James McAvoy (born 21 April 1979 in Glasgow, Scotland) is a Scottish actor who is recognized for a variety of well-received roles and memorable characters. He appeared in a single episode of Band of Brothers, which first brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Children of Dune provided his first experience in a starring role (he portrayed the main character for two of its three chapters). He then jump-started his career in the UK as Steve McBride on Shameless (UK).
From being once solely known by worldwide moviegoers as "that guy who played Mr. Tumnus," McAvoy has since achieved mainstream success and acclaim after starring as the lead in The Last King of Scotland as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (which earned him the BAFTA Rising Star Award) and the Academy Award-nominated Atonement as Robbie Turner (which led to a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination), as well as box office hits Wanted as Wesley Gibson, and the X-Men First Class trilogy as the young Professor X. His role in X-Men: Days of Future Past is considered by many critics to be one of the finest examples of acting in a comic book movie.
He has also performed in a dozen major plays (a full list can be found here), and has been thrice nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the lead character in Three Days of Rain, Macbeth and The Ruling Class. Some theatre critics have even stated that James' stage work is superior to his strongest film roles.
McAvoy describes himself as "not ugly, but not your classic lead man, Brad Pitt guy." He is well-known for his striking blue eyes, red lips and crying in pretty much every movie he's ever been in.
- Frank Herbert's Children of Dune (2003)
- Early Doors (2003)
- State of Play (2003)
- Shameless (UK) (2004)
- Rory O'Shea Was Here (2004)
- The Chronicles of Narnia (2005)
- Shakespeare Retold (2005)
- The Last King of Scotland (2006)
- Starter for 10 (2006)
- Penelope (2006)
- Atonement (2007)
- Becoming Jane (2007)
- Wanted (2008)
- The Last Station (2009)
- The Conspirator (2010)
- The X-Men Film Series:
- X-Men: First Class (2011)
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
- X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
- Deadpool 2 (Cameo) (2018)
- Dark Phoenix (2019)
- Arthur Christmas (2011)
- Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
- Trance (2013)
- Filth (2013)
- Welcome to the Punch (2013)
- Neverwhere (2013 BBC radio drama)
- The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (2014)
- Victor Frankenstein (2015)
- Split (2017)
- Glass (2019)
- Atomic Blonde (2017)
- Submergence (2017)
- Watership Down (2018): Hazel
- It: Chapter Two (2019)
- His Dark Materials (2019): Lord Asriel Balaqua
- The Sandman (1989) (voice roles)
- The Sandman (2020) Morpheus
- The Sandman (2022): Golden-Haired Man
Tropes associated to his work:
- Ability over Appearance:
- He doesn't physically resemble Patrick Stewart (and Professor X in the comics was blond before he went bald), but the "Band of Brothers" featurette on the X-Men: First Class Blu-Ray/DVD makes it clear that the filmmakers' first choice for the role was McAvoy because he's a very talented thespian.Matthew Vaughn: James was the first actor we cast. I've always been a fan of James, I think he's a tremendous actor.
Simon Kinberg: When initially somebody said, "What about James McAvoy for Charles?", I said, "That is the greatest idea I've ever heard, he'll never do it. Why would he take on somebody else's role which he is only going to be compared to Patrick Stewart?"
Lauren Shuler Donner: James McAvoy, one of the world's best actors, he's just incredible.
- He was cast in Trance and Filth despite the directors initially believing he looked wrong for the role."What's strange is that both those movies, the director thought I wasn't right for it, thought I was too young to do it, didn't have enough darkness," the actor reflected on the two roles. "And yet, for some reason, when I went in and auditioned for Danny [Boyle] and then had a conversation with [Filth director] Jon S. Baird, they seemed to change their mind."
- He doesn't physically resemble Patrick Stewart (and Professor X in the comics was blond before he went bald), but the "Band of Brothers" featurette on the X-Men: First Class Blu-Ray/DVD makes it clear that the filmmakers' first choice for the role was McAvoy because he's a very talented thespian.
- And Starring: He gets the "And" billing in The Last Station.
