James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall Interviewed – ‘Starter For Ten’

     February 21, 2007

Starter For Ten is about a working-class kid (James McAvoy) who has one ambition – to get on a British TV Quiz show. For his entire life he’s been fascinated by learning and trying to gain general knowledge. When he finally gets to College he finds out they have University Challenge – it’s essentially Jeopardy for College students and it airs on TV around the country. Immediately he wants in and of course meets a girl along the way.

Rather than go any further with the story, think about any 80’s high school/college dramedy and you’ll get what type of film this is. But I will take one last sentence to mention the soundtrack is killer and spot on for this 80’s film – The Cure, Psychedic Furs, Motorhead, Kate Bush, Echo and the Bunnymen and more.

While the film follows the typical 80’s genre rules, I bought into what the film was selling and enjoyed the ride. I think the main reason is due to James McAvoy. You’ve probably seen him in the first Narnia movie and some of you saw him in The Last King of Scotland. He’s one of those actors whom you root for and believe in, and I think he’s someone you’re going to see a lot more of.

So if you want to learn more about the film you can read or listen to James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall (his co-star) below. But if you want to listen to it – click here to download or listen to the audio.

And before getting to the interview, I have two other’s that were done but I only have the audio.

If you want to listen to Tom Vaughan (the director) speak about the film click here.

If you want to listen to Alice Eve and Mark Gatiss (two of the stars) then click here.

Starter For Ten opens this Friday in Los Angeles, New York and Austin. The film expands on March 9th.

How thrilled are you that Forest Whitaker has been getting such great recognition for The Last King of Scotland?

JAMES: I’m absolutely made up for the guy, he’s brilliant. He’s been doing it for twenty odd years and he’s never really been given the opportunity to take center stage that much. Couple of times maybe, but not a lot. Not only has he been given the opportunity this time, but he’s being recognized on humongous stages, and I think it’s wonderful. It’s a great performance. Every year there’s a million great performances that are forgotten and never recognized, and it’s just great to see that this one is.

And the guy who played the doctor was not bad…

REBECCA: I thought he was rubbish. [laughs]

JAMES: It was all about the hair.

The press notes describe this as the great British ’80s movie that was never made…

JAMES: [laughs] Yeah.

REBECCA: [laughs] It’s twenty years too late.

How big an influence were our American ’80s movies on you?

JAMES: Quite effective, actually.

REBECCA: Yeah, they are. I mean, they’re quite definitely in my consciousness. But I don’t think I really discovered them until quite recently, like when I was about maybe 17, 18, I discovered those kind of films. I didn’t see them when I was little. The films like Big and other ’80s films I definitely saw when I was 10, 11, 12, something like that.

JAMES: I was quite familiar with a lot of the John Hughes movies when I was about 14, 15, and in the mid-’90s. And I loved things like The Sure Thing. But there’s a film that really contributed to my performance which was The Sure Thing, but also one that I can never remember the name, which was Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe. Andrew McCarthy has an affair with Rob Lowe’s mother. Is it…? Oh, I can’t remember. Anyway, that’s very, I don’t know…I always felt that Andrew McCarthy was quite…I always really thought he was a brilliant actor when I was younger. So getting to do something ’80s and getting to do something that had the sensibilities of an American ’80s movie, I kind of felt like I kind of drew on all those kind of films that I loved.

Did you see Mannequin?

REBECCA: I was about to say Mannequin!

JAMES: Did I see that? Oh, no, I only saw it 15 times, actually. Kim Cattrall was only in my dreams about…every night!

REBECCA: It was Kim Cattrall, wasn’t it?

JAMES: A little 12 year old boy with dirty fancies about a mannequin.

Can you talk about how you both came to the project?

REBECCA: Quite straightforwardly. I got the script and read it, and loved it, and didn’t think in a million years they’d cast me as Rebecca. I think it was kind of very sort of different in my head. I went on a lot of auditions. I think about 4, maybe 5. Or maybe 8. And then waited a long time, and then got told I got the part. I was very excited.

The director said he saw every young actor in the UK

REBECCA: Everyone was going in for it.

Did you go up against your friends?

REBECCA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, actually, I remember speaking to…Because I knew Ben before. Who else did I know before? Yeah, I knew Ben before. And I remember speaking to him, and he was like, “I’m going in for that.” And then like four other of my friends were going in at the same time. And everyone was talking about it.

