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James McAvoy, The Man and His Movies

Updated on June 2, 2013

James McAvoy is gaining fame in X Men First Class, who is he?

Early Days - Who Is James McAvoy and Where Is He From?

James McAvoy was born in Glasgow in 1979 and is the latest in a long line of celebrated Scottish actors (amongst them, Iain Charleston, Sean Connery, Gerard Butler).

He is most well-known for his blockbuster movies, X-Men First Class and Atonement but a retrospective of his work shows that he is an actor who likes to diversify in the roles he chooses; not for McAvoy the safety net of a movie with a big budget. James ‘Jimmy’ McAvoy is good in everything he does whether it was produced on a shoestring or with mega-millions thrown at it.

James McAvoy - Band of Brothers to Children of Dune

James McAvoy, even early in his career, is an actor with enough talent to take chances. He was destined to become a sailor in the Royal Navy when he received a place at the Scottish Royal Acadamy of Dramatic Arts. He never looked back.

When he was at school, his school had the actor/director, David Hayman as a guest speaker. McAvoy has described hearing Hayman’s talk as the moment he decided he wanted to be an actor. Indeed, Hayman went on to direct him in The Bill early in his career.

His first acting role in The Near Room was followed by a long-running stint on the UK police drama, The Bill. In 2001, James McAvoy had a role in Band of Brothers, the Stephen Spielberg produced US drama, starring another good British actor, Damian Lewis. Although not a huge role, it did give McAvoy an audience on both sides of the Atlantic and he started to be offered more roles.

In 2002, he played Josh Malfon in a dramatisation of Zadie Smith’s best selling novel, White Teeth. This role was followed by Children of Dune, a sci-fi TV series based on Frank Herbert’s novel.

Brenda Fricker
Brenda Fricker
Romola Garai
Romola Garai
Inside I'm Dancing Poster
Inside I'm Dancing Poster
Original cast of Shameless
Original cast of Shameless

James McAvoy - Bright Young Thing to Atonement

James continued to work regularly during this period with roles in the movie Bright Young Things and a regular role in the Craig Cash written ‘Early Doors’. Throughout the early 2000s, James McAvoy seems to have been on the brink of making it big but he didn’t jump in either the direction of a TV or film career. He seems to have decided on both, enjoying regular work in some quality productions. After Early Doors he had a role in the movie, Wimbledon but was more effective in the ITV political drama, State of Play (later made into a movie starring Russell Crowe). State of Play was watched by millions of viewers every Sunday in the UK and James’ role as popular journalist, Dan Foster was another success.

In 2004 he starred in one of his best roles up to that date, Rory O’Shea, the paraplegic rabble-rouser in the wonderful movie, ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, the movie also starred Steven Robertson, Oscar-winner Brenda Fricker and Romolo Garai (who would later appear in another of his movies, Atonement).

James McAvoy was being offered more roles than he could cope with and his next choice proved to be one of his best; the wonderful interloper in the Gallagher household in the TV comedy-drama, Shameless.

 He met his wife, Ann-Marie Duff during production so the role is special for more than just being a good part.  Shameless went on to win many BAFTA awards and is still on UK TV today, though with a new cast from the original.  It recently transferred over to US TV with some success. Starring William H Macy.

Tom Lefroy - Becoming Jane
Tom Lefroy - Becoming Jane
James McAvoy unsuccessful on University Challenge in Starter For Ten
James McAvoy unsuccessful on University Challenge in Starter For Ten

James McAvoy - The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe To Starter For Ten

In 2005 James McAvoy starred in the children’s movie, ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. This movie was a dramatisation of the C.S. Lewis novel and was a smash hit all over the world.

He followed this with The Last King of Scotland and more than held his own with Forrest Whitaker who went on to win an oscar for the movie. The chemistry between the two on screen made this movie what it was. Whitaker spoke highly of McAvoy when making his oscar-speech. It was, in many ways, like an ensemble movie with good performances from all the leading actors.

2006 saw him in Becoming Jane as Jane Austen’s supposed fiancé, Tom Lefroy. The move was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a movie which raised the profiles of both of its stars, James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway. They also share an association with author, David Nicholls, Hathaway starring in the dramatisation of his novel, One Day and McAvoy with the film of the book, ‘Starter for Ten’.

James McAvoy - Atonement

In 2007 came James McAvoy’s  biggest movie up to that date, a dramatisation of Ian McEwan’s war novel, Atonement.  It is a performance of masculinity and sensitivity and McAvoy carries it off with some aplomb.  The scenes with Kiera Knightly are a cinematic wonder, beautiful, tense, torrid scenes where two people are at first repelled then entranced by one another.

 The story is amazing with war scenes not seen since Saving Private Ryan.  James McAvoy is amazing in those scenes and indeed, he and the movie were nominated for many movie awards.  He was only successful in the Empire UK Award for Best Actor but the movie, again, brought him to audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.  McAvoy is a sort of ‘everyman’ to audiences; an ordinary guy to whom extraordinary things happen.  His searing blue eyes stare longingly at Kiera Knightly, and this poor boy from the village gets his girl; if only for a short time in Atonement.

James McAvoy and his wife, Ann-Marie Duff
James McAvoy and his wife, Ann-Marie Duff

James McAvoy - An Ordinary Man Who Does Extraordinary Things

This everyman quality came to the fore in Wanted, a thriller also starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman which sees the wimpish Wesley bring his best stuff as Angelina’s gun-toting sidekick.