- Billing Displacement:
- In Children of Dune, Leto Atreides II is the main character of two out of three chapters, yet in the credits, McAvoy is listed ninth (this is shown on the back cover of the North American DVD release). Moreover, McAvoy's name never appears on any promotional material.
- For The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker is billed first even though McAvoy plays the central character (and therefore has considerably more screen time).
- Blush Sticker: Because he's a Pretty Boy, East Asian media occasionally adds onscreen blush stickers when he's being interviewed to increase his cuteness (or kawaii-ness, if you prefer). Here's one example.
- Brainy Brunet: This is one aspect of his Typecasting. His highly educated onscreen personas include Josh Malfen (academic nerd), Leto Atreides II (political strategist with access to the life experiences and knowledge of all of his genetic ancestors), Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (medical doctor), Brian Jackson (academic nerd), Robbie Turner (a would-be medical student), Tom Lefroy (Becoming Jane—law student), Valentin Bulgakov (The Last Station—Tolstoyan scholar), Frederick Aiken (lawyer), Professor Charles Xavier (geneticist) and the titular Victor Frankenstein (medical student).
- The Cameo:
- As a UPS delivery guy in Muppets Most Wanted.
- Professor X is briefly seen giving a lesson while Deadpool is at the X-Mansion in Deadpool 2.
- Character Tics: He randomly licks his lower lip, and this habit is sometimes unintentionally transferred to his film/TV roles. (The director either doesn't notice or doesn't care to correct it.)
- Chronically Killed Actor: Happens quite often during the early years of his career. He dies in: Band of Brothers, The Pool, Murder in Mind, Inspector Lynley, Bright Young Things, Rory O'Shea Was Here, Shakespeare Retold, Atonement, Trance, Filth, Atomic Blonde.
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: His interpretation of Xavier in X-Men: First Class was the inspiration for the look of Severin from the Season 9 comics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Dawson Casting:
- At the age of 22, he portrayed a secondary school student in the White Teeth miniseries.
- He was 23 during the filming of Children of Dune, but his character is not yet 18 years old.
- He convincingly played a 19-year-old university student in Starter for 10 despite being 26 during principal photography.
- His character in Split seems to be in his mid-to-late 20's, while James was around late 30's during the filming. Glass shows Kevin, his character, as a young kid (around seven years old) during the events of Unbreakable, which is set in 2000. James McAvoy was around 20 years old at that time.
- Dyeing for Your Art:
- Bleached his hair to play the blond punk Rory O'Shea.
- To play the alcoholic, fast-food and drug junkie cop Bruce Robertson in Filth, McAvoy gained 14 pounds, started chain-smoking and drank almost half a bottle of whiskey every evening to give himself the worn-out and repulsive appearance that was necessary for the character.
- He shaved his head for X-Men: Apocalypse, Split, Dark Phoenix and Glass (2019).
- He also picked up an insane amount of muscle mass for Split and Glass (2019). In interviews, he mentions having to constantly exercise between takes to maintain the muscle.
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French:
- The American host of Mark at the Movies has remarked that (specifically North American) ladies swoon over McAvoy's Scottish brogue.Mark at the Movies: I want to be young, I want to be good-looking, and have an accent! That guy [James McAvoy] says "Fishcakes," [...] and all the women go, "Awwww..."
Female Colleague: I got really turned on by it.
- McAvoy takes part in a French comedy skit (although his role is in English), and the comments section underneath the video is full of French fangirls who are wholly smitten by the actor's Scottish accent.
- The American host of Mark at the Movies has remarked that (specifically North American) ladies swoon over McAvoy's Scottish brogue.
- Fake American: In Wanted, The Conspirator, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Split, and It: Chapter Two. Professor Charles Xavier is half-American.note
- Fake Brit: He adopts an English accent so often for his film roles that some directors were surprised to discover that he's actually Scottish.
- Fake Irish: As Rory in Inside I'm Dancing; his accent is extremely convincing. In Becoming Jane, he plays Irish lawyer Thomas Lefroy, but his character speaks like an Englishman.
