James McAvoy Talks Hanging Out with the Cast, His Scene with Patrick Stewart, Professor X’s Hair, and More on the Set of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

     February 19, 2014


At the very end of the day, after he had wrapped filming his X-Men: Days of Future Pastscenes with Hugh Jackman and Michael Fassbender, I got to participate in a group interview with James McAvoy.  While I’ve done many on set interviews in very cool locations, the one with McAvoy might take the cake: we talked to him at the bottom of the stairs in the X-Mansion!  As a lifelong X-Men fan, getting to walk around that set and then talk to the younger Professor X was a real thrill.

During the interview, McAvoy talked about the expectations following the success of First Class, doing scenes with Patrick Stewart, if he’s the one that gets to drop the F bomb, how the younger Professor X in this film is very messed up, punching Nicholas Hoult in the junk, the differences between Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn, why he calls Hugh Jackman “Hugo Boss”, and a lot more.  Hit the jump for what he had to say.

Click here to listen to the audio from this interview.  The full transcript is below.

x-men-days-future-past-teaser-poster-professor-xQuestion: This is a movie about you.

JAMES MCAVOY: Is it? It’s a movie about…? What’s it a movie about? It’s a movie about all of us, about all the guys in the X-Men, but I suppose the person with the biggest journey is arguably me. Because I change more than anybody by the end of the film compared to the beginning of the film. I wanted to make Charles quite extreme, relative to who he has always been before. When I first took over the part, I was only able to do that to a certain extent, because the film is about Michael’s journey, really. As much as I had a great part and I helped facilitate that – it was like a buddy movie and stuff, I had nice stuff to play – it was ultimately his narrative. In this one, it feels a little different in that I can go further with the extremity of it. I can go further with the extremity from what Patrick did, but also from what I did in the last movie, too. So you’ll find him very different. Not just because he’s got long hair, but because of what he is and how shaky his soul is. That’s really the key to him in this one, that his power, which has always been seen as his psychic ability or great intelligence or whatever, really what I think it is empathy. That’s his greatest power. But he’s lost the ability to be able to empathize with other people, because it’s too painful for him. Why? Because he’s been given all of his own pain to deal with, by Erik and by, as we said, Raven as well. It’s not just the loss of Erik. It has a lot to do with Erik, a lot to do with his relationship with Erik and their love for each other, but it’s also equally as much to do with his love for Raven, and the fact that he was sort of abandoned at the end of the last movie by both of them. Not just abandoned, but horribly injured.

[Pauses as people start leaving set and walking by]

MCAVOY: “Hey, dude! Hope you get better!” [laughter] “We’re going to teleport the fuck out of here! Good luck dealing with the Russians and the Americans!” You know what I mean? “Guys?” There’s a really good cartoon YouTube, it was “How X-Men: First Class Should Have Ended.” At the end of it there’s a great bit where she’s like, “Sure, even though Charles is my brother and I spent my entire life with him, yeah, I’ll go with you, Erik, no problem!” Yeah. That’s exactly what the fuck I was thinking. There’s another great bit where she goes, “Beast! Mutant and proud!” And Beast goes, “I am covered in blue hair from head to toe. Nothing you say means anything to me. Nothing!”

The scene we were just watching, we were all wondering, because we watched it from the outside… The plane shakes quite a bit. We know that Michael is harnessed so that he doesn’t fall down, but how do you balance yourself?

x-men-days-of-future-past-hugh-jackman-michael-fassbender-james-mcavoyMCAVOY: I don’t. I try to fall with, ah… With a good aim? So I try to fall on the soft things. I think our third take, I cracked my knee quite badly. But that was just my own fault. That wasn’t even—The plane wasn’t even throwing me around. I just tripped over a camera. I’m going to be limping for a week. Yeah, you just try and fall on the soft stuff. It was quite nice. The first time they did it, they said, “Do you want to rehearse?” I said, “No, let’s just do it and see where it throws me.” I’m quite bendy, quite bouncy. I usually land well. I’m getting older, though. I’m 34 now. I reckon I’ve only got four or five more years of doing that kind of shit before it’s like, whoa! We’ll be getting the stunt double in here.

It’s great to do a scene with Patrick Stewart, I would imagine.


It’s weird, I also would imagine, to do a scene with Patrick Stewart where you’re the same character.

