James McAvoy started getting more mainstream attention with his roles in Wanted, the X-Men and of course, Split. However, he has been around for a while, with memorable turns in more dramatic fare like The Last King of Scotland and Atonement. McAvoy has made a name for himself with his skill and versatility. Keep reading for 42 highland facts about James McAvoy.
Just about everyone noticed McAvoy’s insane physical transformation for Split, and then the even more insane transformation for Glass. McAvoy says he googled “good way to put on muscle quick,” which led him to a five by five workout (five sets of five repetitions). However, McAvoy has also shared gym pics with personal trainers in tow, so he didn’t put on all the muscle himself.
2. On the DL
McAvoy has mastered an impressive array of accents, ranging from English to the Philly accent we hear from Dennis in Split. However, McAvoy is from Glasgow and has acknowledged that numerous fans think he’s English, due to his role as Professor X and others, such as Atonement. As McAvoy states, he is a “professional Englishman," but a "private Scotsman.”
3. Hard Knock Life
McAvoy grew up in a council estate in Drumchapel, Glasgow, similar to an American “project.” However, he still goes back to his old neighborhood to visit friends, who often remark that he now sounds posh because his Scottish accent isn’t as thick as it used to be.
4. Pay it Forward
McAvoy is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, an academy targeted towards children who couldn’t otherwise pursue music or theatre due to financial issues. McAvoy graduated from the academy in 2000 and donated $160,000 to the academy fifteen years later.
5. Pull My Finger
McAvoy has previously used protein supplements to gain weight, particularly for his role in Wanted. However, he admits that he now avoids them due to some smelly side effects. McAvoy’s bulking now focuses on diet. For Glass, he spent four months eating eight eggs for breakfast, a snack of chicken breast, two chicken breasts for lunch, and a steak for a snack before having a salmon steak for dinner.
McAvoy was committed to making his character in Atomic Blonde “filthy” to emphasize that the film was “Bourne in the sewer,” or in other words, less polished. David Percival’s first scene shows him waking up in a bed that has two girls chained to it. McAvoy originally wanted the scene to have a girl and a guy, but the director vetoed it since Charlize Theron’s character had a lesbian hookup as well.
7. The Rest is History
The Scotsman landed his first gig by asking a director for one...while the director was visiting his school. Fifteen-year-old McAvoy secured a role in David Hayman’s Near Room and “that gave me the bug, if you like.” Since McAvoy didn’t have an agent, and his school didn’t have a drama program, he decided to pursue drama school after graduating high school.
8. More Money, More Problems
McAvoy has been in some big blockbusters recently, most notably with the X-Men franchise. However, he doesn’t pay attention to how well his films do. McAvoy focuses on the set and the character, only caring about whether he gets to play an interesting role. He also values coaching and advice he gets from directors in order to improve his skills.
9. Inner Demons
In Filth, McAvoy portrays a racist, homophobic, misogynist cop. He also played Macbeth on stage. Although both characters are far removed from him, McAvoy says they were the easiest roles to play, and that they are the characters he’s “resonated” with the most.
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10. Warm Up
McAvoy feels like he was well-prepared to play a man with multiple personalities in Split, due to two previous jobs. In the play The Ruling Class, he played a man who believes that he is Jesus Christ and Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, his character in Danny Boyle’s Trance is hypnotized and has memories locked away. Show business rewards transferrable skills.
11. Got a Point
McAvoy has publicly disparaged James Bond, going so far as to say Bond “isn’t even really a spy.” For McAvoy, the character’s mystique is ruined since everyone (in the fictional universe) knows who James Bond is.
12. Float Like a Butterfly
McAvoy’s stunt double for Wanted happened to be a three-time kickboxing champion. Filming led to a beautiful friendship and McAvoy began training in earnest. However, he might have gotten into it a little too hard. On the set of Split, McAvoy missed his target and punched a real metal door, breaking two knuckles and two fingers. This injury was also the reason for the cast McAvoy’s character wears in Atomic Blonde.
13. What a Twist
McAvoy’s roles in Split and Glass came from a chance meeting with M. Night Shyamalan at 2016’s Comic-Con. At the time, McAvoy’s hair was still growing back from his role as the bald-headed Professor X. Shyamalan began to visualize his main character and decided that the lead would look just like McAvoy, close-cut hair and all. McAvoy adds that he was very drunk when the two met: “The moral of the story is: When in California, get really hammered.”
