LAST time I spoke to James McAvoy he was relishing ‘mad’ roles in films such as Split and Victor Frankenstein. Now he’s equally cheerful to be playing the good guy in It: Chapter Two. Wearing a cream, summery jumper and ordering a hotel tea on the afternoon of the movie’s premiere, he settles down and talks thoughtfully about the role, leaning forward when the conversation gets deeper.
‘We’re all victims of trauma,’ he says of his character Bill, who is now grown up and facing evil clown Pennywise with the help of his old mates, who reunite after 27 years. ‘There’s also this weird thing where they can’t remember anything and they’re having to going through the process of rediscovering what happened. Despite this being fantastical, I think there are things we don’t remember. There are things at 40 that I’m discovering about what happened to me in my life. How the f*** could I forget that?’
McAvoy’s childhood in Glasgow wasn’t easy. He cut ties with his father after his parents divorced when he was seven (his mother died last year aged 59). He is divorced from his Shameless co-star Anne-Marie Duff, with whom he has a son, and is now linked to Lisa Liberati, who has worked with Split director M Night Shyamalan. While he hasn’t commented on their relationship, McAvoy is swamped in romance: this summer, he went to the weddings of six friends.
‘I can’t wait to get back to work so that my life can be focused on one thing again,’ he says. ‘You can suddenly go to every wedding you’re invited to and you think, “Great!” Then you think, “I’ve been to six weddings in six weeks and they were all two-day affairs”. I was like, “This f***ing summer is gone!”’
Unlike Bill, McAvoy has stayed close to certain school friends but not everyone has accepted the changes in his life.
‘If circumstances change — your life, career, whatever it is — there has to be an acceptance instead of judgment,’ he says. ‘The people I’ve remained very close friends with are very accepting. You can’t come back having changed and then get judged for it. Then you just go, “Oh, f*** you, see you later”.’
The actor was pleased to be reunited with frequent co-star Jessica Chastain — ‘we have a hell of a good laugh together’ — and is full of praise for Bill Skarsgård, who plays the clown.
‘Sometimes people think it’s the make-up, funny voice and CGI. It’s not,’ says McAvoy. ‘What he does inside that outfit and inside that make-up is so intense. For the brief amount of time we spent with him, it blew us all away.’
McAvoy got to hang out with Stephen King on set, though attempts to quiz him about Bill — now a famous writer — failed.
‘I asked him loads about his writing,’ he says. ‘He was — and from what I hear this is typical for him — really evasive but in a nice way. He answered most things with, “Well, I was either high as f*** or drunk as f*** when I wrote all that, so I don’t really know”.’ (King has been sober for decades). McAvoy did find plenty about Bill to relate to, though.
‘One thing he had to contend with was that at university, even though he was the most successful writer and the only one who could make people turn a page, they thought he was a hack because he didn’t want to write about politics or life-changing things,’ he says. ‘He believed in the power of telling a good story and I believe in that power.’
The actor’s next story will be told on the West End stage in Cyrano De Bergerac.
‘For the past four years I’ve pretty much worked abroad so I’m excited about the play and maybe doing more film and TV here,’ he says. When McAvoy says he’s excited, he’s very convincing — so is he an excitable person or a good actor? I’d say both.
■ It: Chapter Two is in cinemas from tomorrow