MCAVOY: Kinda, yeah. But we’re very different interpretations of that character, by nature of the fact that we’re very different times in that character’s life. I once saw Patrick Stewart have to do Shylock to the face of David Suchet, another great Shakespearean actor. He was doing Shylock back. Because they basically sort of had a disagreement about—This was one some TV documentary. They had a disagreement about what the best way to play Shylock was. The guy who ran the RSC says, “Why don’t we take one of the scenes and you can play Shylock, and then we’ll do it again and you can play Shylock, and we’ll see which is best?” And they Shylocked off. But with me and him, it’s different, because we’re at very different times in his life. And also, it’s weird, because when I took over the role of Charles, I never thought that I’d be working with him. I never thought I’d give a similar performance to him. I certainly never thought that I’d be giving a very different performance to him to his face. Kind of going like, “Yo, what you got, man? Show me your big nose! We’ve got big noses together!” There’s like a profile shot with both our noses together. Conk to conk. I think he wins slightly, but they tell me that your nose grows with age, so by the time I’m his age I think I’ll be knocking the shit out of it in the nose wars.

james-mcavoy-x-men-days-of-future-pastI’ve just now envisioned you in the Jesse Pinkman role in that matchup. He’s the Walter White, from Breaking Bad?

MCAVOY: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Did the two of you discuss that scene?

MCAVOY: No, that was my first day. I walked up on set. It was their last day and my first day. The whole first month of the shoot was kinda hectic, because they had all those guys who were in for a month, and they were like, “Yeah, we’d love to do X-Men again, but seeing as we’re not playing the biggest parts, then get us out of there quick.” They were like, “Yeah, groovy,” but they wrote this massive fucking sequence for them all. It was like working until three in the morning every night to get people out. Halle had to get out. Ellen had to get out. Sean had to get out. Certainly Ian and Patrick had to get out. They were all banjaxed, and then I turned up. I suppose I was the first one from the new crew, really, to come in. It was my first day and their last day. We just did it. It was quite a simple scene, really, in terms of—When you have two people who have the same person at different times in their life, checking each other out, it’s like… You don’t want to get in the way of it too much, with too much blocking, or too much moving around even. You just want to have us face to face, in a kind of… Not to get too sort of Federation about it, but to be in a nexus, you know what I mean? Almost a void space. It isn’t a void space. It’s not like just a black studio with a white light coming from somewhere. But you just want it to be those people’s faces, studying each other.

We saw a hint of that shot at Comic-Con.


It looks very cool. It looks intense.

MCAVOY: Yeah, it’s quite an intense film, innit? I think all the X-Men films have been quite intense. I think First Class was slightly less so. First Class was quite emotionally intense at times, but it was more camp, and more sort of… I think it was more lighthearted at times as well. But other than that, I think a lot of the X-Men films have been quite intense and quite serious and stuff like that. That definitely happens in this. We’ve brought some of the levity and some of the, perhaps, frivolity from First Class into this. You have to, I think, if you’re going to use that cast. You can’t just go, “That part of you guys, that got you the job last time? We don’t fuckin’ want that.” And I think what Bryan’s done superbly and really… It’s a difficult job. He’s taken two very different casts, that have created two very different sort of esprit de corps, or tones, and he’s managed to meld that really brilliantly.

x-men-days-of-future-past-patrick-stewartDoes working with Patrick kind of inform a portrayal of him? Do you notice little things that you’ve picked up?

MCAVOY: No, I don’t do anything that Patrick does, really. Which is the whole point for me. I think maybe toward the end of a third movie, if we make a third movie, the natural place for my character to go would be to become much more like him.

And you’ll shave your head?

MCAVOY: Well, I don’t think it should be that he decides to shave his head. I think it should be for a reason. I think it should be—Like in the comic books, it was for a reason. He lost his hair as a result of something. It wasn’t just like gradual hair loss, do you know what I mean? Which would be so dull, in this world where people can control metal and fucking poison tongues and shit in The Wolverine and all that. It’s like, “Hey, how did that mutant lose his hair?” “It just fell out.” We obviously didn’t decide to do that in First Class, and they obviously didn’t decide to do it in this one. We went the opposite way. But I think there’s got to be a reason. I had an idea for this movie, but they ultimately didn’t go with it, which I thought was fucking cool… Can’t tell you, because it might be in the next one. But it involved a lot of violent hair cropping. I don’t really do much that Patrick does. Even… I do this, which he never did. Partly because it’s in the comic books a lot, but partly also because I thought it was helpful to give the audience a visual cue as to when exactly he was doing shit and when exactly he wasn’t doing shit. And also just to physicalize all that stuff. That was important.

x-men-days-of-future-past-michael-fassbender-jennifer-lawrenceX-Men: First Class is a great movie. Audiences really dug it. Critics really dug it. How did you feel, coming back for the sequel, knowing that there’s a lot more expectation on this film, I think, than the previous one?