JAMES: It’s always really horrible when you sit in an audition room and you’re waiting to go in, you’re sitting down, you’re like, “Five guys who just looked like me…I look like every one of them. They’re all slightly better looking in the face. Oh, no!” I got the job quite conventionally. They sent me the script, I really liked it, it made me laugh. And that actually, it’s one of those things…You quite often read comedies and you go, “That’s meant to be funny. That’s meant to be funny… Oh, no. Oh, dear, I’ll have to fall over to make that funny.” But this was making me laugh out loud reading it. And then I auditioned for it, and got the part. So it was all fairly conventional. There was no meeting on the Himalayas with the director, going, “Hey, we should do a movie with each other!”

REBECCA: “Are you prepared to give everything to this role?”

JAMES: I saved his life, he gave me a movie. It was incredible.

Did you watch the old shows of Starter for 10?

JAMES: Yeah. I did, I watched a fair bit of University Challenge…

REBECCA: Wasn’t there one knocking around, like an old one?

JAMES: Did we not have the final? For one year, that final from 1983 or something?

REBECCA: It was really weird, with that very geeky looking guy smoking.

Their mascots, and just kind of weird.

JAMES: Oh no, we didn’t watch the one where someone cheated. And I’ve watched the new one quite a lot as well.

Can you answer those questions?

JAMES: No. I can answer one or two an episode if I’m lucky. I mean, they’re real Brainiacs, man.

Rebecca, you said you didn’t see yourself as the character. How did you envision the character when you first read the script?

REBECCA: I don’t know, really. I suppose it was kind of like…The script is actually quite different in many ways to the book. So I suppose I had an image in my mind from what I knew of the book, and from what other people had said about it, which was slightly sort of different, I guess. Because she’s kind of…She’s not massively posh, and she’s kind of…In many ways, I am quite similar to her, but in many ways I’m not. In many ways, I’m more like the Alice character. I grew up in the kind of…the places that Alice talks about, where she grew up like, in sort of Sussex and going to boarding school and all that kind of thing. I did that.

JAMES: Minor course in Tuscany?

REBECCA: No, not minor course in Tuscany. I certainly didn’t do that. There’s a lot I didn’t do, but I suppose I have a little bit of that kind of English boarding school kind of background, which Rebecca isn’t like. I don’t know, I’m not really…I don’t know why I said that, actually. I’m not really… [laughs]

James, do you feel like things are just exploding for you this year?

JAMES: I suppose so, a little bit. Yeah. But maybe not, in a way. Because I haven’t worked since August of last year, which has been deliberate?. It means that I’ve not really been around. And I don’t spend a lot of time in LA, and I don’t really spend a lot of time “in the industry” in London either. And unless you read all the newspapers and watch E! Entertainment every day, you don’t really keep up to date with what people think is hip and what isn’t, you know what I mean? What I do notice is that I’m finding it easier to do projects that I like, and that’s very welcome. And that’s a lovely kind of explosion, and I hope that continues.

Do you still have your privacy?

JAMES: Yeah, completely. I mean, I’m not so big…It’s not like…I think in Britain you get a little bit…I don’t know if you get more privacy in Britain, do you?


REBECCA: Yeah, it’s probably worse. But you do have to kind of…To an extent.

JAMES: It’s got a little bit worse, but it’s not bad for somebody like me. I think you have to be Jude Law and stuff for it to be really horrible. I feel sorry for those kids, man. It’s not right.

REBECCA: Your life’s not particularly scandalous. I think that’s probably it as well. [laughs]

JAMES: Yeah, exactly! Don’t have kids and you’ll stay out of the tabloids.

What’s on the horizon for you?

JAMES: I’m starting a thing called Wanted in April with Morgan Freeman, which is kind of a revenge thriller about a young, geeky, downtrodden, disenfranchised guy who finds his father has been killed, and is given the opportunity to seek revenge.

Is this an American film?



JAMES: Universal. But it’s being directed by a Kazakhstanian director called Timur Bekmambetov.


JAMES: From the country that Borat comes from! His sister is not the #4 prostitute in Kazakhstan. He’s a bit of an evil genius, so I’m quite looking forward to working with him.

Have you seen Epic Movie and their portrayal of Tumnus?

JAMES: I haven’t, no. I saw the trailer, though, which is quite funny. I felt quite honored that I was being parodied.

REBECCA: In what?