- Fake Russian: In The Last Station, although this is a case of The Queen's Latin.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Michael Fassbender. Watch any behind the scenes/interview footage of them from the X-Men movies, and it's very obvious that they are as close as their characters.
- Hidden Depths: He trained in gymnastics when he was younger, so possessing good balance and flexibility comes in handy when he wants to perform his own stunts.
- Innocent Blue Eyes: His bright blue eyes are sometimes emphasized by a director to denote the character's goodness and/or naïveté, such as Pvt. James W. Miller, Josh Malfen, Jay (Bollywood Queen), Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, Brian Jackson, Robbie Turner, Tom Lefroy (Becoming Jane), Valentin Bulgakov (The Last Station) and Professor Charles Xavier.
- Manly Tears: Bryan Singer in his commentary for X-Men: Days of Future Past admits that he was very impressed by McAvoy's ability to consistently be teary-eyed in front of the camera at the director's request.Singer: I've had the blessing and the privilege of working with a lot of great actors in my life, but I've never once asked how they elicit their tears and crying. And I was out to dinner with James McAvoy one night, and I asked him, "What do you think about in your mind? Like what do you call to your memory when you're crying or making tears?" Which he can always do, on cue, repetitively, and always the same manner for continuity, and it's brilliant. [...] And he actually said to me, "99% of the time I think about scene. I'm inspired by the tragedy and the sadness of the scene itself and what the characters are going through." [...] He said once in a while he'll pull a sad memory, but for the most part, he just takes your words, and uses them as his motivation.
- Man of a Thousand Faces:
- Paul Webster, the producer of Atonement, lampshades this in one of the movie's featurettes when he talks about McAvoy's skill as a performer."It's an incredible transformation, it's not just make-up. He physically altered himself in a way that all the best actors do [...]. They kind of metamorphose in front of the camera."
- The German magazine Jolie made the following observation about the actor's abilities:When someone mentions the name James McAvoy, it's usually followed by comments like, "Chameleon," "the man with the thousand faces" or "one of the most versatile actors of our time."
- He showcased his multifaceted acting talent in Split, where he embodied a character afflicted with dissociative identity disorder. From io9's review:This sets the stage for an absolute acting tour-de-force for McAvoy, who gets to play multiple sexualities, genders and ages in a single movie with only a few wardrobe changes. And he's absolutely incredible in each role, completely believable and able to flip between the characters with a twist of his face or gleam in his eye.
- Paul Webster, the producer of Atonement, lampshades this in one of the movie's featurettes when he talks about McAvoy's skill as a performer.
- Mr. Fanservice: This occurs quite frequently in his career. McAvoy himself acknowledges that it's part of his job to "get naked [...] in front of the camera," and he also adds:"The amount of times I have to get my naked backside out surprised me. Wow, they're really lingering on this shot. [..] This has got more screen time than my face. My face, my ass, what a combination."
- No Stunt Double: He performed almost all of his own stunts in Welcome to the Punch, as you can see in this featurette.
- Older Than They Look:
- He appears a few years younger than his actual age, especially when he is clean-shaven. Guess which picture is older◊ than the other.◊ This collage◊ also demonstrates that his face has hardly changed over an eleven-year period.
- For X-Men: Days of Future Past, Honest Trailers made the mistake of describing McAvoy's character as a "young man," a term usually reserved for males who are under 30; Xavier is in his late thirties/early forties in 1973, but it's easy to forget that because of the actor's youthfulness.
- If it weren't for McAvoy's stubble in this photo,◊ he would look nearly the same age as the adolescent actors.note
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Occasionally, especially when his character is shouting or crying.
- Period Piece: It's part of his Typecasting. The productions which feature him in a past era include Lorna Doone (2000 TV movie), Band of Brothers, Foyle's War, Bright Young Things, The Last King of Scotland, Starter for 10, Atonement, Becoming Jane, The Last Station, The Conspirator, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein, X-Men: Apocalypse and Atomic Blonde.
- Playing Against Type: Invoked.
- You wouldn't expect a slim, 5'7", non-macho actor be the star of an action movie, but he got to do just that in Wanted.
