‘BOND ISN’T A REAL SPY’

Why James McAvoy won’t be re­plac­ing Daniel Craig any­time soon

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

If you are one of the lit­tle (or big­ger) girls who was bit­terly dis­ap­pointed when Won­der Woman’s Ama­zo­ni­ans ver­sus Ger­mans stand-off de­scended into a flurry of fast cuts and spe­cial ef­fects, well, fear not: Atomic Blonde is here to show us how to prop­erly fight like a girl.

A les­bian John Wick from that film’s co-di­rec­tor David Leitch, this fab­u­lously bru­tal ac­tioner fol­lows MI6 agent Lor­raine Broughton (Char­l­ize Theron) to Berlin in 1989, where she and the agency’s sta­tion chief David Per­ci­val (James McAvoy) get caught up in any num­ber of deadly late-Cold War in­trigues.

“Char­l­ize was so cool, I knew I had to make my guy filth­ier,” says McAvoy. “Not cool filthy, but ac­tu­ally like he hasn’t changed his knick­ers in two weeks. Our film is grubby. It’s not like the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the spy world you find in Bourne. It’s Bourne in the sewer. It’s ming­ing Bourne.”

In this spirit, McAvoy is in­tro- duced to the audience with a vis­i­ble hang­over and two girls chained to his bed in a grotty dwelling stacked with black-mar­ket goods. It’s his least ap­peal­ing look since he blazed up the screen as the ho­mo­pho­bic, misog­y­nis­tic, racist, drug-tak­ing, preda­tory, auto-as­phyx­i­at­ing cop at the cen­tre of Filth (2013).

“I ac­tu­ally asked for a girl and a guy,” says the 38-year-old. “But they said no, be­cause Char­l­ize was al­ready do­ing the les­bian thing. I had read a re­ally great thing about how MI6 tried to re­cruit agents after World War II. They looked for drug ad­dicts, al­co­holics and gay men. They liked drug ad­dicts and al­co­holics be­cause they knew they would burn out or pos­si­bly die in their 50s. So they weren’t go­ing to re­tire with a lot of se­crets to keep. They liked gay men be­cause they needed peo­ple who were ex­pe­ri­enced and skilled at keep­ing mas­sive se­crets. Peo­ple who were func­tion­ing in so­ci­ety with­out any­one know­ing.”

Atomic Blonde isn’t the first oc­ca­sion when McAvoy has played sec­ond ba­nana to a fe­male ac­tion star. In 2008, he was men­tored by An­gelina Jolie’s as­sas­sin in Timur Bek­mam­be­tov’s Wanted. In re­cent years, as Charles Xavier, he has fre­quently been sur­rounded by the X-Women of the X-Men uni­verse, no­tably Jen­nifer Lawrence’s Mys­tique, Halle Berry’s Storm, Anna Paquin’s Rogue, Ellen Page’s Shad­ow­cat, and So­phie Turner’s Jean Grey.

“Some­one asked me ear­lier about the dif­fer­ences be­tween films from the 1980s and films now,” he laughs. “Can I sum that up? No. Not a chance. But I can tell you this: ac­tion movies were a ton more sex­ist than they are now. That’s not to say that ac­tion films are per­fect now and we’re all sorted. But we are see­ing women a wee bit more in su­per­hero films. And Atomic

Blonde is sort of a su­per­hero be­cause she’s so su­pe­rior to ev­ery­one else around her. Hope­fully that bleeds out into other gen­res and then the rest of the in­dus­try. Be­cause how things were was nuts.”

A cheeky start

Grow­ing up on a fairly salty coun­cil es­tate in Glas­gow’s Drum­chapel, McAvoy landed his first screen role in The Near Room, aged 15, after cheek­ily ask­ing di­rec­tor David Hay­man for a job when he vis­ited McAvoy’s school.

“I got a part in a f***ing film! Wow! And that gave me the bug, if you like. But I had no out­let for it re­ally. We didn’t have drama at school. I didn’t have an agent or any­thing like that. I man­aged to scrounge a cou­ple of ex­tra lit­tle jobs.

“I walked on to the set of Gil­lies MacKin­non’s Re­gen­er­a­tion won­der­ing if any­body would be there from the first film and there was. So I get brought to the cast­ing di­rec­tor and ended up as a cry­ing sil­hou­ette in the back­ground.

“When I was leav­ing school I was go­ing to join the navy or take the univer­sity place I’d been of­fered in so­cial sciences. I didn’t know what the course was and I didn’t have any pas­sion for it. And I thought ‘F**k it, I’ll try drama school in Glas­gow’. If I hadn’t got in, I think I would have just floated away. I was re­ally lucky. Be­cause it gave me di­rec­tion and a re­ward­ing life.”