JAMES: Epic Movie. You know those Scary Movie things? They’ve done a parody of epic movies, so there’s a bit where someone pretends to be Mr. Tumnus, and it’s all done like an episode of Cribs. So he takes her back to his crib.

REBECCA: [laughs]

Are you doing an American accent in that film?


Do you find it to slip between different accents?

JAMES: Yeah, I do. It’s always been kind of necessary as well, because I think there’s less work for Scottish actors, really. And if you can only do Scottish accents…And that makes sense. There’s only 5 million Scottish people. So it seems, statistically, there’d be less stories told about Scottish people. So I’ve always had to play an Englishman or an Irishman, or be American. I quite like that [to be honest with you?]…I quite like having to play people from other places and all that.

Rebecca, do you have something else coming up? Are you about to shoot anything?

REBECCA: No, I’m not. I just finished a Stephen Poliakoff TV film, which was really interesting, with Michael Gambon. And no, I don’t know. I’m just sort of seeing what happens.

How hard was it growing up with your father being so highly regarded in England?

JAMES: Who’s your dad?

REBECCA: Don’t you know? [laughs]

JAMES: What does he do?

REBECCA: [laughs] You know, it’s not…It’s an interesting question to ask, and it’s always something that people want to know about, but I don’t massively have a very interesting answer, because it’s my experience, and it is what it is. It’s not good or bad, because I don’t know any different.

Did it make you not want to go into the business?

REBECCA: Well, my feeling on it was that I will always be compared if I go into…I knew that if I went into the business, I would always be compared, and I didn’t see the point in pretending I wasn’t that, or not talking about it, or sort of running away from it and doing something that’s kind of wild and as far away as possible, because I knew that I would have those associations whatever I did. You know, it’s what I want to do. And I’ll take whatever criticisms people throw at me, or whatever they don’t?. And that’s the same with any actor, so it doesn’t ultimately make any difference. I’m proud to have come from a family that taught me a lot about stuff before I had any experience of it, possible experience of it, which makes you a little bit ahead of things, in the headspace.

Can you guys share any particularly romantic or funny Valentine’s stories?

REBECCA: I’ve always had horrible Valentine’s Days.

JAMES: Really?

REBECCA: Yeah. They’re always horrible. If you go and do the dinner thing, then you sit there, and it’s just couples having dinner at every single table looking slightly disgruntled because they don’t look as romantic and happy as the table next to them. [laughs]

JAMES: That’s a good point, actually…I can’t really think of a particularly romantic Valentine’s Day that I’ve ever had.

Ever try to do something nice for a girl that went horribly wrong?

JAMES: Yeah, loads, man. And that was always the girl’s fault, wasn’t it? We had one journalist today comment on…I’ve got to tell somebody this. We were doing the TV interviews, and I think it was like the first interview we did. And he came in, and he was going, “Your character seems quite grumpy sometimes and quite pissed off a lot…”

REBECCA: [laughs]

JAMES: They were saying it as a good thing.

REBECCA: “Your character’s really angry.” He was talking to me.

JAMES: Yeah, the political anger and stuff. And then he goes, and then he turns to me and goes, “I bet if you had taken her to bed, that would have changed [all that?].” “Boy, she’s an aggressive feminist, and all she needs is a good fuck.”

REBECCA: [laughs] He did! He actually said that!

JAMES: [Another five minutes of interviews, just going…

Lost in translation…

JAMES: Yeah, exactly.

It’s a good thing you don’t have E!, because that’s what they do…

JAMES: Really? Romantic things…I don’t know, you know. I couldn’t really think…Valentine’s Day is kind of like Christmas and New Year. Such a horrible pressure on it. I’d rather just opt out until I have kids, and then celebrate Valentine’s Day with them. “I love you!”

Are you in the sequel to Narnia?

JAMES: No. It’s not the book before, actually. We’re skipping two books, skipping The Horse and His Boy, and they’re going straight to Prince Caspian. Tumnus isn’t in any of the other ones until the last book, which is called The Last Battle. So maybe when I’m 45, they’ll come and say, “We’re making the seventh book.”

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Rebecca, you had the big dramatic line in The Prestige, “I know what you are!” Was that something they had you do a million times?

REBECCA: Yeah. That line, actually, was not scripted. I don’t want to really brag about it, but it wasn’t scripted. [laughs] It kind of came out of nowhere and then it proved quite useful. And the moment I did it, I felt really bad about it. And we called cut and I was like, “Oh God, have I given everything away by saying that? You know, have I really sort of screwed up the dynamic of the entire story?” But he said it was fine, and it turned out to be quite a good one.

