Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 14 News List

James McAvoy worries the bigger he is, the harder he'll fall

In just three years, James McAvoy has gone from unknown to Hollywood A-lister. As his new film, 'Atonement,' opens to rave reviews, he talks about his 'mundane' private life and the fear that one day it all might slip away

Esther Addley  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

That role, as the son of a pimp in The Near Room, led to a stint at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, then from small TV parts in the Bill and the HBO series Band of Brothers to the comedy Early Doors and Paul Abbott's award-winning State of Play. Abbott was so impressed he cast him for his equally garlanded Manchester comedy-drama-romp Shameless in 2004. McAvoy stayed less than two series, moving on to play such varied parts as a Dublin quadriplegic in Inside I'm Dancing, the faun Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the young Scottish doctor who falls under Idi Amin's spell in last year's adaptation of The Last King of Scotland, a terrific performance that was perhaps unjustly overshadowed by Forest Whitaker's Oscar-winning turn as the dictator.

His steep career path has also had the happy consequence of introducing him to his wife, Anne-Marie Duff, eight years his senior; she played his girlfriend in Shameless and has gone on to an impressive film and theater career herself. The couple married in private last year and have a pact, she has said, never to discuss each other. And though McAvoy can't quite resist the occasional delighted reference in interviews to "the wife," they never do. (Also emphatically never discussed is McAvoy's missing father - also called James - despite the older man's periodic emergence in the tabloid papers pleading for a reconciliation. The pair have not spoken in more than two decades.)

"I'm very defensive and very protective of [my relationship] because you only get one life," says McAvoy, "and when you meet people you care about you want to give them a part of yourself, because you want to let them into your life, and if you're giving it to everybody then what is your soul? It's very cheap."

Atonement will inevitably increase the curiosity, however; it's what the actor calls his "first conventional leading man" role. The movie is not perfect; many considered McEwan's novel, with its complex, contrived plotting and six-decade narrative, to be unfilmable. Its meaning suddenly clicked into place, McAvoy has said, when he realized that the role of Robbie was almost symbolic rather than strictly literal.

"He's wholly good," he says. "He is nearly Christ-like, or angelic, and I think that is why it is so hard for an audience, but also definitely for me, to watch him be torn apart. He is us, being ripped apart. He is humanity. He is my favorite character that I have ever played. I love him dearly. I wish I was him. I wish he existed."

After so much high emotion, his latest project, an adaptation of a comic book tale called Wanted, in which he plays a superhero assassin, must have come as a relief. "It's daft. It's fucking mad. And the director [Russian Timur Bekmambetov] is nuts, like his head is in a different universe really. It's going to be a very weird and interesting big action-y flick."

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