He may only be 37 years old, but James McAvoy has already been acting for 21 packed years. Whether you know him as Professor X in X-Men or Mr Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, or from any number of his other films, such as in Atonement, Filth, or Starter for 10, you won’t have seen him in anything like his latest role. McAvoy takes on a thriller in Split, in which he portrays a man with dissociative identity disorder who kidnaps and frightens three teenage girls.
The character has 24 distinct personalities. But when James came in to visit BuzzFeed UK recently we decided to get to know a bit more about the star himself. We learned everything from his tastes to his best dance move and the most surprising thing about him. Here’s what went down…
1. What’s your favourite pizza topping?
James McAvoy: Pepperoni.
2. Puppies or kittens?
3. What animal would you say you’re most like?
JM: An otter.
4. Favourite drunk food?
JM: Indi… [changes his mind] Chinese.
5. What’s your weirdest possession?
JM: A hoof that you can drink tea out of.
6. What’s the last thing that you cried at?
JM: [shakes head] Life! About life.
7. What superhero would you be if you could be any?
JM: I’d be a superhero called Cupid who could spread love and friendliness wherever he shot his arrow.
8. What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?
JM: Keep going, it’s all good. You’re going to be fine!
9. Do you have a secret talent and if so, what is it?
JM: Yeah probably. Do I have something I can do?! [thinks] No, probably not. [laughs] I’m really boring.
10. What would you be if you weren’t an actor?
JM: Oh… I wouldn’t mind being a nurse or a park ranger. Those are the two things I’ve thought I could do.
Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed
11. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
JM: Man, it’s so annoying. This is such an actor thing to say… [shakes head and takes deep breath] But it’s people taking pictures of you without asking. People ask…totally ask, I’ll give you pictures, we’re all good. But when people are like [mimes someone moving their phone camera around wherever he goes]. Like, what are you, a ninja? Are you a spy? That really annoys me.
12. What’s the wallpaper on your phone?
JM: [grins] It was a Transformer called Grimlock for a while. And now it’s my son.
13. Rangers or Celtic?
14. Your best Scottish insult?
JM: [thinks then smiles] Well it’s not particularly Scottish, but the best insult I’ve ever heard in Scotland was directed at me when I was 16 on my first acting job. On my way to set, a wee boy in Drumchapel shouted at me: “You’re a fucking whippet’s hard-on” … So, “You’re a whippet’s hard-on.” A whippet, for those of you who don’t know dogs, is like a greyhound. So you’re like a greyhound, or a whippet’s, hard, erect phallus.
15. Kilts: pants or no pants?
JM: No pants.
16. Name as many Scottish words for “drunk” as you can.
JM: Steaming. [thinks] Hoaching. [pulls a face] Hoaching’s not quite steaming but I’ve heard people being called hoaching with the drink.
17. Can you laugh without smiling?
JM: [tries to laugh without smiling then laughs at his attempt]
18. Instagram or Twitter?
19. Favourite dance move?
JM: There’s too many to choose! Erm, it might be a little bit of Michael Jackson killing it. [hums and dances on his stool while clicking his fingers]. Like Jackson 5 era.
20. What do you do to stay grounded in the crazy famous life that you lead?
JM: Be nice to people. Consider others. Do what you’re doing when you’re an actor and have empathy for others and try to imagine what it’s like to be other people. That generally means you behave slightly better.
21. Which character that you’ve played do you relate to the most?
JM: Ooh. [thinks] There’s been a few. At different times in my life I’ve connected with characters that I wouldn’t necessarily connect with now. I played a guy called Brian Jackson in a film called Starter for 10 when I was 23, or something like that. I was at a very similar place to him: He was a young, working-class kid going off to a crazy, bohemian world of adventure, which is kind of exactly what my life has been. So I was very close to him when I was that age. Weirdly, in my later years I played Bruce Robertson in a film called Filth. I felt so close to him and I felt like I got everything that he was going through, even though I’d never gone through it as extreme as he had. But it was sort of, even though it didn’t seem it, it was a film about being a father and being a husband, and I’m both of those things so it kind of connected with me.
22. What was your experience filming Split, portraying so many different characters to ones you’ve played before?
JM: [laughs] That’s such a broad-ranging question. [crosses legs] Well, it all started when I was 36. It was a beautiful year. It was before, really, all the shit went down in 2016. [more seriously] What was my experience filming Split? It was acting, it was the biggest physical and mental workout I’ve ever had as an actor. On film anyway. And it was exhausting work, but it was great work. Great script, great director, great cast. Some people ask me if Split was my biggest challenge because I play a man with dissociative identity disorder and I play nine characters, so people say “Is that the most challenging acting job you’ve ever had?” It’s the biggest acting workout I’ve ever had, but the biggest acting challenge I’ve ever had was working on a film with a terrible director, a terrible script, and terrible actors. Actually, that’s not fair, the actors were really good. But the director was fucking shite, and the script wasn’t finished. And that was the biggest acting challenge I’ve ever had. So this was easy artistically, difficult in terms of effort and the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that went into it.
23. Which one was your favourite character to play in Split?
JM: My favourite character to play in Split was probably a 9-year-old boy called Hedwig, who is innocent and goofy at the same time as being malevolent and a little bit vindictive and nasty. And what that let me do was have a lot of fun, and you can put the audience at ease and make them laugh a lot. But then you can also freak them out and ultimately sometimes he’s the scariest character I play. So it was fun to try and do that to the audience; it’s even more fun to sit in an audience and see that it worked. To see them laughing and go “oh that’s so hilarious, that’s so funny” and they feel safe and then you can stick it right up them with the fear again.
[pauses, cringes at an afterthought]
I just said “stick it right up them”. [points at the camera and laughs] There you go!
24. What’s your New Year’s resolution?
JM: I don’t have a New Year’s resolution. I never make them.
25. Hopes for 2017 then?
JM: To be happy and fulfilled and to spread that happiness if possible.
26. And finally… What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
JM: [thinks hard] It’s quite difficult when you’ve been acting for 21 years because there’s a lot of evidence out there of what you’re like. Erm, what would people actually be surprised to know about me? See, I’m trying to answer this truthfully. I cry easily? [cringes at his own answer] I don’t know, there’s probably a lot of guys out there that are going “Mate, I’ve seen your films, I know you cry easily.” Erm, I’m a big softie, I don’t know. [thinks] I like cooking… This is just rubbish stuff I’m giving you now! “I like cooking. I enjoy football. I like to read on my off time.” [thinks some more] Anything that’s really surprising? I watched Mean Girls the other night. That’s surprising.
Thanks for letting us get to know you some more, James!
Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed
Split is out in cinemas on Friday 20 January.