Weâ€™ve had Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and Christian Bale as Batman, but now theyâ€™re taking it to a new level, with James McAvoy as the star of Timur Bekmambetovâ€™s new bad-ass film, Wanted. At first McAvoy seems like unusual casting for a role like this (I think a lot of people still havenâ€™t fully recovered from his performance in Atonement) but, after seeing this movie, I can honestly say he was perfect.
Wanted isnâ€™t your typical action film. The entire film is extremely sarcastic and never letâ€™s you take it too seriously. The explicit violence and language show that they werenâ€™t trying to dumb this down for the kiddies, they earned their R rating. Think of Wanted as more of a fantasy film for adults than an action film for teens. Itâ€™s perfect for all the people who have dreamed of cursing out their boss, escaping the mundane world they live in, and doing something interesting with their day-to-day lives.
McAvoy, with his thick Scottish accent, spoke to LA.CityZine about his fears of becoming an action hero, his role (or lack there of) in the Hobbit, his absence in the State of Play film, and how Angelina Jolie helped him find the fun in actions films.
Q: Youâ€™ve got your hitman look going on with the leather jacket.
JM: Hey, man. I have worn leather jackets in the past. Do you know what? Iâ€™m just so pleased to be publicizing a film that doesnâ€™t require me to wear a suit 24 hours a day seven days a week. Because generally, the films that Iâ€™ve been publicizing over the last two years have been very serious and thatâ€™s great and I love them, but I hate wearing suits. So thatâ€™s the reason I did this film, so I could stop wearing suits.
Q: Were you worried about how this film would turn out?
JM: Yeah, I think I was probably. I did think, â€œI canâ€™t do an action film.â€ Partly because of my own doubts about my appropriateness for the role. I thought I was probably bad casting for it but I also thought, some action movies can be just really seamy and really bad. I like action movies when theyâ€™re good but when theyâ€™re bad theyâ€™re such a waste of time. I thought [with] this one, there was a few things [that saved it for me]. First of all, the fact that they were willing to cast somebody like me, which I thought might be a bad idea, was interesting. Then, the fact that they were giving the job to somebody like Timur. Iâ€™ve seen lots of vampire films but he made them very different. I thought, well, heâ€™s going to be interesting. And also, the fact that they werenâ€™t making this movie for all the family. They were making this a very violent R rated film for adults and Iâ€™ve not seen that a lot lately. Theyâ€™re all superhero movies that are incredibly violent actually, but theyâ€™re just filmed in a kind of slightly sanitized way. Like Indiana Jones. Ants crawling inside somebodyâ€™s body and eating them from the inside, thatâ€™s incredibly disturbing but done in a kinda slightly cutesy way so you can give it to 12-year-olds. This was never going to be like that and I thought, well, this is all quite cool and different. And even if it fails horribly, it was still trying to be something else.
Was it a challenge working out for the role?
JM: Iâ€™m glad I did it. There were times where I just wanted to stop and do nothing else. But I had a great trainer called Glen Chapman who was a proper drill sergeant for me. Nice guy, but he made me do things that I didnâ€™t want to do, and he made me sick quite a lot. Itâ€™s good though because apart from the physical aesthetic, they wanted their action hero to be a bit more buff and all that, I wouldnâ€™t have got through four and a half months had I not be fitter, more healthy and in better shape than I usually am. I think I was capable of doing all the things in the film but not consistently with the high level intensity being sustained over four and a half months. Because every day was like a 12, 13, maybe 14 hour day and a lot of it was taken up with stunts. That was quite grueling so I needed to be in better shape than I usually am.
What was the most grueling stunts?
JM: There was a lot of wire stuff that ended up getting cut from the film. The whole ending of the film was different. There was a sequence where Morgan and I fall through like four levels of a building that is blowing up as we fall through the levels, fighting each other as we do it. That was four days on wires in a harness having your groin ruptured and thatâ€™s never fun. That was probably the most grueling thing, and then to find out that it has been cut out of the film. â€œYeah, yeah, it didnâ€™t work, wasnâ€™t very good. It was really boring.â€ Youâ€™re like, what? â€œYeah, weâ€™re reshooting it. Weâ€™re doing this scene that takes like 20 minutes to film. That will end the film.â€ What? Is there going to be a harness? â€œNo.â€ All right.
Was there a backstory as to how you could shoot so far or curve the bullet?