- In Trance, it's disconcerting to learn that his character is a homicidal Domestic Abuser.
- Many people were surprised to see him as the greasy, racist, misogynist, homophobic, fast-food and drug junkie cop Bruce Robertson in Filth.
- Split gave him the opportunity to stretch his acting muscles as a creep with dissociative identity disorder with over 20 personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls and locks them in his basement.
- Playing with Character Type: In Victor Frankenstein. He was almost always Typecast as a Wide-Eyed Idealist, he often appeared in Period Pieces, and he had about a dozen roles where he portrayed an intellectual character. Between 2013 and 2015, however, he was Playing Against Type as all of his onscreen and theatre personas suffered from mental illness. McAvoy's interpretation of Mad Scientist Victor Frankenstein combines all of these elements; Victor is a dark character, but even he possesses a hint of naïveté when he says things like, "I dream of a world where hope replaces fear." That line of dialogue could have been spoken by the benevolent Dr. Charles Xavier (which is McAvoy's most famous example of Typecasting), but in Victor's case, his idealism is mixed with Sanity Slippage, and they twist him into a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Those who have attended test screenings for Victor Frankenstein have described McAvoy's role as a cross between Professor X and the psychologically disturbed Bruce Robertson (which is the actor's most notable Playing Against Type performance).
- Promoted Fanboy: He's an avid sci-fi/fantasy geek, and he has become a very lucky fanboy in his acting career.
- He was a huge fan of the Dune novels prior to starring as Leto Atreides II in the Children of Dune miniseries.
- He also adored The Chronicles of Narnia, and considers it an honour to have been able to play Mr. Tumnus, who was his second favourite character in the books (Aslan being his ultimate favourite).
- He loved The X-Files as a teen and fancied Agent Dana Scully, so he found it intimidating to work with Gillian Anderson, whom he kissed in The Last King of Scotland.
- He had stated that one of the reasons he wanted to play Professor Charles Xavier was so that he can embody a young Captain Picard. He frequently expressed to interviewers how much it delighted him to share a scene with Patrick Stewart in X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the standard Blu-Ray release includes a featurette called "Double Take: Xavier & Magneto" where McAvoy can't stop fanboy-ing over his idol. He was also fond of X-Men: The Animated Series when he was younger, and can hum the theme song from memory.
- Romance on the Set:
- His ex-wife Anne-Marie Duff was once his co-star on Shameless (UK).
- His girlfriend Lisa Liberati worked as a production assistant on Split.
- "Sesame Street" Cred: He has been a guest several times on The BBC's CBeebies Bedtime Stories.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: In Wanted, Filth, Welcome to the Punch and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, he portrays characters who curse like a sailor. He's known for using foul language in interviews, and has acknowledged on numerous occasions that he's "a walking dick/penis joke."
- Star-Making Role: His career has had a much more gradual climb than most established actors. He first got noticed by international audiences with The Chronicles of Narnia, received critical acclaim for his performances in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement, and mainstream audiences recognize him as the younger Professor X after the release of X-Men: First Class.
- Tom Hanks Syndrome: For most of his career, he has portrayed Wide Eyed Idealists, but as of 2013, his roles have taken a much darker turn, as many of his characters have severe psychological issues (e.g. Trance, Filth, Welcome to the Punch, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein and Split).
- Typecasting: He is often cast as a Wide-Eyed Idealist or an intellectual (or both—Professor Charles Xavier is the prime example). He has also acknowledged that he is offered many period roles because of his skinny build."It may sound strange, but I think it's because I'm pale and thin. [...] Me, I look like a malnourished urchin, and there aren't too many of us around. I'm healthy, but I've never been a big guy, which is unusual for a Scottish actor [...]. I'm just a little, skinny, weak guy, and always have been."
- Vocal Dissonance: His delicate features, short stature and striking blue eyes all serve as a notable contrast to his deep, commanding voice.
- What Beautiful Eyes!:
- Got the part as Robbie Turner in Atonement because the character is described as having eyes of optimism, and so does McAvoy's, according to its director.Joe Wright: He has his eye on a very bright horizon.
