James McAvoy (Starter for 10, Atonement) takes on his first starring role in a big-budget action movie with Wanted, directed by Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov and based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and JG Jones. McAvoy's past film credits don’t exactly make him the first actor who springs to mind when casting the part of an assassin, but McAvoy was eager to expand his resume with something vastly different from his previous projects.
The only minor drawback to starring in an action film of this sort is that now McAvoy has to worry it might change the type of scripts that come his way. "I hope it doesn't become all I get offered," said McAvoy at the film's Los Angeles press junket. "I did this film for a challenge and something different, something new, and so hopefully the next thing I do will be again an example of that and something different, new and challenging. But not just different from Wanted, hopefully different from the other stuff I've done as well."
In Wanted, McAvoy starts out as a working class stiff who can only be described as a wimp. He's got problems with anxiety, a boss he absolutely loathes but can't stand up to, and a girlfriend who's having sex with his best friend. All in all, one of the saddest sacks around. As the film progresses, he transitions from everyone's punching bag to a deadly killer who's physically and mentally capable of murdering complete strangers.
That transition from a geeky guy who just gets by to a trained killer who's a member of a secret organization known as The Fraternity was made more difficult because Wanted, like most studio productions, was shot out of order. "Also because I'd never done a film that took four and a half months to film - well, Narnia took five months or something like that, but I was hardly in it - so when you shoot out of sequence, as you always do… Say for two months, it's less spread out because you've only got two months of a shoot and the film's still going to be the same length as Wanted is. But when you spread it out over four months, there's even more opportunity for it to become disparate and become disjointed," explained McAvoy. "So you really have to be on top of your continuity and your script. You have to really ride the directors and the producers to kind of go, 'Wait, wait, wait. While you're making that decision, what happens before? Can I do that actually?' And sometimes you make an ass of yourself because you question them on everything. But sometimes you save stuff that could have gone really badly and really screw up your character's arc. And the story of the character and the story of his metamorphosis and why he changes is really what underpins, I suppose, the whole film and makes it something more than just action. So it was really important that we got that right."
McAvoy joked that one of the reasons he took on the film was to get a chance to be a part of something that didn't require him to wear a suit 24 hours a day seven days a week when publicizing it. He also laughed when he admitted he wasn't sure how Wanted was going to turn out after signing on as the lead actor. "I did think, 'I can't do an action film,' partly because of my own doubts about my appropriateness for the role. I thought I was probably bad casting for it, but I also thought the action movie can be just really seamy and can be really bad," said McAvoy.
"I like action movies when they're good, but when they're bad they're such a waste of time. I thought this one, the thing that saved this one for me, there was a few things. First of all, the fact that they were willing to cast somebody like me, which I thought might be a bad idea, was interesting. The fact that they were giving the job to somebody like Timur whose work, he's making vampire films in the past. I've seen lots of vampire films, but he made them very different. I thought, 'Well, he's going to be interesting.'"
McAvoy was also intrigued by the fact the studio was not aiming to please family audiences. "They weren't making this movie for all the family. They were making this a very violent R-rated film for adults and I've not seen that a lot lately. You can find it if you go to the straight to DVD market, but in the mainstream with good production values and commitment and money spent on it, I don't really see that [many] hard R-rated film for adults at the moment," said McAvoy. "They're all superhero movies that are incredibly violent actually, but they're just filmed in a kind of slightly sanitized way - like Indiana Jones. Ants crawling inside somebody's body and eating them from the inside, that's incredibly disturbing but done in a kind of slightly cutesy way so you can give it to 12-year-olds. This was never going to be like that and I thought, 'Well, this is all quite cool and different. And even if it fails horribly, it was still trying to be something else.'"
Physically, McAvoy's character, Wesley, is put through the wringer. He starts out as a guy who can barely handle himself before evolving into a man you'd never want to meet in a dark alley. That physical transformation required McAvoy to really work out for the part. "I'm glad I did it. There were times where I just wanted to stop and do nothing else. But I had a great trainer called Glen Chapman who was a proper drill sergeant for me. Nice guy, but he made me do things that I didn't want to do and he made me sick quite a lot," revealed McAvoy.
"It's good though because apart from the physical aesthetic of they wanted their action hero to be a bit more buff and all that, I wouldn't have got through four and a half months had I not be fitter and more healthy and in better shape than I usually am. I think I was capable of doing all the things in the film, but not consistently with the high level intensity being sustained over four and a half months. Because every day was like a 12, 13, maybe 14 hour day and a lot of it was taken up with stunts. That was quite grueling so I needed to be in better shape than I usually am."