JM: There was no science in it. Itâ€™s completely science fiction. I donâ€™t know. I was dubious about that one as well but we have bullets that separate like shuttles. I was sold after I saw that.
Do you get excited about emotional scenes like panic attacks?
JM: I love doing that. It was also, I felt that the character arc and his journey provided a lot of drama in this as well. I didnâ€™t feel like it was just a genre movie. I didnâ€™t feel it was just a comic book movie. I felt there was a sufficiently interesting character and someone in a very truthful and actually quite sad place to begin with in the film. So it was scenes like that that made me think, well, I think the actor in me is not going to be unemployed for four and a half months while I do action, do you know what I mean? I did feel that there was enough to do there to satisfy my acting urge as well. And all the panic attack stuff I loved. I love really physicalizing, I donâ€™t just mean by doing action scenes, but playing Mr. Tumnus in Narnia. It was such a physical role even though I wasnâ€™t doing stunts, itâ€™s still incredibly physical. And doing all the panic attack stuff, doing anything thatâ€™s emotionally instigated but physically manifested is just really, really interesting I think. Itâ€™s a complete emotional response, isnâ€™t it? A panic attack. I loved all of that.
Q: Whatâ€™s it like balancing the drama and humor?
JM: That was totally fun. I mean, Iâ€™m guilty of trying to find the humor in even the most serious of films that Iâ€™ve done and it always gets edited out so it was kind of a joy to be in an environment where the director and producers were saying, â€œNo, no, no, try. You have an idea? Go for it. You want to fall down? Great, cool. Thereâ€™s a rubber chicken over there if you want to get it in the frame. Hereâ€™s a banana skin.â€
Was it hard to go from geek to assassin day to day?
JM: Kind of, yeah. Also because Iâ€™d never done a film that took four and a half months to film. Well, Narnia took five months or something like that but I was hardly in it. So when you shoot out of sequence, as you always do, say for two months, itâ€™s less spread out because youâ€™ve only got two months of a shoot. The filmâ€™s still going to be the same length as Wanted is, but when you spread it out over four months, thereâ€™s even more opportunity for it to become disparate and become disjointed. So you really have to be on top of your continuity and your script. You have to really ride the directors and the producers to kind of go, â€œWait, wait, wait. While youâ€™re making that decision, what happens before, can I do that actually?â€ And sometimes you make an ass of yourself because you question them on everything, but sometimes you save stuff that could have gone really badly and really screw up your characterâ€™s arc. And the story of the character and the story of his metamorphosis and why he changes is really what underpins I suppose the whole film and makes it something more than just action. So it was really important that we got that right.
And you went in and out of American accent? Is that easy?
JM: It is. Thereâ€™s a couple of words that I found hard. Girlfriend I found quite hard. Other than that, it was fine. Iâ€™ve got a voice coach that I use when I do American accents. She works with me. She worked with everybody on Band of Brothers but she also did Penelope with me as well. She wasnâ€™t available for this but sheâ€™s so good, I just couldnâ€™t imagine working with anybody else, so I didnâ€™t. I just thought Iâ€™d wing it. It worked out all right in the end but the one word that I had to fix in looping was girlfriend.
How was working with Angelina, having a kissing scene?
JM: Itâ€™s great. Sheâ€™s cool. I was quite nervous when I got told that she was in the film because I was cast before anybody else. Then I was told Morgan was going to be in it and I was quite shocked and stunned. Then I was told Angelina was going to be in it and I thought, â€œF*ck, man, I really didnâ€™t think it was going to be that big.â€ So I was quite nervous but within five, 10 minutes, you quickly realize that sheâ€™s cool and chilled out and fairly willing to have a laugh at her own expense as wherever else thereâ€™s a joke. And she was the one, more so than anybody else probably showed me the way to do these films. I was coming in and I donâ€™t know, thereâ€™s probably a part of me that was worried because I was in a new environment. It was a new genre and slightly on the lookout for being fucked if youâ€™ll excuse my French. But she was the one that kind of just reminded me, â€œYou know, you donâ€™t have to take it too seriously. Weâ€™re not changing peopleâ€™s lives with a film like this. If you canâ€™t have fun when you make a film like this, whatâ€™s the point in doing it?â€ It was a really good point and that kind of kept me chilled out for the rest of the time after that. And, sheâ€™s got a great stunt double called Eunice Huthart who could rip my head off really. Sheâ€™s smaller than me but she could kick seven colors of shit out of me easily, and sheâ€™s one of the funniest ladies in the planet. Sheâ€™s just so nice. So we had a good time, really, really good time.