- Filth director Jon. S Baird mentions in this interview that McAvoy had to dull the beauty of his "incredible blues" in order to keep the character of Bruce Robertson as unlikeable as possible, but there was one exception.Interviewer: Jon, I wanted to ask you this. I mean, James [...] does have these very sympathetic eyes, and was it important for you to glaze those over in the film, and neutralize that trait of his? Because that's a trait for a lot of his good guy roles, it's something directors really lift and emphasize.
Baird: Yeah, [...] the thing about Bruce is [...] that he's an outrageous character, and the only person who sees him as a human is [...] a character called Mary, and Bruce tries to save her husband's life, and she sees him as a hero. There's a scene between them where James' blue eyes really pop out, and you see the humanity of Bruce there, and it's a beautiful image. But he managed to hide them for the rest of the film. At that moment, I don't know what it was, but he let the audience in to the humanity of the character with those incredible blues.
- His baby blues were also acknowledged by InStyle magazine with the title, James McAvoy May Have a Filthy Mouth, But All We Can Focus on Are His Soulful Blue Eyes"The movie-star blue eyes, however, command your attention the way a forehead tattoo might. They light up to punctuate profanities (every other word) and stay lit when he makes fun of you for being so skittish."
- Got the part as Robbie Turner in Atonement because the character is described as having eyes of optimism, and so does McAvoy's, according to its director.
- What Could Have Been:
- He was cast as Adam Lerner for 50/50 (2011), but he left the production due to personal reasons.
- For the The Fifth Estate, he was slated to star as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, but a schedule conflict prevented him from doing so.
- He was one of the final candidates for the role of the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who before Matt Smith was cast.
- Wolverine Publicity: Inverted. McAvoy generally receives the short end of the stick when it comes to marketing. Even when he portrays the lead character, he is occasionally ignored or placed in the background of promotional materials.
- Children of Dune: Leto Atreides II is the central focus of two of its three episodes, but he's very small on the poster,◊ and you don't even get to see McAvoy's face. This gets rectified for the North American DVD release.◊
- The Last King of Scotland: Dr. Garrigan is the main protagonist, but Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin completely dominates the theatrical poster◊ and the North American Blu-Ray/DVD cover.◊
- Atonement: For the official Japanese poster◊ and the Canadian DVD artwork,◊note Keira Knightley is much more noticeable than her male co-star, even though McAvoy has the most screen time.
- Wanted: Despite receiving first billing, he is considerably smaller than Angelina Jolie on the poster◊ and the standard DVD cover (which used the same picture), but he's treated more fairly on the Blu-Ray artwork.◊
- X-Men: Days of Future Past: Although Hugh Jackman does have the most screen time of any single actor, the central character of the story is the younger Xavier, but James McAvoy takes up a meager amount of space on the official poster.◊ Jennifer Lawrence is more famous than McAvoy, so Mystique's prominence on the poster is equal to Wolverine's despite her role being smaller than Charles'. Moreover, McAvoy is absent from the Blu-Ray/DVD cover◊ for The Rogue Cut, which has Michael Fassbender's Magneto (who also is a bigger star than McAvoy) as its largest figure. X-Men: Apocalypse averts this phenomenon with the theatrical poster◊ and the Blu-Ray release for the X-Men Beginnings Trilogy.◊ The latter recognizes that Professor X is the Hero Protagonist of the First Class saga.
- Victor Frankenstein marks the first time in McAvoy's career where he is more visible than the first-billed actor. The story is told from Igor's perspective, yet McAvoy has slightly more prominence than Daniel Radcliffe in the trailers, the theatrical◊ posters◊ and the old-fashioned alternate poster created by professional artist Ciara McAvoy. Moreover, the film was known as Igor for a time, but the title was later switched to Victor Frankenstein. Radcliffe is more famous than McAvoy (e.g. the former's IMDb STARmeter is almost always consistenly higher than the latter's), so it's unusual that the marketing department chose to give more focus on the less well-known actor.