Why Actor James McAvoy Almost Turned Down 'Trance' McAvoy plays a sketchy art auctioneer in Danny Boyle's new heist thriller, Trance. He almost didn't take the part because he didn't want to play the role of a victim. Then he took a closer look and found something that made him "hungry."
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Why Actor James McAvoy Almost Turned Down 'Trance'

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Why Actor James McAvoy Almost Turned Down 'Trance'

Why Actor James McAvoy Almost Turned Down 'Trance'

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And if you're just joining us, it's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.


JAMES MCAVOY: (as Simon) (Unintelligible) to kill me.

SULLIVAN: That's Scottish actor James McAvoy. He stars in the new heist thriller "Trance," the latest film from director Danny Boyle, best known for the Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire." In the movie, McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer with a gambling problem who ends up mixed up with a gang of criminals.

Although the 33-year-old has been dying to work with Boyle for years, he says he almost didn't take the part. At first glance, Simon seemed to be a victim. And McAvoy says that didn't interest him. But as he spent more time with the character, he changed his mind.

MCAVOY: And then I got about 15 or 20 pages in, and I started to sense that something else was coming in the character. And then something else did come. And then about every 10 pages, something else came. Until at the end, I was hunching at the bit, as we say in Scotland, to...

SULLIVAN: You were what?

MCAVOY: Hunching at the bit.


MCAVOY: I think - you know what? I know what it means, but I don't the genius of it. It just means I was desperate. I think it might come from the bit that is between the horse's teeth. And hunching might just mean desperately sort of gnawing at it and chewing on it.

SULLIVAN: I think that we say chomping at the bit.

MCAVOY: You guys say chomping. We say hunching. So I was hungry to play this part.


MCAVOY: (as Simon) Remember, do not be a hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Character) Put it down.

MCAVOY: (as Simon) No piece of art is worth a human life.

SULLIVAN: So that's the movie "Trance," which you're currently starring in. But at this very moment, you're actually playing Macbeth on the London stage. And congratulations. You were just nominated for an Olivier Award, right, for Best Actor, which is basically like the Tony's here in the U.S.

MCAVOY: Yeah, the Olivier Awards. We also got nominated for Best Revival - go, team.


MCAVOY: We are over the Moon. We are so proud of what we've done.

SULLIVAN: I've seen the pictures of you covered in dirt and blood and looking very dark and brooding playing the character. Is that hard to do night after night after night?

MCAVOY: When I kick a door and I run on the stage, it's easy from that moment. But like, right now, I'm sitting here going, how am I going to do this tonight? I feel like that quite a lot. But I probably find it more difficult doing this "Macbeth" than any of the action movies I've ever done. I've never been injured on an action movie. I have been injured playing this guy so much more than any action movie I've been on.

But that's kind of the joy of it. We've got a really brave, bold, violent, in-your-face, scary production. And...


MCAVOY: And it's the kind of "Macbeth" I've always wanted to be in.

SULLIVAN: James, you grew up Glasgow, Scotland. What was your upbringing like?

MCAVOY: I was brought up by my grandparents. So people go, oh, what was that like? That must have been hard. And you go: No, it wasn't. It was just completely actually normal because the new norm seems to be whatever you make of it, doesn't it? I grew up in a council estate called Drumchapel. I think you guys call them projects?

SULLIVAN: Oh, like public housing?

MCAVOY: Yeah. And I lived there until I was about 19.

SULLIVAN: I think a lot of people would think that was maybe a little bit rough. At least in the United States, we would.

MCAVOY: Yeah. You know, it's not like - I'm not doing it down. I love Drumchapel, and I go back all the time. But, yeah, it's not posh. Do you know what I mean? And there are certainly rough aspects to it.

SULLIVAN: I'm speaking with actor James McAvoy. His new film is called "Trance." You were raised Catholic as a child.


SULLIVAN: And I read that you once wanted to become a priest, which is funny because when I was in third grade, I wanted to become a nun.


SULLIVAN: What changed your mind?

MCAVOY: We could have got together and sort of not kissed and not touched each other for ages. It would have been amazing.


MCAVOY: Yeah, right about the age of 15 or so, I did consider it. And specifically not just any old priest that - I considered being a missionary because I thought the whole kind of romantic idea of going off to far-flung regions and helping people and trying to do good and all that seemed not only a good thing to do and a romantic thing to do, but quite an adventurous thing to do.

So I thought about that. But then I did start getting more luck with girls about the same time. And that sort of put the kibosh on wedding myself to God.

SULLIVAN: So girls and adventure.

MCAVOY: Girls and adventure. And then acting kind of came along at that moment as well, which was weird. So I am so, so thankful, especially since I turned my back on God, he has not punished me. Thank you very much.


SULLIVAN: How do your grandparents feel about it?

MCAVOY: Oh, they're proud as punch. They are - they're beside themselves, at times. And I love that. I really do love that, because I do remember - they were amazing when I was growing up. They would, you know, support me in anything I would do. They wouldn't, perhaps, do it with the conviction and enthusiasm that would make me believe that I thought they thought I had any talent or that I deserved my place in the world as an actor.

You know, they never told me: You can be whatever you want to be, because I think they felt - and I feel - that that's a lie. Nobody can be whatever they want to be. No kid can do whatever they want to do. It's a total lie. But they have the right to try and do whatever they want to do. That's their right, to aim to do whatever they want to do.

And you know what? Life might kick you in the face, life might not let you do what you want to do, but they always taught me that, you know, go for it. Yeah, if you want to do that, go for it, son. You've got to do it. And that was really actually empowering because from a very early age, I knew that, you know, life was risky. But you've got to take those risks.

SULLIVAN: You've been so successful at it. Is it everything you thought it was going to be?

MCAVOY: I didn't know what I thought it was going to be. Honest to God, I did a movie and a couple of little TV shows when I was 16, didn't do anything again. Got into drama school, then I started working pretty much immediately after drama school. I wasn't really aware of what was going on, and I still hadn't really decided that I was an actor.

I hadn't sort of said to myself, right, this is the rest of my life because you can't, because there was still a big massive part of me saying, what if the work dries up tomorrow, then I'm not an actor anymore, you know? So it wasn't really until probably making "The Last King of Scotland" in Uganda, going to one of those exotic places, going to one of those incredible other places, and really getting in. That was probably the moment when I thought, oh, my God. I'm actually doing this. I'm actually doing what it is that I was keen to do when I was 15 or 16.

I'm having the life that I kind of hoped I might have one time, you know? I do feel like I have a place here. And at least, I deserve it, as much as anybody else, hopefully.


SULLIVAN: That's actor James McAvoy. His new film, "Trance," opens in theaters next week. And if you happen to be in London, you can see him as Macbeth through April 27th at Trafalgar Studios. James, thanks so much for joining us.

MCAVOY: It's a total pleasure. Thank you.


SULLIVAN: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. Click on programs, scroll on down.

We'll be back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.


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