James McAvoy, who stars in this week's new thriller "Trance," is best known for his role as Charles Xavier in 2011's well-received X-Men prequel, "X-Men: First Class." Before taking that role, there was always the chance McAvoy would face backlash for stepping into the younger shoes of the beloved Patrick Stewart. Talking to the 33-year-old about "X-Men," it becomes evident why he succeeded. He certainly doesn't dismiss the role in an, "Oh, that," type of way -- you can actually hear the excitement in his voice when he discusses "X-Men." Isn't that all we can ask from our superhero actors? "You're playing a superhero. Have a good time."
McAvoy is having a good time. Well, except when his fingernails are being removed.
In Danny Boyle's "Trance," McAvoy plays Simon, an art dealer who serves as the inside man during a well orchestrated heist. Unfortunately for Simon, he cant remember where exactly he hid the stolen art after an unfortunate blow to the head. After some, let's say, brutally persuasive techniques (in the form of removed fingernails) fail to work, hypnotism is attempted -- opening a floodgate of macabre imagery and imagined scenes.
Ahead, McAvoy discusses why he so hated that "Trance" fingernail scene, talks about how people reacted when he took over the the role of Professor Xavier in "X-Men: First Class," and gives us some hints of what to expect in the upcoming "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
The scene in which your character has his fingernails removed is one of my worst nightmares.
[Laughs] You know what? I actually hated filming that scene. Even though there was no pain for me, I felt so -- I don't know -- I felt so victimized and so horrible and so emasculated and fucking put upon. I hated that day. And I was really glad to get away from that scene.
Maybe it helped that you hated filming that scene, because you do look like you don't want to be there.
No, I didn't! I really fucking hated it. And then on top of that, being held down by three guys -- even though it wasn't real, it felt like, Come on now, give me a break.
Did you have to do much research on the facts and myths of hypnotism?
Yeah, we did a little bit of work on it all. I spent time with a hypnotherapist and found what it can actually do to you and how far it can actually go to sort of get something away from you. But, yeah, they tried to hypnotize me and it didn't work. I was a little bit disappointed. And I went, "Oh, right, you may be a crock of shit. OK." But, no, not everybody can be hypnotized.
If it had worked, you could have asked to forget about that fingernails scene.
Yeah, that would have been a good idea.
You've worked with quite a few good directors. Has Danny Boyle always been on that list?
Yeah! Definitely. I mean, ever since "Shallow Grave" -- which I suppose I saw when I was quite young, maybe 15 or 14 -- he's been a really important voice in cinema. Of course, I didn't know his name when I was that age -- I wasn't even an actor. I had no ambitions to be an actor. But then, after drama school, if it was said to me at the age of 20 or 21, "Would you like to work with Danny Boyle?" The answer would be, "Yes, I'll bite your fucking arms off to work with Danny Boyle."
He's such a unique voice in world cinema. You know, you watch a Danny Boyle movie and you know you're watching a Danny Boyle movie. And that's quite interesting because they don't all look the same. Like, if Tim Burton makes a movie, a Tim Burton movie kind of looks like a Tim Burton movie. A Danny Boyle movie doesn't necessarily look like a Danny Boyle movie. They all look different. They've all got different music. They're about very different things dramatically and they have different kinds of acting styles. They're set in different countries. Somehow, they are all utterly very Danny Boyle. Do you know what I mean?
You don't watch "Trance" and think it looks like "Slumdog Millionaire" or "127 Hours."
They're completely different. And, yet, you get all the Danny. You get that sort of scent of somebody who is exceptionally brave and bold who loves the world who doesn't go, "Why don't you be English even though you're Scottish," or, "be American even though you're Scottish." He loves people. Real people. Not just the 90 percent of people that usually get portrayed in movies. And that's special and should be cherished, I think.
When you did "X-Men: First Class," were you surprised by how accepted you were as Charles Xavier? Because people did love Patrick Stewart, even though this was a younger version.
You know what? I was really pleased that people accepted me in that role. I was totally aware that I may get backlash. Because even though he's younger, I'm not exactly like Patrick Stewart. As such, I took that and the fact they cast me, I thought to myself, They cast me and I"m not exactly like Patrick Stewart, so let's run with that and let's be really not like Patrick Stewart.
There's a little element in the script in the first couple of pages of Charles' character where he seems like he's sort of picking up a girl in a bar. And I thought, Let's take that and run with it. I kind of pushed and pushed -- to really try to take him as far away from the Professor X that we've seen before in the comics and the cartoon and as portrayed by Patrick in the movies as well -- he's kind of like a monk. He's a sage. And he's wise and he's very in control of himself and sort of selfless. I wanted to take him the opposite way -- without making him a bad guy. But, make him selfish and a little bit egotistical and all of those things. I think that helped -- the fact I wasn't actually trying to do Patrick Stewart in the body of a 30-year-old man. I think if I would have done that, people would have rejected me.
But I think what's big fun about going back is that you can see why people became the way they are. There's no joy in doing that if they're the same way at 30 that they are at 65. What's the point of going back? You have to make them different and I think that helped.
With the new "X-Men" movie, is there more pressure to more align those styles since Patrick Stewart will be in the movie?
No. Not yet. I think that may come. I mean, who knows? Who knows where it's going to go? That may come in the third movie but definitely not in this movie. We're not in the same place that we were in the first movie with Charles -- a very different place from there. But we're also still on a very different place from where Patrick was in the other movies.
After critically acclaimed movies like "Atonement," were you ever worried about doing a superhero movie?
No, not really. There wasn't much choice because I was a fan, I loved the cartoons when I was a kid. And I'm a huge fan of Patrick Stewart from his "Star Trek" days. You know, it's not often that you get to make a huge Hollywood superhero movie -- but you get to make it on your doorstep. Which was great! Because I was 35 minutes from the set every morning in London, which was great. And, also, getting to work with Matthew Vaughn. Getting to work with Michael Fassbender -- Michael and I started out together. We were both in "Band of Brothers" years ago -- so getting to work with him was really fun.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.