On 21 April, City Connect celebrates the birthday of James McAvoy, the Scottish actor first known for his role as Steve McBride in the Channel 4 TV series Shameless. James McAvoy has also starred in the films The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007) amongst others. Most recently James McAvoy played Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class(2011), a role he will reprise in X-Men: Days of Future Past in 2014
James McAvoy was born in Port Glasgow, Scotland in 1979. James McAvoy’s acting debut came at the age of 15 in The Near Room (1995). He graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2000. In 2004, James McAvoy acted in a supporting role in the romantic comedy Wimbledon which also featured American actress Kirsten Dunst as a co-lead. Also starting in 2004, James McAvoy appeared in the first two seasons of Shameless as Steve McBride, the moral hero of the BAFTA-winning Channel 4 programme, giving the actor a big break in his career.
His public profile was raised in 2005 with the release of Walt Disney Pictures’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. James McAvoy starred as Mr. Tumnus in the fantasy adventure film based on the C. S. Lewis children’s novel. The film was released in the UK on 9 December 2005. At the UK box office, this movie opened at number one, earning around £8.7 million at 498 cinemas over the weekend. Worldwide, Narnia grossed £463 million, making it the 41st highest-grossing film of all-time worldwide.
In 2006, James McAvoy also accepted the principal role of Brian Jackson, a nerdy university student who wins a place on a University Challenge quiz team in the mid-1980s, in Starter for 10. In spite of positive buzz, the movie flopped at the box office, unable to recover its production costs of £5.7 million.
Forrest Whittaker had suggested McAvoy to director Kevin Macdonald for the role of Nicholas Garrigan in 2006’s Academy Award-winning low-budgeted The Last King of Scotland. McAvoy portrayed a Scottish doctor that becomes the personal physician to dictator Idi Amin (played by Whittaker) while in Uganda. While the movie is based on factual events of Amin’s rule, the story between the two is fictional and adapted from Giles Foden’s acclaimed 1998 novel. An overwhelmed McAvoy fainted during his first take of what would be the hardest scene for him to shoot, Nicolas’s torture. McAvoy was named Best Actor of the year by the Scotland’s own BAFTA Awards, where the film swept the major categories, and received a nomination from the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The movie itself walked away with three wins, including the honour for Outstanding British Film of the Year. This was accompanied by praise for McAvoy’s performance.
Following that, he played Irish attorney Tom Lefroy and love-interest to Jane Austen in Becoming Jane, a 2007 historical movie inspired by the author’s early life. Next up was Penelope, which premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Also starring co-producer Reese Witherspoon, it generated polarised reviews.
The breakthrough role in McAvoy’s career came in Atonement, Joe Wright’s 2007 adaption of Ian McEwan’s novel of the same title. A romantic war film, it focuses on lovers Cecilia and Robbie’s (Keira Knightley and McAvoy) lives being torn apart after her jealous younger sister (Saoirse Ronan) falsely accuses him of a crime.
Upon reading the script, McAvoy thought to himself, “if I don’t get the part I’m not reading the book because it’ll be devastating. It’s an amazing role and I really wanted it.” McAvoy has called the movie “incredibly sad” but considers it an uplifting experience. He also shared that he hoped viewers will be left “absolutely devastated and harrowed.” Screenings of Atonement were held at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was one of most acclaimed films present, and Venice Film Festival. Atonement was a big awards contender; it was nominated for fourteen BAFTAs and seven Academy Awards. Both McAvoy and Knightley were nominated for their performances at the 65th Golden Globe Awards, respectively. The film was also highly praised by critics.
One of the biggest highlights of McAvoy’s career was starring opposite Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman in Wanted (2008), an action movie where he personified Wesley Gibson, a young American slacker who learns he is heir to a legacy of assassins. McAvoy had never done this type of genre before and thought of Wanted as a chance to be more versatile. The movie received favourable reviews from the press, who generally liked that it was fast-paced. At the box office, Wanted was a success, grossing £207 million against a £45 million production budget.
In mid-2010, McAvoy was cast as telepathic superhero Professor X, leader and founder of the X-Men, in X-Men: First Class. He joined an ensemble that included Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon. Based on the Marvel Comics and a prequel to the film series, it is set primarily during the Cuban Missile Crisis and focuses on the relationship between Professor X and Magneto and the origin of their groups. The film was well-received by critics and grossed £5 million from ticket sales during its opening weekend.
In 2011, McAvoy began filming the role of Max Lewinsky in the British thriller, Welcome to the Punch. He was also cast as the lead role in the upcoming Danny Boyle film, Trance. In early 2012, McAvoy was cast as Bruce Robertson in Filth, an adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel of the same name. The film’s ensemble cast includes Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Eddie Marsan, and Imogen Poots.
It was also announced that he was cast as co-star with Jessica Chastain in a double-feature film project, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. McAvoy was cast to star in Shakespeare’s Macbeth on London’s West End in 2013.
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