Hav­ing scored early movie break­throughs in his 20s with The Last High King of Scot­land, The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia: The Lion, The Witch and the Ward

robe and Atone­ment, he has grad­u­ated on to to back-to-back block­busters; his most re­cent pic­tures scared up ¤234m (for Split) and ¤460m (for X-Men:

Apoca­lypse) at the box of­fice. “I look at what I’ve done and I pinch my­self,” he says. “Whether a film is suc­cess­ful or not is not some­thing I take any grat­i­fi­ca­tion from. Where I get my sat­is­fac­tion in is work­ing on a scene, on the day, try­ing to tell the story well. If I’m on a good set and get­ting to play a re­ally in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter with a di­rec­tor who is help­ing me mine even more out of the script, help­ing me become a bet­ter ac­tor: that’s when I pinch my­self.

“I never thought any of this would hap­pen when I started out: nei­ther the amount of work nor the level at which I’ve been able to work. In the­atre or film. Had my ca­reer stalled about 10 years ago and I’d been able to con­tinue at that level, I would have thought that was tremen­dous. But now I have fran­chises on the go. Who thought that was pos­si­ble?”

Sure enough, fol­low­ing on from M Night Shya­malan’s wildly suc­cess­ful dis­so­cia­tive iden­tity dis­or­der thriller Split, McAvoy is now the star at the cen­tre of two ma­jor fran­chises. “I prob­a­bly did more press for

Split than for any other film. But it worked. We got a good crowd in. It’s strange, too, but a lot of the jobs I’ve done in the past five years felt like they were lead­ing up to Split. I’d played Jack in The

Rul­ing Class who thinks he’s Je­sus Christ and then Jack the Rip­per. I don’t have mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties in Danny Boyle’s Trance but there are mem­o­ries he has locked away from him­self.”

And, of course, Filth’s Bruce Robin­son.

“Yeah. Weirdly I res­onated with him a hell of a lot. In my en­tire ca­reer, the char­ac­ters I’ve res­onated most with are him and Mac­beth. For some rea­son they are the char­ac­ters I have found eas­i­est to play. And yet they’re de­ranged and sui­ci­dal. And not at all like me.”

The next X

As we meet, McAvoy is pre­par­ing for three months in Mon­treal for his other fran­chise, as

X-Men: Dark Phoenix cranks into pro­duc­tion.

“I love that the films are full of Scots and Bri­tish and Ir­ish all pre­tend­ing to be Amer­i­can. Ex­cept for me. Although my char­ac­ter was Amer­i­can in the comics, they changed him for the first film in 1999. But that suits me. I’ve been a pro­fes­sional English­man for al­most 20 years.”

McAvoy has never dis­cussed his pri­vate life, nor made com­ment on the es­tranged fa­ther who at­tempted to sell his story to the tabloids, or his now ex-wife Anne-Marie Duff. The cou­ple an­nounced their di­vorce fol­low­ing nine years of mar­riage last May, but they con­tinue to live with their son Bren­dan at the fam­ily home in north Lon­don.

Still, no­body could de­scribe the Glaswe­gian as ret­i­cent. He chats away, like a ca­sual ac­quain­tance you’ve bumped into on the street. We’re in Soho: he hasn’t come far. You can hop on the bike.

He wasn’t sure about Bren­dan Rodgers at first but he thinks he’s done a bril­liant job trans­form­ing Celtic FC from a team that was “win­ning shit” into “win­ning and look­ing good do­ing it”.

His own foot­ball skills are “rub­bish, but what I lack in skill I make up for in an­kle-bit­ing and bel­liger­ence”.

He had to give up box­ing for seven months after he missed his mark and punched a metal door on the set of Split, break­ing two knuck­les and two fin­gers in the process; it’s the first breather he has taken from the sport since he be­gan fight train­ing for 2008’s Wanted with his three-time world kick­box­ing cham­pion stunt dou­ble. He talks about James Bond like a man who has lit­tle or no in­ter­est in tak­ing up Daniel Craig’s post.

“Bond isn’t even re­ally a spy,” he says. “It’s not like he does any spy work. He walks into a room and ev­ery­one knows who he is. I’m James Bond. So every­body looks around and thinks: ‘Oh f**k, it’s James Bond, he’s got a li­cence to kill, bet­ter watch it’. He’s not get­ting any in­for­ma­tion. He can’t go un­der­cover. How is that spy­ing?” Atomic Blonde opens on Au­gust 9th

MI6 tried to re­cruit agents after World War II. They looked for drug ad­dicts, al­co­holics and gay men be­cause they knew they would burn out or pos­si­bly die in their 50s. So they weren’t go­ing to re­tire with a lot of se­crets to keep James McAvoy “Our film is grubby. It’s not like the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the spy world you find in Bourne. It’s Bourne in the sewer. It’s ming­ing Bourne”

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