The ‘80s come alive again in the romantic comedy, Starter for 10, starring James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) and Rebecca Hall (The Prestige). Backed by a cool soundtrack featuring artists such as Tears for Fears and The Cure, Starter for 10 tells the story of Brian Jackson, a working class guy who’s a student at Bristol University. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be clever,” says McAvoy as Brian in the film’s opening line. In order to live up to that declaration, Brian decides to try for a spot on the team to compete on University Challenge, a British TV quiz show. Rebecca Hall co-stars as Rebecca Epstein, a political activist who catches Brian’s eye.
A Great British ‘80s Teen Movie That was Never Made: That’s how the production notes describe Starter for 10 and Hall definitely agrees with that assessment. “It’s 20 years too late,” laughed Hall, admitting American films from that decade were a big influence on her. “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.”
McAvoy said, “I was quite familiar with a lot of the John Hughes movies when I was about 14, 15, and in the mid-'90s. I loved things like The Sure Thing. But there's a film that really contributed to my performance in this which was The Sure Thing, but also one that I can never remember the name [of with] Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe. Andrew McCarthy has an affair with Rob Lowe's mother. Oh, I can't remember. [he’s referring to the 1983 movie ‘Class’]. Anyway, I always felt that Andrew McCarthy was quite 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.”
Getting Involved in Starter for 10: Hall said it came about in a very straightforward fashion. “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, what they were looking for. So I went on a lot of auditions. I think about four, maybe five – or maybe eight. Then I waited a long time, and then got told I got the part. I was very excited.”
Asked how she envisioned the character from reading the script, Hall explained, “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. 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 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.”
Director Tom Vaughan said he saw every young actor in the UK, and Hall believes that. In fact, she even went up against a few friends for the part. “…Four other of my friends were going in at the same time, and everyone was talking about it.”
McAvoy joked about the pressure of auditioning. “It's always really horrible when you sit in an audition room and you're waiting to go in. You're sitting down and 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,” added McAvoy. “They sent me the script, I really liked it. It made me laugh. 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. 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!’"
Checking Out the Old Shows: McAvoy says he watched a fair bit of University Challenge to prepare for Starter for 10, but that doesn’t mean he thinks he could win. “I can answer one or two an episode if I'm lucky,” admitted McAvoy. “I mean, they're real Brainiacs, man.”
Tom Hanks’ Role as a Producer: “He used to come down for lunch,” said McAvoy. “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.”
Up Next for James McAvoy: “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.”
McAvoy said Wanted is a Universal Studios film. “But it's being directed by a Kazakhstanian director called Timur Bekmambetov - 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.”
No Narnia in the Near Future: Don’t look for McAvoy as Tumnus in the next Narnia film. “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, would you like to bring yourself at an [available] time?’"
On Forest Whitaker and The Last King of Scotland: McAvoy couldn’t be happier for his Last King of Scotland co-star who’s been picking up awards right and left for his portrayal of dictator Idi Amin. “He's brilliant. He's been doing it for 20-odd years and he's never really been given the opportunity to take center stage that much. 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.”