‘I’m not sobig’

Charming and down to earth, Scottish actor James McAvoy insists that he’s still rarely recognised by fans and says he gets ‘a little bit bored by fame’

“I SAW my first American baseball game in Chicago,”

he says, “which was fantastic.

I saw the Cubs play St.

Louis. It was raining that day, but then the rain stopped and the Cubs won.

I didn’t get recognised in the stands. I hardly get recognised at home in England, let alone in America.”

Critical acclaim

That’s hard to believe, because critically praised performances in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ (2005), ‘The Last King of Scotland’ (2007) and ‘Atonement’ have made McAvoy a rising star enough so that recently the internet was flooded by rumours, apparently false, that he is the front-runner to play Bilbo Baggins in Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming film of Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit.’ He already has wrapped ‘The Last Station,’ a biopic about the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.

Playing the assassin

‘Wanted’ casts the Scottish actor as 25-year-old Wes, whose estranged father is murdered. The son then trades in his workaday life to join the Fraternity, a secret society of assassins that trains Wes to avenge his father’s death under the tutelage of veterans Fox (Jolie) and Sloan (Morgan Freeman).

“It’s kind of a revenge thriller about a young, geeky, downtrodden, disenfranchised guy who finds that his father has been killed,” McAvoy says cheerfully during a telephone interview from his London home. “He’s given the opportunity to seek revenge.”

And, yes, plenty of stunts are involved, some of which involved the actual actors hanging out of cars going more than 100mph.

“I was the one Angelina was throwing about inside the car,” McAvoy says, laughing. “She was making me sick with the amount of wheel spins she was doing.”

That’s all they were doing together, despite the tabloid rumours that McAvoy was coming between Jolie and her husband, Pitt.

“It’s all nonsense,” McAvoy says. “It was just great working with her. She’s really cool. Very much like Keira Knightley - very normal, very hardworking, enjoys a good laugh. I love it when someone is everything you would expect her to be.

“I have a lot of respect for both Keira and Angelina,”

he adds, “because their lives are difficult. So much of their lives are public property, yet they still manage to not let it drive them absolutely mental. This business is a true test of what it means to be a normal, wellrounded person.”

All praise for ‘Atonement’

McAvoy worked with Knightley on the World War II epic ‘Atonement,’ based on the novel by Ian McEwan.

Set at an English estate, it cast him as Robbie, a gardener who is falsely accused of a terrible crime.

“It remains one of the best scripts I’ve ever read,” McAvoy says. “I thought the characters were beautifully drawn, and Robbie was just such a tortured, exquisite individual. He was such a good man, and then circumstances totally ripped him to shreds.”

Early career breaks

McAvoy grew up in Glasgow as the son of a builder and a psychiatric nurse. As a young man he dreaming of becoming a missionary as “a way to go all around the world and have great adventures.”

Missionary work involved years of training, however, so he switched gears and became an actor, studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before moving to London at 20.

His first real break came with the Sci-Fi Channel’s ‘Children of Dune’ (2003), but it was preceded by several brutal years of auditioning.

“It’s always really horrible when you sit in an audition room,” McAvoy says.

“You’re waiting to go in.

You’re sitting in this uncomfortable chair, thinking, ‘Five guys who look like me are in the same uncomfortable chairs next to me, and I look like every single one of them. Wait, maybe one of them is slightly better-looking. No, all of them are slightly betterlooking.

Oh no, oh no, oh no ... ‘“

“It’s nice now that I’m sent scripts,” the actor adds. “I really like this state where they send you the material.

It’s also hard, because I’ll get something that’s supposed to be funny and think, ‘Oh, dear, I’ll have to fall over to make that funny.’ Give me a script where I’m laughing out loud and I love it, or give me a great, really serious drama to really sink my heart into.”

Greatest inspiration

So far, he says, his greatest career inspiration is Forest Whitaker, his co-star in ‘The Last King of Scotland’ who won an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance as Idi Amin.

“He’s such a brilliant guy and an inspiration,” McAvoy says. “The man has been acting for 20-odd years, and he had never really been given the opportunity to take centre stage that much. Finally he got the opportunity with ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and won an Oscar.”

“It reminds me that a career is done in gradual steps,” he says. “It also reminds you that great performances are forgotten and never recognised.”

Not unlike himself, apparently: McAvoy insists that he’s still rarely recognised by fans. “Yes, I still have my privacy,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not so big. It’s not like... craziness. At least not yet. I still think you have to be Jude Law for it to be really horrible. I feel sorry for him when he’s with his kids. Man, that is just not right for the paparazzi to trail them around town. I want to hide out from the tabloids.”

In fact, if you could be a movie star without being famous, McAvoy would sign on in a minute. “I get a little bit bored by fame,” he says.

“I find it intrusive. I don’t get recognised half as much as you might think, even if I’m in a high-profile movie, and that’s fine with me. I don’t think that it’s helpful for anyone to be the centre of attention.

“That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time talking about myself,” the actor continues.

“Usually I despise people who talk about themselves, but now that’s part of my job. I really do think it makes you a dull person if you focus on yourself too much.”

McAvoy lives in London with his wife, actress Anne- Marie Duff. “She’s at home right now, doing a movie,”

he says. “It’s great that we’re both in the business, because we really support each other. We understand what the other is going though.”

The two met on the set of an English television series called ‘Shameless’ (2004- 2005). “We played a couple for two years,” McAvoy says, “and we got together in real life during the second season.

It was one of those artsimitating- life stories.”

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