James McAvoy passed on playing the part of a grieving young dad in the film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby in 2010, an easy decision for the actor to make back then. “I’d just had a kid, and I didn’t want to touch a script about a couple that loses a baby,” he says. Two years later, the Australian actor Joel Edgerton was attached to the role, then fell off the project. Director Ned Benson approached McAvoy once more. “They had four or five days to save the financing,” McAvoy says, “and it was two years on from having my kid. It wasn’t as raw, and it didn’t seem so horrific to me at that point.”
Despite his stealthy upward career arc, the fact that McAvoy is now in a position to help secure funding for a sensitively handled major commercial picture comes as some surprise to the actor. “Honestly? If you’d have told me about my career as a wee boy, I’d have been really fucking surprised,” he says. “I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t even think about acting until I was acting.”
McAvoy, a 35-year-old with a sandy complexion and handsome physique, fits comfortably into the transparent 21st-century fame model. He is neither showy nor defensive on the subject of his talent and possesses enough quiet, internal self-confidence to back it up. He left drama school in Glasgow at the end of the ’90s, a time when his native Scotland was precipitously attracting Hollywood’s interest, post-Trainspotting. That he’s never played a relative of Ewan McGregor’s seems like a shortcoming on the part of all casting directors; however, he did get to play the lead in the recent, underappreciated Filth, based on Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh’s 1998 novel about a misanthropic, coke-snorting Scottish policeman.
McAvoy and I spend an afternoon talking in the churchyard of a grand, decaying chapel in the East End of London. It’s a scorching, sunny day. He arrives on a motorbike and says his recognition factor is low enough to get away with sitting out in the sun without interruption. This turns out to be true, though he’s partially disguised behind tortoiseshell-framed Ray-Bans. He’s genial to a fault, swears a lot during conversation, and is never stumped for either anecdote or opinion. It’s almost impossible to gauge whether he would be of any use in a fight, a personality trait that has surely proven handy for a dramatic portfolio that has had him racing between playing tough and tender, hero and heartbreaker.
Press > 2014 > Oct | Out
Photoshoots & Portraits > Set 089