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James McAvoy 2013
Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

James McAvoy interview: 'We're all imposters in Hollywood'

The Glaswegian star is swapping the glamour of LA for the potential toil and trouble of playing Macbeth on the London stage

By Michael Hodges
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James McAvoy was first noted for his furry-legged faun Mr Tumnus in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ in 2005, but the 33-year-old Scot has been a genuine Hollywood presence since 2006’s ‘The Last King of Scotland’. Now he takes to the stage as Scotland’s most notorious king, Macbeth. Set by director Jamie Lloyd in a dystopian future kingdom, this ‘Macbeth’, says McAvoy, ‘requires you to believe in magic; that horrible things will happen…’

This is an all-Scottish ‘Macbeth’, in the shadow of the coming independence referendum.
‘We are doing it at a very important time and on the doorstep of Downing Street, which is great. I’m half expecting Alex Salmond to turn up and do something funny. I’ve seen “Macbeth” before and everybody’s English apart from one Scottish witch – what’s that all about?’ Your own bit of Scotland, Drumchapel outside Glasgow, is pretty hairy: does your background keep your feet on the ground in Hollywood?
‘It does, but I don’t really like seeing Drumchapel as a bad place: it’s not fair to the people that live there. One of the weird things about Hollywood is we’re all imposters; we’re all just glammed up. At a proper Hollywood party – an Oscars party – you look around and go, “Fuck, he’s a movie star and she’s a movie star and he got six million dollars for a film,” but it’s clear everybody’s the same. Your initial instinct might be “How the fuck did I get here?” but after a couple of years you go, “The same way every fucker else did.”’

Even some of the posher English actors?
‘Loads of people have silver spoons in their mouths but I’ve rarely gone, “Shit, we really don’t connect.” Even then, it’s over issues like etiquette. Not “Which fork do you use?” but the way you carry yourself in the workplace.’

Do ordinary people make more authentic actors?
‘I’ve worked with people who are from the exact same background as me and fucking hated them. But we’re in a place in our evolution as a country where we are allowed to be who we are – you don’t have to change it as much as you did. Ian McKellen doesn’t sound like Ian McKellen from Lancashire. He, by his own admission, would say, “Yeah, they knocked my voice out of me and now I speak like this.” You don’t have that any more.’ So you’ve not been held back…
‘I didn’t feel there was anything to lose. I didn’t really want to do it [acting]: I’d never considered doing it until I was doing it. I didn’t think: Fuck, I want to get up there and I’m never going to make it.’

But you’re a Hollywood star: isn’t it foolhardy to do ‘Macbeth’ in a London studio space?
‘I’m not going, “Oh no! What the fuck am I gonna do?” but I can’t stop thinking about the scenes. I woke up the other night: I wasn’t even dreaming about my Macbeth, I was dreaming about David Morrissey playing Macbeth! I want to do it properly and I want to do it young, so I stopped watching other people’s Macbeths.’

Not your ‘X-Men’ co-star Patrick Stewart’s?

‘I didn’t go; I don’t want it in my head. I did see it on YouTube. A couple of times I thought: I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do with that line, I’ll have a look at how other people do it, and they don’t know what they’re doing either! It will be interesting when Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick and I are all working on “X-Men”. We might have a Macbeth-off. I might just go, “My Macbeth’s better than your Macbeth… And your Macbeth: hmm, not so sure.”’

How’s your state of mind right now?
‘When you’re 14 and playing on your mate’s computer and you stay up with the sound off so that his mum and dad don’t know and then you go to school like zombies: it’s kind of like that.’
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