With the dark comedy Filth set to arrive in theaters tomorrow, I recently got to interview the film’s star, James McAvoy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about a corrupt cop (McAvoy) who is angling for a promotion in order to win back his estranged family. The terrific cast also includes Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, and Jim Broadbent.
During our exclusive phone interview, McAvoy talked about what interested him in the character, the atmosphere on set, playing off his co-stars, and the freedom of an independent movie versus a studio picture. We also talked about his upcoming films X-Men: Apocalypse, Frankenstein, and more. Hit the jump to check out the interview. Filth is now available on VOD, and opens tomorrow in limited release.
JAMES MCAVOY: Umm, maybe the first time I read it- I wasn’t shocked, but I was surprised and then after about thirty pages I started to kind of get a little bit like, “There’s got to be something more to all this. There’s got to be more to it, because if there’s not more to it then I’m not interested” Then literally I turned the page and got more, the revelation that not all is well inside his head, and I started to realize, “Oh great, this is about more than a depraved shockfest.” It’s actually a movie about somebody who’s significantly mentally ill. The whole sort of trick in the movie is about pulling the audience around and making them think the movie is one thing, making them think that the character is one thing, and then moving the goal post all the time, shifting the line in the sand all the time, pushing them away from him and then pulling them back towards him and then pushing away again just as they were starting to feel for him, all of that. That elevated it for me. But yeah, I was quite sort of refreshingly surprised by his filthy behavior, because so many movies are terrified of anything shocking and especially terrified of movies that are consistently potentially controversial at times.
No, I definitely get that. You were saying how the film reels you in and slowly keeps revealing different sides of him, I was wondering, do you think Bruce ever had his life together? Or do you think he’s been doomed since he was a kid?
MCAVOY: I think he’s been doomed since he was a kid definitely and I don’t think he can blame his childhood entirely for his current problems. I do think he’s had his life in order at times, but it I think he’s prone to bipolarism and his alcohol abuse and his drug abuse haven’t helped it, his split personality disorder is kind of a result of his narcotics abuse and his alcohol abuse on top of I think a natural leaning toward bipolarism anyway. His paranoid delusions have been exacerbated by all these different abuses. I do think he’s doomed from the beginning, but he could have helped himself a hell of a lot more. That’s why I don’t forgive Bruce, I don’t expect an audience to forgive Bruce, but I do have empathy for him and I do understand why he is the way he is.
He seems to sort of view everyone else in the film as a kind of adversary, was there anyone in the case that you particularly enjoyed playing off of when it came to Bruce’s manipulations?
MCAVOY: I mean, all of them. I had such an incredible bunch of actors to abuse [laughs]. Eddie Marsan and Jamie Bell and John Sessions. Oh, I mean it was just an incredible bunch of people, Imogen Poots, an incredible bunch of people to play off. Also what was really nice, in all those relationships there was an arc to each of those relationships. Not just an arc to my character, but there was a beginning middle and an end to all those relationships where they start to see through him towards the end, the power that he struggles for and the power that he craves and that sort of delusional vision of himself where he’s all powerful and confident and fulfilled and content get’s challenged by every one of them. I think that was something I really enjoyed playing against, but an amazingly brave bunch of actors as well.
MCAVOY: It was really good. I think the director and all the actors knew how good the script was. For me, it was the best that I’ve read and I think a lot of the actors felt, if not it’s the best they’ve ever read, a lot of the actors felt it was something proper. The better the script is the more you can commit, and this is a script that demands full commitment anyway, but you can only really commit with full confidence when you know the material is as strong as your level of commitment to it and it frees you up. It felt like everybody was brave, everybody was bold, and everybody hit it with that level of energy. You tell me you’re going to make a movie set in the kind of working class lower depths of Edinburgh, British society about a guy with health problems, I generally think it’s going to be a really sort of slow, wordy, black and white, gritty piece of realism with a point and with something to say. This isn’t that. This is a surrealistic, sort of energetic, vibrant piece of art, not saying anything about the state of mental health care issues in Britain, but just really sort of a ninety minute experience of what it’s like to be around this guy, but also what it’s like to be inside his head and to experience the multitudinous voices that are battling for control inside his mind.
Do you feel that there’s maybe a bit more freedom to find a character in an independent film like this as opposed to something like X-men where you’re part of a giant mythology spanning previous films and also decades of comics.
MCAVOY: In Filth, everybody who put money into the movie knew they were getting something that was going to be bold and edgy and could potentially not work and all of that, so nobody was expecting us to play it safe. Strangely though on the Fox movie, on Days of Future Past, Charles as I play him is a lot more messed up than we’ve ever seen him before. He’s taking drugs, he’s messed up, he’s drinking too much, he’s abusive, he’s angry at everyone, he’s afraid of everyone. He’s like a wounded animal and he’s got a lot of trauma, mental and physical. Strangely actually, yeah, I would say it’s not as controversial as Filth, but I feel that for a studio movie Fox actually went quite out there with what they did with Charles and what they allowed me to do with Charles. I think people will be quite surprised with Charles in this film, and you know, more power to Fox for doing that. I think they realize they can’t just keep doling out those characters in the same way that we’ve seen them for six or seven movies before. If they’re going to exist on film they can’t just be the same thing again and again and again, you need to surprise an audience.
MCAVOY: I don’t actually. I’ve got no idea, and that was sort of the same case at the end of First Class, I really did not know what they were going to do with him in Days of Future Past. I’d hoped that it would take him in a kind of traumatized direction and a kind of damaged direction, which they did do, but I had no guarantee, I had no certainty that they were going to concentrate on the character, let alone concentrate on him in that fashion. Again, [laughs] I have no idea what’s going to happen in Apocalypse, but I’m fairly certain there’s going to be near certain doom and destruction.
You’re also playing Victor von Frankenstein in the upcoming Frankenstein film and he’s such a fascinating character in Shelley’s novel.
What was it about this take that made you interested in the project?
MCAVOY: Playing somebody who’s obsessed. Playing somebody who is transgressing, and who is really crossing moral lines and ethical lines. That’s always interesting. Playing somebody, again, who is kind of manipulative and egotistical and thinks they’re the most important person in the world, and then you challenge that throughout the whole movie with the relationship he has with Igor, but then also the relationship he has with his creation, the monster, because that ultimately challenges his belief in himself and his belief that what he’s doing is right. That singular uncompromising nature I think is always quite attractive, not just for an actor to play, we’re attracted to uncompromising people whether they’re nice or not, because they’re 3D, they’re solid, you can define them, it’s not wishy washy and I really enjoy doing that. And also, it’s just so energetic. It’ the quintessential, the original mad scientist, so it’s quite good fun to play that.
It was just announced that in addition two being split into two films The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby there would also be a combined version, but I was wondering for the two different film, for Him and Her, which one do you think people should see first?
MCAVOY: Oh man, controversial question. The director and the producers I think are all keen for the audience to choose on their own. I have a point of view, but I don’t want to go up against them and contradict them. So I have an point of view, but I’m keeping it to myself because they want people to have freedom of selection. I’m seeing the combined movie tonight as well, which I’m quite excited about.