PLAYING NINE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS IN ONE FILM MIGHT BE A CHALLENGE FOR MOST ACTORS. BUT MOST ACTORS AREN’T JAMES MCAVOY.
It sounds twisted, but if we had to sum up Split in a single word it would be ‘fun’. Not the term that springs to mind for M Night Shyamalan’s previous work Signs or The Sixth Sense, but bear with us. Split centres on Kevin (Mcavoy) who suffers from dissociative identity disorder and juggles 23 personalities or ‘alters’. When he kidnaps three teenagers and hides them in a Fritzl-like bunker, nine of the alters – which range from the dark to the downright sassy – start to reveal themselves. Though being a Shyamalan flick, no prizes for guessing which kind make up for most of the film. Fun? Well, not only does it look like the (literally) multifaceted Mr Mcavoy is having a seriously good time, but the film proves a wild ride for the audience, too. “You know what? It was so much fun. Maybe I’m a bit of a show off, I don’t know. I’m a hammy actor,” he laughs in his trademark Scottish drawl. “Frankly, you just do the job you always do, but nine times over. I had to figure out why every single character came into existence and what their key attribute is that made them necessary. Then I had to build the characters around them.” Quite the headfuck. A lesser talent might have struggled, but Mcavoy carries the film on his shoulders. Still, actors of his calibre don’t just rock up, sunglasses on after a night on the tiles, and stand where they’re told. Even if Mcavoy did prep that way for Filth (he’s a proud Scot, after all). For a film like this, there’s an unseen grind. “You’re doing the job of nine films in the time it takes to make one,” he says. “Artistically, it was satisfying, exciting. Just trying to squeeze it all in, time-wise, was hard. There were a lot of late nights where I had to stay up and do a tonne of work. But it was a pleasure to do.” Shyamalan approached Mcavoy with the simple offer of “a massive thing”, and he jumped. “I started reading and seeing what it was about thematically. Things that trouble us, haunt us, our tragedies, our tortures in life,” says the 37-year-old, “they can make us. That’s a really positive message and one that I think is not always true, but it’s certainly true for me in my life.” Kevin’s alters make him flux between hero and villain, his physical attributes change and he becomes almost unrecognisable between personalities. “It’s the crux of any Disney movie and the crux of all superheroes and super villains – bad shit happens and you turn into these super-human people because of it. I love that.” Mcavoy pauses, semismugly. “On top of that, it was also an opportunity for me to do lots of acting – and I love acting.” Split is in cinemas January 19