Did you have fun shooting in Prague?
JM: Iâ€™m a veteran of Prague. Iâ€™ve spent probably, I think I counted it once. I think Iâ€™ve spent 15 months of my life in Prague. And I love it very much but I was in every day of this job and I couldnâ€™t afford to go out really too much. We were doing 12 to 14 hour days, six days a week and Iâ€™m hardly out of the film. I mean, thereâ€™s a couple of scenes Iâ€™m not in so I was there every day. But yeah, we got taken out, we got to blow off some steam. The makeup girls particularly and one of the wardrobe ladies and the stunt team were kind of my support network on this job. They were great. And Common as well actually. He was particularly good fun to hang out with. He was a nice guy.
Had you read the comic book before?
JM: No, no. It was weird because the guy who wrote itâ€™s from my hometown of Glasgow but no, I hadnâ€™t read it. I read it after I got the script.
Did you base any of your character on it?
JM: Not really. Visually, heâ€™s physically and visually based on Eminem which is kind of weird for a start to start reading it going, â€œThat character looks like Eminem.â€ He really looks like Eminem. And wait a minute, Angelinaâ€™s character is so clearly physically, visually based on Halle Berry. This is so strange. It was really strange. I think Eminem and Halle Berry were a bit annoyed about the graphic novel.
It was written with Eminem in mind.
JM: Yeah, I mean, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s Eminem. The character has nothing to do with Eminem but I think itâ€™s a marketing ploy really, more than anything else. So I donâ€™t know, that turned me off immediately. â€œI donâ€™t know how useful this is going to be.â€ But the script is incredibly different from the graphic novel. So the first 30 minutes of the film, they share a real common genesis and then they kind of go off in tangents. But the guy who wrote the graphic novel, Mark Millar is really, really pleased with the film even though, he still feels itâ€™s, it does still have the sensibilities of the graphic novel I think. Slightly less nihilistic but not that much.
I heard that you wanted to do all your own stunts?
JM: I wanted to but they wouldnâ€™t let me. I did a lot of my own stunts, probably 50 or 60% of my own stunts.
Did you get hurt?
JM: I was really lucky, man. I never broke a single thing. I had a couple of sprains and a couple of twisted knees and ankles and stuff but nothing more than Iâ€™d get playing football. I got lots of bruises. I was bruised to hell all over but yeah, I was fine.
What was fighting the butcher like?
JM: That was fun actually. Those were some of my favorite fight scenes. The ones with the butcher and the ones with Angelina where sheâ€™s beating me up. I preferred those fights to the gunfights actually. The gunfights were all kind of, gunfights are just like well, if youâ€™ve got a gun, thereâ€™s no drama in it. Thereâ€™s nothing better than seeing two people physically touch each other. Thatâ€™s great fun. A gunâ€™s like pyow pyow. Iâ€™m behind this table and youâ€™re behind that wall. Pyow pyow. How exciting. So I loved fighting the butcher and heâ€™s quite tough actually, Dato. He was great.
Q: What was the hardest stunt to do in Wanted?
JM: The train and the gimbal was quite difficult. The whole vertical stuff and climbing up and all that. That was quite fun but difficult. The most difficult thing was probably the car. Jumping on the bonnet (hood) of the car. Most difficult but also the most enjoyable. Thereâ€™s a car coming along at 30 miles an hour and I kind of rendezvous with it in the middle of the road and jump on the bonnet and then it hits the breaks and I go flying off, and another car smashes into the back. That was all real. There was no wires, there was no mats. I was padded up but that was all real. I canâ€™t believe they let me do that because they wouldnâ€™t let me jump through a pane of sugar glass window. Which would scratch my face at most, maybe not even that, and they wouldnâ€™t let me do that but theyâ€™d let me jump on a moving vehicle. So beyond anything I could understand and the insurance people were out of their mind I think that day. But I didnâ€™t argue with them. I just thought Iâ€™d give it a bash. But then just before theyâ€™d say action, you are kind of like, â€œI canâ€™t believe theyâ€™re letting me do this. Iâ€™m slightly terrified now.â€
Have you heard anything about a second series of State of Play?
