Scotsman McAvoy hits Hollywood action with "Wanted"

LOS ANGELES Tue Jun 24, 2008 3:54pm EDT

Scottish actor James McAvoy poses during a photocall to present his new film 'Wanted' in Berlin June 10, 2008. REUTERS/Johannes Eisel

Scottish actor James McAvoy poses during a photocall to present his new film 'Wanted' in Berlin June 10, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Johannes Eisel

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Scottish actor James McAvoy bursts onto Hollywood's blockbuster movie scene on Friday with his new film "Wanted," but don't expect the actor best known for art-house cinema to start playing the part of a Tinseltown superstar.

McAvoy portrays a buff assassin in the high-tech action thriller, but gives credit to his stunt double for making him look cool. He squirms when asked about kissing co-star Angelina Jolie and delights in his character's panic attacks.

"The perfect condition for an actor to have to portray," he told Reuters.

After breakthrough roles in a pair of award-winning dramas aimed at art houses -- "The Last King of Scotland" and "Atonement" -- the 29-year-old said "Wanted," which is adapted from a violent comic book series, spoke to his inner boy.

"I got to satisfy the 16-year-old boy's yearning to break things and jump up and down and beat people up," McAvoy told Reuters. "It was a very physical film and I had to get fit and go to the gym, which I don't really enjoy."

McAvoy's character Wesley is a sloped-shoulder slacker who wallows in the misery of a cubicle-bound job, an overbearing boss and a cheating girlfriend.

Then Fox (Jolie) shows up to tell Wes that greater things await him: he must take over for his long-lost father, killed while working for the Fraternity, a centuries-old league of supersensory assassins.

Fox and Fraternity leader Sloane (Morgan Freeman) whip Wesley into shape by beating him nearly to death so he can avenge his father's death. The beatings are brutal, as is the emotional toll on Wesley, and McAvoy said he had to dip into his reserves to pull it all off.

"You are crying your eyes out because you've just discovered who your father is, but you have just done 12 hours of stunts before it," said McAvoy. "I have never quite had to balance physical stamina with acting stamina."

GROUNDED GLASWEGIAN

McAvoy said he did around half the film's stunts, but since filming ended 10 months ago, he has ditched the gym for the pub and substituted protein shakes with rich German food.

McAvoy does a convincing American accent in "Wanted," set in Chicago, but in real life the native of Glasgow doesn't let up on his Glaswegian accent.

He says he had to get "fet" (fit), enjoyed the challenges of the "scrept" (script) and worried about the "kess" (kiss) with Jolie. Much of his modest Glaswegian origin seems intact. McAvoy and his British actress wife Anne-Marie Duff are said to lead simple lives in London without celebrity trappings.

"It's not that I am interested in being grounded, I just am," McAvoy said. "I am not wearing it like a fashion, but I get asked about it all the time."

In nine years of theater, TV and film, McAvoy said he has had a "humongously varied career and long may it continue."

"I hope my next movie is not an action movie, but equally I hope it is not another 'Atonement,"' said McAvoy, who starred opposite Keira Knightley in the World War II era romance as the housekeeper's son who is betrayed by a young girl's lie.

McAvoy has finished filming "The Last Station" in which he plays the secretary of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. Then there's nothing else ahead, he said, not even the rumored role of Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" by director Guillermo del Toro.

"My name seems to be put in the hat by people," he said. "I won't be chasing it, but if it ever became a reality, I would let you know. I realize that's a big one."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Wiessler)