14. Till Death Do Us Part
McAvoy met ex-wife Anne-Marie Duff while working on the British comedy series Shameless. He played her love interest on-screen and soon played it off-screen when they married in 2006. After having a child, Brendan, and nine years of marriage, the couple split in 2016. However, the two still live together with their son, in order to avoid disrupting his life.
15. Whatever Floats Your Boat
McAvoy isn’t big on flaunting wealth, but he does indulge a bit when it comes to “adventure gear.” One of his favorite possessions is a 1950s Waltham watch, an American company whose instruments have been used on South Pole expeditions and wartime aircraft. McAvoy also loves his Vespa.
16. Loyal Customer
M. Night Shyamalan gets mixed reviews to say the least, but McAvoy admires Shyamalan’s “deliberate and focused” directing style. While some directors might experiment with a scene, requiring multiple takes to get the right look and feel, Shyamalan has everything planned out before cameras start rolling.
17. Hidden Talent
McAvoy’s younger sister, Joy, isn’t in the headlines as much as her big bro, but she's an actress as well. Details on her are sparse but she has starred alongside her brother in roles such as Filth, and her most notable role appears to be the series Two Doors Down.
18. #1 Fan
McAvoy gained praise from Charlize Theron for his willingness to play a supporting role in Atomic Blonde. Theron states that many male stars with promising career trajectories are wary of taking roles where their character is second fiddle to a woman’s. She views McAvoy and her Tully co-star Ron Livingston as examples of the ideal, supportive co-stars.
19. Art Imitates Life
In preparing for Split, McAvoy consulted YouTube and found videos where people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) made video diaries. Different personalities would record themselves, taking advantage of their time as the dominant alter, similar to the diaries that Kevin’s alters keep in Split.
20. Village People
When McAvoy got accepted into drama school, he also had to consider going to the Navy. The seaborne protectors accepted him before he heard back from drama school, and although McAvoy found acting “dead interesting,” he wasn’t sure about pursuing it as a career. However, he decided to stick with drama since the school gave him a grant that would help cover expenses.
21. Sealed Lips
McAvoy recalls his early interviews, where he would share lurid stories about substance abuse and “silly things like that” to make himself appear more interesting. However, he soon realized that his privacy was the most important thing in his career and is now known for rarely discussing his personal life.
22. No Seabiscuit
There might be more roles on McAvoy’s IMDB if it wasn’t for his horsehair allergy. The four-legged beasts send McAvoy into wheezing fits and he has turned down roles if they involve contact with horses. McAvoy also recalls a horse-drawn carriage ride he took with his (then) wife around Central Park. Since it was cold, they were provided a blanket—a blanket that was used on the horses all day. Both of them were allergic and ended up sneezing all night.
It: Chapter Two follows up with the Losers Club 27 years after the events in the first film, and it features McAvoy as Bill Denborough. At least one person was happy with the choice: Jaeden Lieberher, who played the character in Chapter One, has gone on record as saying McAvoy was his dream casting for the adult Bill.
Like all of us, McAvoy admires Samuel L. Jackson. In particular, McAvoy admires Jackson’s confidence and ability to call out interviewers on poor questions. The two were partnered on talk show Lorraine and host Lorainne Kelly had some weird questions for Jackson e.g. what is it like to look ugly on camera? Jackson’s response was what you’d expect and McAvoy hopes to be like him someday.
25. Buck the System
Fellas, McAvoy can relate to hating Valentine’s Day. He’s not cheap, he just dislikes the notion of one day forcing someone to be romantic. Instead, McAvoy does his best to make his significant other feel special every day.
Remember, the steamiest scene in Atonement? McAvoy doesn’t remember it that way. Keira Knightley’s dress was “made of tissue paper” and McAvoy was worried it would “fall apart if he blinked too hard.” To add to the awkwardness, the director specifically requested tongue-kissing. McAvoy says these scenes are rarely sexy, but he still pinpoints that one as the most awkward he’s had to film.
A routine checkup in April 2018 revealed a shadow on McAvoy’s lung. Surgery followed and although the lung was fine, the surgery resulted in an infected wound. “It nearly killed me," McAvoy said. He also added that an abdominal muscle appeared to have disappeared, and the doctor had the audacity to ask “…are you sure it was there before the surgery?” The experience motivated McAvoy to pursue more British films, so he can stay closer to his son.
28. Thanks for the Memories
McAvoy starred alongside 11-year-old Saoirse Ronan in Atonement, and her voice (as he remembers it) is the inspiration for one of the personalities in Glass. McAvoy says the voice was “sharp and full of life,” and now Ronan knows she inspired 1/23 of a psychopath's personalities.
