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James McAvoy recalls games on ‘X-Men’ set, Shyamalan project

By: - Columnist
/ 12:40 AM May 13, 2016
LUCAS Till (left) and McAvoy as fellow mutants in “X-Men: Apocalypse”

LUCAS Till (left) and McAvoy as fellow mutants in “X-Men: Apocalypse”

LOS ANGELES—“I cycled here on my bicycle,” said actor James McAvoy.

“Here” is The Lanesborough Hotel on an unusually warm and sunny spring afternoon in London. Some folks do recognize James, even when he’s helmeted while biking. He said, “And you have some people go, ‘Oh, he’s a douchebag! Oh, look at him wearing a helmet!’ I get a little of it, but you keep your head down and move fast.”

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“Douchebag” is the unlikeliest term for James. Since we met him in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” junket, James has stayed the same—sincere, warm, humorous. Like an old friend.

The Glasgow, Scotland, native, once described as “the best young British actor of our times” by Empire magazine, was casually dressed in a black jacket, maroon tee and gray pants.

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After today’s interviews, James will not pedal his way back home. The boyish, blue-eyed actor, speaking in his charming Scottish accent, explained, “Tonight, I will get a car and put the bike in the back of the car. Because where I live is all the way off a hill. So, all the way from here to there is like a slight gradient.”

Told that he looked cool with a shaved head as Professor X (or Charles Xavier) in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men Apocalypse,” James replied, “I liked being bald.” No less than Patrick Stewart, who played the older Professor X, watched via FaceTime (Bryan held the phone) last year as James himself shaved his head to complete his transformation.

After “Narnia…,” we watched James’ career take off as he earned acclaim in such films as “The King of Scotland” and “Atonement.” In 2006, he married his long-time girlfriend, English actress Anne-Marie Duff, who gave birth to their son, Brendan, in 2010.

In “Apocalypse,” Charles Xavier is deeply committed to his School for Gifted Children, where young mutants learn how to control their powers. Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and Jennifer Lawrence (Raven/Mystique) are back, with Oscar Isaac (Apocalypse) and other young actors joining the big cast.

Excerpts from our chat:

You erase your love interest’s memory in this film. If you could, whose memory would you like to erase?

Maybe Morgan Freeman’s. But I can’t tell you why. There was just one moment. You are walking through your life quite happy. Then, you remember one thing, and you are like, ah, f***! That was about 10 years ago.

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I am going to ask Morgan Freeman.

I doubt he even remembers. And maybe in my younger days, the memory of some women. I was trying to chat up women, very badly, because I was never any good at it. So maybe, some ladies who thought  I was a douchebag.

So, what’s this punching game on the set that I keep hearing about?

It’s been going on now for three and a half years. Jennifer Lawrence started it. It’s been played by nearly everybody, and it escalated to a whole other level in the last movie. We had to scale it down because it was actually becoming an insurance risk.

What it is, is that we catch each other out with a thing that we do with our fingers. If you see somebody do it and you acknowledge it, they’re allowed to punch you.

I remember nailing Hugh Jackman quite badly. Shortly after that, he came up to me and told me, “I am going to put you through a wall.” It took him about a month to get me after that, because I was so on my guard. I don’t want to get hit by Hugh Jackman. He is the size of this hotel. And his biceps are bigger than my face.

But when he nailed me, I had a big bruise on my arm. So, that is the punching game.

You were in a school band. What did you play?

I was a bass player. Two years into drama school training, somebody needed a bass guitar and an amp. I gave mine, and that was the last time I saw my bass and amp.

A friend of mine sent me a picture on Instagram the other day of when I was in the band. It was my bass and amp. I am now 37—I have not seen that guitar for 19 years. It was nice to have a picture.

Why did your character lose his hair?

In the original story, he lost his hair—forgive me, “X-Men” fans if I am getting this wrong—when he was about 11 years old. When his powers were activated in him, he lost his hair. We chose not to do that in “First Class.”

 

Will you fall in love with somebody the second time around?  What attracted you to Anne-Marie when you saw her for the first time?

The idea of whether you could fall in love again would be nice. But you also don’t want to erase somebody’s mind and then go, “Hey, let’s fall in love again.”

Do you feel that after three movies, you are truly like Professor X now?

Yeah, shaving the head was a big deal, because I didn’t know if I would look good. But also because I have enjoyed subverting the archetype of Professor X and subverting what Patrick (Stewart) did, even though I love what he did.

I enjoyed presenting something different to the audience. So I was more nervous about actually presenting the original vision of Professor X, because it’s not what I signed up to do. I signed up to do something different with Charles.

To finally do the thing that has always been expected felt inevitable, but it also felt slightly worrying, because it’s not what I have success with before this character.

I have always seen him as Charles than as the Professor. But now, he is the Professor. So hopefully, they will accept my Professor and what I have to teach. Moving forward, if we do more, I would want to subvert it again.

JAMES McAvoy               Ruben V. Nepales

JAMES McAvoy Ruben V. Nepales

Can you round up the rest of what you just did and will do next?

I did a movie (“Split”) with M. Night (Shyamalan) in Philadelphia, which I loved. It might be one of the most bonkers films I’ve ever done, and maybe the most demanding character I have ever played. Night was incredible.

I loved working with Night. I think he is the most prepared director I have ever worked with—and maybe the most technically proficient, as well.

He is also loving and caring, very nurturing of what was quite a small cast. There were five of us in the main cast.

I also did a movie called “The Coldest City” in Hungary. Now, I am in the middle of filming “Submergence” with Wim Wenders and Alicia Vikander. That is one of the most beautiful scripts I have read in a long time. It’s a love story, but it’s also many other things.

It’s the only love story I have been sent in maybe 10 years that I have really considered doing apart from “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” but that was more about a “falling out of love” story rather than a love story.

“Submergence” is a “falling in love” story, but again, it’s many of these things, as well. It’s epic and huge, yet we’re making it for very little money.  We just spent a month in Normandy filming the falling in love part. In about three weeks, I am going to spend a month in Africa (Djibouti) having the s**t kicked out of me (laughs).

Why is the role in Night’s movie bonkers?

I can’t tell you anything about it because it’s an M. Night Shyamalan movie. He’s very secretive. The places he was asking me to go as an actor were fairly extreme and, by tons, contradictory. It was an enjoyable challenge. I felt like I grew a hell of a lot as an actor.

E-mail [email protected] Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.

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