Do you remember what you were supposed to say?

REBECCA: [laughs] I have no idea about the big twist!

JAMES: “I’d like to know what you are!”

Do you guys have representation in both the US and Britain, and do you receive scripts from both sides?

JAMES: Yeah, I’ve got agents on both sides of the pond, and you get scripts coming from both places. But the weird thing is now as well that most British scripts have financial roots in America anyway. So even if you get a script coming at you from Britain, chances are Universal or Fox or somebody actually owns it, you know? And no, I think you’d have to be in a really unlucky position, and it’s probably your own fault, if you get representation on both sides of the pond that conflict.

REBECCA: Yeah, they work, it’s like a team thing. The whole sort of business is quite international now. I know it doesn’t look that way from here, but certainly if you live elsewhere, it’s quite apparent that everything they cast over here tends to cast in England, too, and vice versa.

JAMES: And quite often, big American projects that film in Europe have to hire British actors to play an American anyway, because they can’t afford to take the American actor to Prague or to Lithuania or Romania or whatever it is.

Did either of you get to meet Tom Hanks?

JAMES: Yes. Well, I did Band of Brothers with Tom like, I think, 7, 8 years ago. And Tom was on set a few times.

REBECCA: Yeah, yeah, he was.

JAMES: He used to come down for lunch. He wouldn’t really interfere with the filming process. He’d just kind of come down and entertain us all for an hour, and then go back to The Da Vinci Code, which he was filming.

That’s what he was doing?

JAMES: Yeah. He’d go back and be serious again.

How have you been spending your free time since August?

JAMES: I’ve been doing a lot of publicity, and doing a lot of campaigning and stuff like that. I got married and went on honeymoon, which was rather nice. And played a lot of football and all that kind of thing, and cooked a lot.

How many scripts do you like reading a week?

JAMES: I’m quite bad, I don’t really like reading scripts. I get really pissed off reading scripts.


JAMES: I just read my bits. How many lines? “Oh, there’s more lines in this one than the last one!”

REBECCA: That’s what Michael Caine swears he does.

JAMES: Honest?

REBECCA: Yeah, he kept saying that when we were doing [press?] for The Prestige. He just kept saying, “I can’t talk about the rest of the film, I’ve only ever read my bits…I’ve got no idea what happened.” [laughs] He was lying.

Any actors or directors you’re dying to work with?

JAMES: I’d love to work with Ken Loach, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen.

REBECCA: I’d like to work with Woody Allen. Lots of people.

JAMES: Ken Loach has made his Glasgow Trilogy, though, so I don’t really think I’ve got an in anymore.

What are your favorite American shows you watch at home?

JAMES: Battlestar Galactica. The new one. It’s great.

REBECCA: Battlestar Galactica?

JAMES: The new Battlestar Galactica. It is brilliant! It’s really intelligent television.

REBECCA: I have to watch that.

JAMES: And 24. West Wing. ER.

REBECCA: Yeah, West Wing’s good.

JAMES: West Wing’s great, man. Sopranos is good.

REBECCA: Sopranos.

JAMES: And My Name Is Earl. Do you know he’s a photographer as well? He took my picture for a magazine like a month ago.

Jason Lee?

JAMES: Yeah, Jason Lee. He’s an amazing photographer. And he’s freelanced for magazines and stuff at the same time as being a movie and television actor.

REBECCA: Really? That is interesting.

And shows for you, Rebecca?

REBECCA: Yeah, Sopranos. Six Feet Under, I like that. And yeah, I think he listed most of them.

JAMES: Get in with Battlestar! Nobody watches it in Britain either, so you can buy it on DVD for like ten pounds.

REBECCA: Twin Peaks is my favorite American TV show. Talking of things that I’ve recently bought on DVD. That’s amazing.

JAMES: I’ve never watched an hour of Twin Peaks.

REBECCA: You should watch it.

To come full circle with the ’80s movies thing…Rebecca, you’re sporting a ponytail today. Are you getting ready to “let your hair down and show someone that you’ve been the right one for them all along”?

REBECCA: [laughs] Take the glasses off and do that thing? “I’m pretty after all!” [laughs] Yeah, I am, actually. Do it on the red carpet. Turn up in something like a geeky jumper? [laughs]

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