MCAVOY: It felt like it was time to change, with the last one. It felt cool, because it felt like we were trying to something new. If it didn’t work, big deal, and if it did work, bonus, you know? So with this one, with the size of the cast, with the names in the cast, and with the size of the bloody budget, you go, “I hope this works out.” You know what I mean? But at the end of the day, as well, I always feel lucky just to be employed, and to be employed in jobs with a certain level of skill to them. So yeah, if it all falls apart tomorrow, I’ve had a good innings. I kind of feel a big wave of expectation, but I kinda don’t as well. I don’t really care if it doesn’t work out. [laughs] No, but you go into it with the best of intentions, and that’s all you can do, you know? If this movie fails horribly, I don’t really think I’ll lose too much sleep over it. But don’t get me wrong. I’ll do everything I can to try and help make it a success. You gotta roll with the punches. You win some and you lose some. We’ve all lost some and we’ve all won some. So yeah, I don’t think I worry too much. X-Men will always be around, whether the movie’s made by Fox or whoever it’s made by. X-Men will always be around. It’s stuck around for years, for decades. There’s an endearing and an enduring quality to the material that I don’t think we could possibly screw up so much that it disappears.

One of the things about First Class that myself and I think a lot of people responded to was just the great dialogue scenes between characters. The action is in every movie, but it’s the characters and the dialogue that really matters. I was curious, when you got the script, were you looking at those scenes and seeing what you could do? What can you tease people with about this sequel?

MCAVOY: Ahm… [Long pause] What can I tease you about the dialogue scenes? Hmm. I get to cuss a little bit, which is good.

Do you think you’re going to be the one with the F-bomb?

x-men-days-of-future-past-hugh-jackmanMCAVOY: If I was a betting man, I’d go with it. I don’t want to tell nobody. How many F-bombs are you allowed? You’re allowed one, right? It may be me. Charles is messed up. And he’s pretty louche. You know, he was kind of preppy. He was a bit of a cad in the last one. He was quite preppy. In this one he’s much more a child of the ‘70s and psychedelia and narcotics and… He’s a mess. He’s a fucking—I look quite together right now, but we just tried to bust Magneto out of the Pentagon, so that’s why I’m trying to look okay. Generally, he looks a mess. His dialogue quite reflects that, really. His interactions with people reflect that. Weirdly, a lot of my stuff is with Hugh and with Nick. Hugh, who we’ve taken to calling—We’ve started calling him Hugo Boss. Because you can call someone called Hugh Hugo and because he’s the boss. So he is Hugo Boss. It’s a different dynamic. I’m very much the problem and he’s actually very much the Charles Xavier, trying to help fix me. He’ll go, “What does this kid need to get to the root of his problem and unlock his potential and all that?” And I’m very much, weirdly, like the Logan of old, in that I’m angry all the time. I’m irrational. I kind of just want to have a fight all the time. And then I just want to disappear and forget about it all.

You’ve got the hair, too.

MCAVOY: Yeah, I’ve got stupid hair. I actually make fun of his hair in this movie.

Nick told us about—He was shooting a scene, you guys were shooting a scene together, you had to react to something, and you punched him.

MCAVOY: Did he tell you? He finally told somebody? He’s been like, every interview he’s done, he’s like, “Shit, I forgot to tell them that you punched me in the balls!” I’m glad he finally got that out. It was a total accident. We were doing a shot on me, actually, and we were meant to be reacting to these bright lights and flinching at them, because they were meant to be explosions going off around us. It was like, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” And I just noticed that the cameraman decided to pan over to Nick, and we hadn’t been warned that he was going to do that. I didn’t think that Nick knew the camera was on him. And he wasn’t flinching. So I thought, I’ll just smack him, but I was trapped under this truss, so I could only get through to him that way.

x-men-days-of-future-past-michael-fassbender-nicholas-houltSo I decided to hit him to make him flinch or something like that, and I just went, boom! And I smacked him right in the balls. He thinks it was because I was angry at him, because the camera left me. Which I wasn’t. But he’s been a joy. Him and Hugh have been brilliant to work with. I had a great time working with Michael in the last one. We’ve weirdly, strangely, and sadly had less to do together on this one, which has been a great sadness for me. But the nice discovery is that Nick and Hugh have just been awesome.

