There are really only two options to explain why “X-Men” star James McAvoy is so alert and chipper on this Tuesday afternoon in New York: Either he really is a mutated, further evolved form of human, or he’s an even better actor than his impressive list of roles over the last decade suggests.
Seriously, no normal human should be able to stand up straight and speak coherently after the two weeks he’s experienced — starting with his worldwide promotional duties for the blockbuster comic book sequel and a film at Cannes. (For the record, he’s happy with the combined version of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” saying, “It’s the same journey, that’s the most important thing.”) Now, he’s mixing in some promotion for the well-timed U.S. release of his mind-eff of an Irvine Welsh adaptation, “Filth,” and it’s possible that he’s spent more time in the air than on the ground.
“I started in London,” McAvoy told TheWrap, taking a deep breath as he began reciting his itinerary. “Then I came to New York, did seven days in New York. Then went back to London, did two days in London, then did two days in Brazil, then did 24 hours in Cannes and now I’m doing four more days in New York.”
The secret to staying awake, he says, is literally running away from his exhaustion.
“I’ve started running, as soon as I get to the hotel, right off the plane,” he said. “Get some daylight and get running, and it’s really sort of helped me out. I think 50 percent of jet lag is psychological. By going out and doing something, you tell that psychological part of jet lag to go away.”
He’s not a regular athlete — “I don’t really exercise, except for playing football — er, soccer — with my pals,” he admitted — but we’ll leave mutant suspicions for another day, because he will at least cop to being a smidge bit tired thanks to a night of partying after a special screening of “Filth.”
In this case, it was a full meal of Shake Shack — after a half-hour wait, he had a double with cheese, raw onion, lettuce and tomato — and a post-burger snooze in Madison Square Park that has tricked the jet lag.
Unfortunately, he has little control over the minds of other people — he is, after all, not actually Charles Xavier — and so during this globetrotting tour of press appearances, he’s had to answer quite a few questions over and over again. The most frequent?
“‘Is it true when you were 16 you thought about becoming a Catholic priest?’ I get that all the fucking time,” he said, with a grumble somehow that emanated from his smile. “And yeah, it was true, like briefly. But it’s like something I mentioned in an interview when I was like 24, and every time I do an interview, they’re like, ‘Is it true that you thought about becoming a Catholic priest?’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah, you know it is because you read it in an interview!'”
It’s almost discouraging to hear, because it’s likely that just about every journalist who asked the question thought they had dug up something that would make their interview unique from the 4000 other Q&As McAvoy has been doing.
Reporters that ask the other most frequent question are less deserving of sympathy.
“And then I get, ‘If you could have any kind of superpower, but not the one you have in the movie, what would it be?'” McAvoy said. “And you keep wanting to come up with a different thing, because you get bored, but you’re like, that’s not true, I know the one thing I want.”
So, why doesn’t he just lie?
“Some actors do that and I respect them for it, but I can’t do it,” he says, sighing. “It’s not my way.”
Luckily, the true stories are generally interesting enough, especially when talking about his experience shooting “Filth.”
McAvoy spent two months abusing himself while playing a corrupt asshole of a cop experiencing psychotic and drug-fueled episodes while teetering toward a full-blown mental breakdown.
“I ate a lot and drank a lot,” he said, noting whiskey as his toxic liquid of choice. “It just helped me feel bad in a way, and it’s one of those things where no matter how badly you slept, no sick you feel with flu, no matter how much you drank the night before and how bad your hangover is, it’s good, because it’s exactly the condition you’re meant to be in. So it was just free reign to abuse oneself.”
McAvoy, as Bruce Robertson, is striving hard for a promotion to Detective Inspector, and will leave no rival (including cops played by Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots) un-manipulated in the quest. But he’s hardly in position to pull off his schemes successfully, with his mind filled with mourning for the wife that left him and self-loathing for the horrendous man he’s become.
“Really, we were like, let’s fucking abuse the audience, let’s slap them hard in the face, let’s punch them in the head, but make them laugh and cry at the same time and keep them entertained… but then try to repulse them, try to make them hate him, and then try to make them feel for him again,” McAvoy said, gleefully.
“Throw the audience around as dynamically, as entertainingly, and as disturbingly as possible,” he continued. “And trying to do all that was the big challenge, trying to balance all that, because you’re constantly aware of, ‘Okay I’m doing a scene now where I force a 15-year-old girl to suck my penis, but I know that’s going to make a lot of the audience turned off, but we’ll immediately try to get them back.'”
Garnering sympathy for the devil is not necessarily all that difficult — look at the current slew of TV anti-heroes — but a quick oral session from a teenager is hard to overcome. The twist at the end does help win over some skeptics, but there’s also the general likability factor that McAvoy carries with him. It’s ironic that he’s seen as playing against type in this role; he quite often finds himself playing a rich British man, but he actually grew up in very working class projects in Scotland.
“People thought I was some kind of posh guy,” he said, laughing. (Director Jon Baird later said that he hadn’t even initially considered McAvoy for the role of Robertson, as he was under the same assumption). “I speak kind of well I suppose and all that, and my accent has changed a hell of a lot over the last, I don’t know how many years it’s been since I’ve moved, 14 years or whatever. It’s still Scottish, but it’s just chilled out a lot.”
Modulating his voice was a matter of survival in the industry — and getting annoyed at always having to repeat himself.
“Basically you just get tired of people going, ‘Pardon me? What did you say?’ Even in England, people would just go, ‘What? What the fuck did he say?'” he remembered, laughing ruefully. “That was the first four or five years of my experience, people going, ‘Dude you talk too fast, I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ I understand even now people have problems with it. But my true accent is thicker.”
At the end of the week, he heads back home to London, where he’ll get some well-earned relaxation time — after he participates in a charity soccer match, of course. The running really helps.