JM: No, I havenâ€™t. I mean, we were going to make a second series the year after and it never happened for some reason. Paul got busy doing other things and writing movies I think, stuff like that. I wanted to make one immediately. It just never materialized, which I was gutted about. The movie then happened and all that kind of stuff. Maybe the movie happening will instigate the BBC wanting to make another series.
Were you approached for the movie?
JM: I got sent the script and my character was in the script and they were wondering if Bill Nighy and I would be interested in reprising our roles, but they were small parts and they ended up being cut pretty much completely. I think Billâ€™s roleâ€™s still in it but heâ€™s now played by Dame Helen Mirren who Iâ€™ve just worked with. And my part just had to go because when you take six hours of television and put it down into two hours of film, you just canâ€™t investigate the broad range of all the characters you can do with six hours, you know. So itâ€™s really just about the three main guys and then youâ€™ve got a couple of interesting figures surrounding them, like the editor played by Dame Helen.
Are you required to mangle Marc Warrenâ€™s face?
JM: Thatâ€™s true actually, youâ€™re right. God, I forgot about that. Yeah, I did a job once with Marc way back called State of Play and in one scene, I kind of watch as David Morrissey beats his face to just a bloody mess. He ends up having to have reconstructive surgery on his face after it, that character. Yeah, so it was nice to turn the tables. Or actually get my chance to beat him up and not just stand there watching.
Did you ever have a mundane job you hated?
JM: I had a very mundane job. I donâ€™t know if I hated it but yeah. There was nice people working there and stuff but, I worked as a baker for two years. That was kind of, I was a training confectioner, so the guy standing beside me who was the grand master confectioner, he would in a very kind of Zen fashion make big cream cakes and gateaus and wedding cakes and birthday cakes and things like that. Iâ€™d happily jam my sponge, then cream a thing. I did that and that was like a conveyor belt of cream cakes and jam cakes. It was very banal.
Q: So you could identify?
JM: Yeah, I totally can identify. You know, I loved where this character started. Itâ€™s a silly adventure, action piece of entertainment, but the character starts in a very truthful, sad place. I think he suffers from, heâ€™s a proper sufferer of postmodern depression and apathy. I think thatâ€™s a condition, man, thatâ€™s all too evident amongst young men and women. You know whoâ€™ve got fine lives, not bad, you know. That canâ€™t bring themselves to smile or feel better about their horrible existence and I thought that was quite an interesting place for your everyman to start from.
Q: Can you confirm or deny The Hobbit?
JM: I can completely deny it. It just seems to have all been rumors.
Q: Nobody talked to you?
JM: No, not at all. Neither Peter Jackson nor Guillermo Del Toro have got in contact.
Q: Would you want to play Bilbo?
JM: I think Iâ€™d need to see the script first. From what I hear them saying, they donâ€™t even have a script. So youâ€™d have to see if youâ€™re right for the part, although Iâ€™m sure if I was wrong for the part, they wouldnâ€™t even bother asking so who knows. Weâ€™ll see.
Q: What did the wax bath feel like?
JM: Kind of groovy. It was kind of weird. They put a board over me to lock me into the bath so that my hands went through hand my head went through but it was flat against me and I couldnâ€™t move. That was horrible. I was in there for a couple hours at a time and then they just poured hot wax over the entire thing.
Q: Real hot wax?
JM: It was real hot wax which it would go over my hands, it would go over my face which was really uncomfortable and it got very, very hot and it went in your ears and stuff. The most annoying thing about it is I got an ear infection for about two weeks because of that hot wax. So yeah, really ???
Q: Greatest fear?
JM: Oh god. Uh, The Exorcist. That film really terrifies me. I think itâ€™s just the Catholic in me coming out.
Q: Do you think this could me the start of a superhero career for you?
JM: No, I donâ€™t think so. I hope not. I hope it doesnâ€™t become all I get offered. I did this film for a challenge and something different, something new and so hopefully, the next thing I do will be again an example of that and something different, new and challenging. But again, not just different from Wanted, hopefully different from the other stuff Iâ€™ve done as well.
Q: Are you playing Young Tolstoy in Last Station?
JM: No. Iâ€™m in The Last Station but I play the secretary, Valentin Fedoravich Bulgako. Toltoy is played by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren is playing his wife and Paul Giamattiâ€™s playing his cohort. Itâ€™s a bloody brilliant cast.