some reason the best part about doing a fight scene is taking a hit and making it look good. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that, so it was kind of the perfect scene for me [laughs].

Q. Was being beaten up by Angelina Jolie one of the strangest things you’ve been asked to do for a film?
James McAvoy: No, the strangest thing I had to do in any film was lie in a pool of hot wax. That was really strange, claustrophobic, uncomfortable and odd. I had an ear infection for about two weeks after.

Q. Can you talk about the collaborative process with writer Mark Millar because I gather he’s very happy with the finished film even though there are some differences…
James McAvoy: I didn’t meet Mark until half way through the film, so the collaboration process was limited for me. I wish I had met him before because he’s lovely and he likes a drink… But the collaborative process started with the first part of the graphic novel, which is very similar in relation to where [my character] Wesley starts. It was trying to establish this sense of complete apathy and post-modern depression. He’s got no reason to be so unhappy, really. He’s got a decent enough life but for some reason he can’t even bring himself to care even about the fact that his girlfriend is having sex with his best friend. That was something that was very evident in the graphic novel, but then it goes in such a different direction.

Q. Did you notice any similarities between yourself and the character you play given that you’ve gone from working in a bakery to being a Hollywood movie actor in a short space of time, and here you are playing a guy who goes from being an office clerk to an assassin in a very quick amount of time?
James McAvoy: I didn’t notice too much in common other than the fact that I’ve been unhappy in my life at times, which we all have. But I think this guy suffers from it chronically. I think he’s properly clinically depressed. I’ve never been clinically depressed. It’s not until his life is threatened that he realises how important it is to him. I realise how important my life is to me. So, I don’t see too much in common. But without wanting to get too deep about it, because it’s a piece of entertainment, I think he represents a part of society that is quite new – a guy in his mid-20s, or even early 30s, who has got a job, a family, and a house and yet he can’t bring himself to smile. So, I thought that was a really interesting place from which to build an anti-hero, or a hero, or whatever you want to call him – to create somebody active from such apathy.

Q. Is this a genre you’d like to return to?
James McAvoy: I think so. But the reason I did this film was to challenge myself and do something different and to see if I could learn something new. So, hopefully the next film I do will be something different again. But if all I get offered is the same thing over and over again, then that’s what I’ll do.

Q. How nervous, if at all, do you get about things like box office? And do you think that this will make studios want to see you doing more of these kinds of roles?
James McAvoy: No, not at all. I think I’ve been very lucky. A lot of actors are versatile but not every actor gets a chance to show it. I’ve been very lucky so far in my career to be allowed to be versatile. So, hopefully I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue. As for box office is concerned, not really. If nobody goes to see it but it still gets great reviews I can’t lie, I’ll still be happy. That’s really the most important thing as an actor – you want people to like it. I don’t really care whether it’s 20 million people or just 20 who go and see it. But I appreciate that the studio want to make a lot of money, and hopefully it will, but I won’t be devastated if it doesn’t.

Q. Is there any truth in the rumour that you’re set to play Bilbo Baggins and how does it make you feel that someone thinks you’re right to play a hobbit?
James McAvoy: [Laughs] Listen, I identify with hobbits more than anyone else. But it’s not true, I’m afraid. It’s all internet rumouring.

Read our review of Wanted