In 2011, perhaps on the back of his role in Wanted, he got to play Charles Xavier in the prequel to X-Men, X-Men First Class.  He brought a new energy to this popular series and McAvoy has us again believing this ordinary man can do amazing, extraordinary things.  It certainly helps to have amazingly blue eyes, an ability to take on any accent required of him and also to be a very good actor.

He will soon appear in voice form only as Arthur Christmas.  This isn’t his first venture into animated movies as he also provided voice talents in Gnomeo and Juliet.

Is there anything this man can’t do?

James McAvoy is a proud Scot, a Celtic supporter who loves his home town of Glasgow.  Whilst filming The Conspiritor with Robert Redford, Redford insisted McAvoy stayed in character, effectively banning James from speaking in his broad Scottish dialect.  McAvoy respected Redford but didn’t like the move to stop him being himself, “As soon as he walked off set I was back to being myself. You kind of go mad because I think when the camera stops running I need to step back.”

McAvoy has other movies in the pipeline and he is the sort of actor who is attracted to gripping, interesting scripts more than being a star.  I think we will see him both on film and TV for many years to come.

He is, without doubt, one of Scotland’s finest actors.  An actor who appeals to audiences because they can see he’s an ordinary Joe; a lad from Glasgow brought up by his mam and grandparents who has worked hard from day one to get where he is today. 

British Actors - James McAvoy, The Man and His Movies Comments

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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      SkeetyD, thanks for your comment; I think Jim is great and will get better as he 'matures'.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love James McAvoy and his crooked smile. He is a talented actor and I always enjoy his movies

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      Mohan, Many thanks for your comment. So glad to meet another fan of his :o), I think he is a very talented actor and very under-rated. I just love him in Atonement - that movie moved me to tears and I agree that he is a great character actor; loved him in Inside I'm Dancing too.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Great hub on a fantastic actor who follow the great British tradition of producing talent who can play character roles while slipping with ease into action territory. i loved him in atonement, X-men and last king of scotland and liked the cheesy fun of wanted too. voted up!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      Bruce, thanks for viewing and commenting. I think he hit a bit of a hiatus with X Men but he is a very watchable actor so hopefully, I will see him soon again.

    • Cogerson profile image


      8 years ago from Virginia

      I am glad I find one of your earlier works....lots of great information on James McAvoy.....I would say that I enjoyed Atonement and his X-Men he did a good job of selling a young Patrick Stewart.

      I wonder if he is going to be big over here in the States...I would say things are cooling off for him....I think he needs another hit soon...luckily IMDB lists 5 movies that are in different stages of production....voted up and interesting.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Hi Sandy! Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I think he is just brilliant in Atonement and I enjoyed The Last King of Scotland too where he more than held his own. He is going to get better as her gets a bit older too I think. He was great in X Men too.

    • Sandy Frost profile image

      Sandy Frost 

      9 years ago from India

      Yes, he is an amazing actor. I watched him first time in first installment of "The Chronicles Of Narnia" series as Mr.Tumnus. Even though, I've watched two more movies of him and these are "The Last King Of Scotland" and "Atonement". His performance is so great in them as like as these movies and he justifies his roles very well. His acts prove his accomplishments with his great and natural talents.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Veronica, thanks for stopping by! Inside I'm Dancing is well worth seeing.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile image

      Veronica Roberts 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I think that he is a phenomenal actor. I've seen quite a few of the movies/shows mentioned, but haven't yet seen "Inside I'm Dancing". It sounds interesting! I will have to find it and watch it asap!

      I especially liked him in Atonement and Wanted. He's very versatile!

      Fantastic, well-researched hub!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Yes Judy, he has a certain something. I think he's fab in Inside I'm Dancing and Atonement. Thanks for your comment.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      9 years ago from UK

      James McAvoy is one of those actors about whom, when you see a photo, you think "what's all the fuss about". But when you watch one of his films, you understand how charismatic he is.

    • harleyq profile image


      9 years ago from West Paterson

      I love James and think he's an outstanding actor. His talent and charisma are amazing and he just brings so much to a film. And, it doesn't hurt that he's extremely good looking. I would watch anything with him in it and there are only a handful of actors I feel that way about. I may not love all his film choices, but he certainly chooses interesting projects. My personal favorites are Penelope and Becoming Jane. And XMEN:First Class is my favorite in the series, even though Michael Fassbender did kind of steal the show on that one. He even got me to see a movie with Angelina Jolie in it, which never would have happened otherwise, Wanted was a rip roaring action flick. I can't wait to see what he does next.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Beata, I stil haven't seen The Last Station but on your recommendation, I shall seek it out! Thanks for commenting.

    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      9 years ago from Western Australia

      He is an amazing actor, loved his performance in the movie: 'The Last Station':)

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for the warning, Steve.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      9 years ago from North-East UK

      Flora, Atonement is an amazing movie and has a brilliant twist to it but keep your tissues handy!

      Steve, I'm buying X-Men First Class for him indoors so I will be watching it at Christmas.

      I like James in Atonement best of all and the series, Shameless.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      9 years ago from Manchester, England

      Atonement and Wanted are worth watching. But Wanted is very violent you have been warned. Last King of Scotland is good too.

      Nice hub on a good actor Jools. I saw X-Men First Class at the cinema earlier this year and recently bought the blu-ray. Fassbender stole the film though.

      The first time I saw McAvoy was as Paul Atreides son in Children of Dune, I had a feeling he was going to become popular.

      Voted Up and Interesting.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image


      9 years ago

      I am not yet familiar with this actor. Atonement and Wanted sound like the films I would most enjoy of his career.


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