From what I understand, with Bryan, the way he works, he’ll workshop things if he feels it’s not working, or there could be a little more improv, versus, say, with Matthew Vaughn, or at least this is what I’m getting.

MCAVOY: I don’t know if that’s true. I think they’re both into a bit of that. Definitely. There’s definitely been a bit of improve in this, but I would say that there’s more in the last one. Matthew is very, very free with bold ideas and taking it as far as you can. So for example, there was a scene that got cut, which I think is somewhere on the internet, of Michael dressed up as a tranny. You’ve seen that? It’s in the scene where we go to Zoe Kravitz, and she’s like, “Cool, Magneto, you can fucking pour champagne with your mind. What can you do?” That was the scene as it’s written. She’s like, “What can you do?” And then I put my fingers to my temples and I make her believe that he’s a transvestite, and he’s sitting next to me and he’s going, “What? What?” And I say, “You’ve never looked more right.” But he was really cool at letting us go quite crazy. I would definitely say there was more of that in the last one. However, there is a workshop environment in this one where we’ll all sit around and talk about it and chat about it for days before. Like if we’ve got time on the weekend, we’ll sit and talk about the script and all that. There’s definitely room for improvisation on this one as well, but I’d say no more so than the last one. They’re quite similar in that respect. But with different outcomes, I think. I think Bryan is a much—He wants a much darker, more serious approach, whereas Matthew was looking to dress Michael Fassbender up as a tranny. You know?

I was going to ask if you respond particularly well to that environment. Is the freedom to go off the page a little bit is something that’s valuable for you?

x-men-days-future-past-teaser-poster-magnetoMCAVOY: Yeah. Also, don’t get me wrong, it’s never wildly, mentally off. It’s not like you’re suddenly giving four pages of Oscar-winning dialogue—It’s a line here and a line there. It’s like, “Hey, why don’t we tweak this and put that in?” To be honest with you, I’ve been on a couple of films that didn’t do this, and it was quite strong about it. But most films I’ve been on, you do that. I’m not taking any credit away from writers. I’m not one of those actors that say, “Hey, we write over this shit!” Although on some films–I’ve known people who’ve been on films where it has been like they’ve written most of it. But yeah, most films need a bit of that, or ask for a bit of that, because what’s on the page will never truly be re-created perfectly off the page. Also, a movie becomes what it’s going to be in the first couple of weeks, and even more in the next couple of weeks, and even more in the next couple of weeks. Suddenly you’ve got something that’s, if not in dialogue or structure, is actually in its feeling and its soul a very different beast from what was on the page. You adjust accordingly, you know? But I have been on a couple of jobs where it’s like, “That’s where the full stop is, dude. See there? That’s the comma, dude. See where it says you turn round? That’s where you turn round.” And I’m like, “Okay, dude? Okay, dude.” But those are few and far between. I’ve only done like two or three of those, and only one of them with any level of happiness.

I know you have to go, but I have to ask, have you been able to go out with the cast at all? What’s the reaction at a restaurant when you’re sitting with Fassbender and all these other people?

x-men-days-of-future-past-james-mcavoyMCAVOY: We’ve been at the bar. We’ve been at restaurants. We’ve been everywhere. It’s been a fairly low-key response, actually. It’s been pretty cool. If you went out with Hugo Boss, that might be different. Because he is, “I’M THE WOLVERINE, BITCH!” My favorite line from any fucking X-Men movie, “I’M THE JUGGERNAUT, BITCH!” You just get this whole idea of Hugh, that he’s constantly fucking in character. It’s like he’s—“You want a cup of tea?” “I’M THE WOLVERINE, BITCH!” With him, I suppose it was different. Jen, Jen gets a lot of shit. But the rest of us are fairly left to our own devices, which is cool. We’ve been out tons. We’re a fairly social cast. One of the joys of having such a big cast – and this is an answer to the question as well, like, do you feel a huge responsibility? If this film was all about me, or if this film was all about Michael, or if this film was all about Nick or something like that, I would be like, “Yeah! Woof. If this goes down, it’s going down on my shoulders.” But there are 175 leading actors in this one! We share the burden. I’m like, “Captain Picard fucked up as well! It ain’t my fault! Gandalf fucked up that scene!” So you can spread the guilt, you know what I mean? And also, we get a lot of time off, as well, because it’s such a big cast. We’ve had good times.

For more from my X-Men: Days of Future Past set visit:

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