29. Hunting Wabbits
You can hear McAvoy’s voice in Netflix’s Watership Down (2018) as Hazel. McAvoy warns the story about cute bunnies is not a light-hearted tale for kids, describing it as “a sort of post-apocalyptic Brave New World with a bit of Walking Dead thrown in.” 90s kids already knew this, after being traumatized watching the old adaptation.
Sorry ladies, McAvoy is taken. He is currently dating Lisa Liberati, an American film production assistant. The two are a pretty discrete couple, but some pics of a PDA surfaced in Early February 2019.
Like a lot of Brits, McAvoy loves his soccer (football, sorry). He is a Celtic fan and identifies the team as the only thing that keeps him anchored as he travels for work.
32. Father McAvoy
McAvoy admitted he briefly wanted to be a priest, mainly so that he could travel the world. However, McAvoy quickly realized he was pursuing that dream for the wrong reasons (and didn’t want to sacrifice women) and dropped the goal by the time he was sixteen. Since then, he has stated he hates being repeatedly asked about his brush with the priesthood in interviews.
33. It’s Who You Know
McAvoy is a firm believer that an actor can only be as good as the people around him, whether it’s the writers, actors, or directors. He was highly motivated to join Glass due to the opportunity to work with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, “two legends of the industry.” We might respectfully disagree and say McAvoy can still steal the show surrounded by garbage (e.g. X-Men Apocalypse).
34. Just the Two of Us
McAvoy is good friends with Split and Glass co-star Anya Taylor-Joy. Taylor-Joy believes the relationship their characters (Kevin and Casey) have can’t be “put down into a box” by describing it simply as a friendship or a romance. When the two work together, there is a “hallowedness” to their work and she views it as a blessing to experience that sort of chemistry with a talent like McAvoy.
35. Make It So
McAvoy is maybe best known for taking over Patrick Stewart’s role as Professor X. McAvoy also joked that he’s down to play a younger Picard in the new Star Trek series, replacing Stewart yet again. We can dream!
36. Ain’t Nothing but a Number
McAvoy admits that he was scared of clowns as a kid, and he was creeped out by Pennywise while working on It: Chapter Two. While Bill Skarsgard was worried he wouldn’t be as scary for adult actors, it appears age doesn’t matter. McAvoy admits that Skarsgard creeped out the rest of the cast as well, "We are all looking at each other going, 'I don’t like being here.'"
Following his own physical transformations for Split and Glass, McAvoy has gained more respect for the actors who keep their selves in good shape day in and day out e.g. The Rock, Chris Hemsworth, and Hugh Jackman. As McAvoy says, even standing as The Beast was more tiring than any other role due to the need to portray an animal-like character who is always on the verge of attacking.
38. Average James
While McAvoy has hordes of loving fans, he admits that he doesn’t view himself as very attractive. He thinks he’s done well with what he got, but also doesn’t see himself as the typical Brad-Pittesque leading man. However, McAvoy views this as an advantage since he doesn’t get typecast and is able to pursue a wide variety of roles.
Despite rave reviews for many of his performances, McAvoy has yet to be nominated for an Oscar. The most recent snub came from Split, and McAvoy is used to hearing he should have been nominated for one role or another. However, he doesn’t let it faze him, and focuses on the day-to-day work of the job.
McAvoy is fearless with challenging himself as an artist, citing that even if things don’t work out, “it’s just your reputation.” McAvoy stuck to this mentality after he was offered a role in an adaptation of a book he liked (he doesn’t say which one) when he was in his early 30s. His character was neutered and simplified and was intended to be a “canvas for the audience.” McAvoy declined the role and decided that from then on, he would only pursue roles that excited him.
41. Dear Mama
James has not spoken to his father, James Sr., in twenty-one years. In fact, Senior has expressed regret that his son has never reached out to have a relationship since becoming famous. At one point, the two were close, but James Jr. became more distant once James Sr. left his mom and remarried. McAvoy was then raised by his maternal grandparents, James and Mary Johnstone. McAvoy stayed closed with his mother, but she refused any attempts to leave Drumchapel. She passed away at age 59 in February 2018 due to poor health.
42. That’s My Boy
McAvoy’s half-brother, Donald, isn’t an actor, but he still makes headlines—for all the wrong reasons. First, he stabbed a man eight times. Next, he faced charges of car theft in October 2018 and was jailed for eight months. Did he learn his lesson? Nope—he found himself behind bars once again in 2020, when he locked a man in a car for hours, demanding £5,000 that the man allegedly owed.
Donald is McAvoy's half-brother by his estranged father, and the two have never met.