Along with choosing a variety of challenging roles from the period favorite 'Atonement' to the blockbuster 'Wanted' to smaller dramas like 'Becoming Jane' and 'The Last King of Scotland,' the Scottish-born actor is rarely heard from outside of promoting his films, spending his off time with his wife (sorry ladies), actress Ann-Marie Duff. Most movie star heartthrobs in their early thirties can be found running around Hollywood every night while waiting for the next blockbuster to fall in their lap. But James McAvoy has built a growing popularity in the States by taking the road less traveled.
Along with choosing a variety of challenging roles from the period favorite 'Atonement' to the blockbuster 'Wanted' to smaller dramas like 'Becoming Jane' and 'The Last King of Scotland,' the Scottish-born actor is rarely heard from outside of promoting his films, spending his off time with his wife (sorry ladies), actress Ann-Marie Duff.
For his latest role, McAvoy joins a talented ensemble including Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren and Paul Giamatti to recount the final years of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy in 'The Last Station.' Based on the diaries kept by Tolstoy, his wife and the people in their inner-circle, the film features a buzzed-about turn by Plummer as an elderly Tolstoy, who in his 80s, now stays secluded in his mansion. McAvoy plays his new assistant, Valentin Bulgakov, who arrives as the turmoil between Tolstoy, his wife Sofya (Mirren) and his closest associate Vladimir Chertkov (Giamatti) reaches a boiling point.
McAvoy sat down with Moviefone to talk about waiting four years to make 'The Last Station,' what he looks for when choosing a role and how he avoids the trappings of overexposure.
Are you a reader of Tolstoy's work?
I tried to read 'War and Peace' and it just wasn't happening. I was 19 years old, I was playing Yepikhodov from 'The Cherry Orchard' by Chekhov, and I felt I should read some pre-Revolutionary Russian literature dealing with the upper classes and middle classes, but it's tough enough doing a play without having to get through someone else's massive story. I felt like I had to read it as wanting to read it so I think it was a bad place to come from. But when 'The Last Station' started I looked less at his fictional work but his social and political essays, and I also read my character's diary. Looking at the script I'd read things and think, OK, that helps the story but that didn't happen, and reading Valentin's diary I learned that they did really happen, so the diary was really important.
Is it true you've been attached to this project since you did 'The Last King of Scotland'?
Just as 'The Last King of Scotland' was coming out.
What was it that kept you involved for four years?
I loved the script and nothing happened, like forever, and then finally I got a call that it was going to happen, the only drag was it was in the summer in Germany and we had to pretend it was Russia in the winter, so we were f***ing in layers of wool baking our asses of [laughs].
Was there any intimidation at first to work with the likes of Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren and Paul Giamatti?
Going in you just hope you get along with them. I mean they've been great so many times you know they're going to be great so I went in just hoping I wouldn't mess it up.
You've starred in your fair share of period films, is there a historical significance that attracts you to the parts or is it just about a good story?
It's really what's a good story, what's a good part, and what I think I can do and what I feel can stretch me and point me in a different direction from something I've already done. What really attracted me to this was the comedy.
Were you able to develop your character?
One thing was Valentine's sneezing. Some of that was for comedic effect but also he really had this condition that from what I learned happened often so I felt that should be in there more than what was written originally. And [director Michael Hoffman] is very collaborative and very open for his work to be torn apart and rewritten. He's so unpretentious about his work that you feel really confident to say to him you have an idea.
Your wife, Ann-Marie Duff, is also in the film and I know you've said in the past that you two don't want to star together in films. So how did you two come to agree on this?
We've been offered to do a lot of films together and this worked because we really don't act together, there's two scenes we're in but don't really interact, so it was a good fit.
What's next for you? Will there be a 'Wanted 2'?
There should be. Universal wants there to be. But I haven't seen a script. Until I'm on the set of a film to me it's still not for real.
How about the rumors that you're going to play Ian Fleming in his bio pic?
Just rumors ... I'm going to be shooting 'I'm with Cancer' in about a month. It's with Anna Kendrick and Seth Rogen and directed by Jonathan Levine, who did 'The Wackness.'
You also wrapped on 'The Conspirator,' about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination, directed by Robert Redford. How was he to work with?
Awesome. He's just a really, really nice guy. And with this film it is a court room drama and I'd never done that before. It is also about American history, which I hadn't done.
You seem like someone who isn't out there trying to grab the spotlight. You want your work to speak for itself. So is it easy to keep your private life private or do you have to work at keeping it that way?
In all honesty if you stick to doing what you're involved in you won't really get bothered. I thought I would have more to worry about when 'Wanted' came out but nothing happened. It's when you start going to all of the premieres, I mean to films that you're not even involved in and going to the award shows and you're not even nominated or presenting, then you're f***ed. And if you're an exceptionally beautiful girl then I think you have more problems.
So you think it's harder for women to stay out of the paparazzi and gossip than men?
Much harder for women. I've seen beautiful actresses get spat at or just someone trying to get a rise out of them so they can get an extra hundred bucks for a photo. It's really rough.