He went from a Glasgow housing estate to Hollywood star, and along the way James McEvoy used his own drive to promote the $9 million ‘Split’ into a $300 million hit – he discovered that the secret lies in finding your own truth
RSNG Your scenes in captivity, in new film Submergence, are very intense. How was it to shoot them and did you go all method by locking yourself into a box?
JAMES MCAVOY, ACTOR ‘Oh no, no I couldn't. I’m someone who gets very affected by the deep levels of the work, it creeps into my psyche insidiously, not in a repetitious way but more in that it messes with my spirit and my mood, and when it comes to any time off, I just go crazy. I have to, it’s the only way to properly shake it off and arm myself for going back in on Monday. If I was carrying around that melancholy? I don’t know, I’m not capable. I’m not built for that amount of baggage, I’m not mentally reinforced.’
‘I did enjoy the experience, but I didn’t. Its gruelling, it’s draining, it’s very rewarding but it’s draining, I found it hard for those couple of weeks.’
RSNG How did you get involved in the project in the first place?
JM ‘I met Wim [Wenders] and Alicia [Vikander] in a restaurant in London, had a quick bite, shook hands and that was it! Probably the quickest negotiation of my career. In fact, I'm not even sure there was a negotiation, I'm not even sure I got paid – I should probably check my balance, haha!’
RSNG Probably not the best financial move for you?
JM ‘When it comes to Wim and Alicia, I would work for free. Again and again.’
RSNG How was it working opposite the new Tomb Raider?
JM ‘She is that good. You know she's going to be real good but you have no idea. Alicia is that talented, she is that extraordinary in creating the character beyond any expectations and bringing a depth I, and possibly even Wim, didn't know was possible. She lives it, she breathes it, she's as good as it gets.’
‘I’ve been hugely lucky working with some of the best – how are they getting saddled with me? Poor bstrds’
RSNG Funny, we remember you saying something similar about Charlize when you were doing press for Atomic Blonde?
JM ‘How very 'up myself actory' of me! But I have been genuinely, hugely lucky working with some of the best, you know with Charlize, I just did Glass with Anya [Taylor Joy], Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson, Sarah Paulson – how they're getting saddled with me is the real question, haha! It’s true… poor bastards.’
RSNG We wouldn’t describe Submergence as the typical romance, so how would you sell it?
JM ‘Ohh I’m on! Bring on my a-game, haha! Well I think you're pretty spot on, it's not your typical romance and this was what sucked me in on the first read. This is an intelligent romantic love story, of which there aren’t too many. If you think about it, usually the protagonist lovers declare their love for one another in a very short space of time and we’re actually left wondering: “Well, why do you love each other? What forces and elements have pulled you together? Just plain, why?”’
‘What Wim has done here is asked each party, each very articulate, thoughtful party, why they love the other and followed that journey and breakdown – exactly what it is that makes people fall in love in the first place?’
‘And then we put them in very dangerous professions, which land them in very hot water far away from each other. Just for shits and giggles really. It’s a very international, intelligent love story, we shot in Germany, France, Djibouti, Spain and out in the Atlantic. I would, some of these I would have never have gone to if it wasn't for this movie which really amazes me about acting, getting the opportunity to go to places like that and really see it intimately – you know, live it.’
RSNG So what do you look for now in a character?
JM ‘I tend to ask myself a couple of the same questions when I’m weighing up a part – will I learn something? Will I challenge myself? Would I actually want to go see this myself? That's very important.’
‘I'm focused, I'm going after my own truth of the story… it’s about my own truth’
RSNG What have you learned in the twenty odd years you’ve been acting?
JM ‘I’m more in control, I'd say. I'm more in control of how I view the scene, I'm way less worried about being believable; that was my only thought process going in a lot of the time back in the day, whereas now, I fully trust I'm going to be believable, maybe a little foolishly.’
‘Now I'm focused, I'm going after my own truth of the story, which is an alliteration of what I previously thought where telling the truth, the only truth, was the priority. Now it's about my own truth and I let the story guide me instead, to where it wants to go. I like to manipulate the truth, I like to be dishonest with it, I like to play around and see what happens. Maybe I'm just a manipulative person, haha! It might not work for others, but it works for me.’
RSNG So do you think you’ve become a better actor?
JM ‘I'm a way better now than when I first started out. I'd want to be surely, it's been twenty years. It'd be a pretty depressing state of affairs if I hadn’t.'
RSNG You’ve previously said you were going to be done with X-Men?
JM ‘Oh yeah, I was 100% done. I was gone.’
RSNG So what changed? What happened to bowing out and not getting ‘hemmed in’ to a long-running franchise?
JM ‘It's not something I planned. And I like that X-Men isn't the typical franchise, at least in my experience. Charles has become a different person in each instalment, he's probably the most different to who's he's been in the last couple films and that's not standard of your regurgitated cookie cutter repetition. So that's kept my interest constantly peaked. And to see them all get together without me would've have stung, haha!’
RSNG What's so special about this group?
JM I love those people, they're a little pod of loveliness, everyone is working for each other, it's a tight-knit little group, even the newbies who came in for the last one, it all fit so well so yeah, no brainer to go back again. You've got Scots and Irish and British in the playground, all pretending to be American, all running around Montreal, or Toronto getting shitfaced.’
RSNG Well you're not playing an American?
JM ‘Well yeah, I'm the only one, but I always play British, I rarely play Scottish. I'm dial a Brit.’
RSNG You’re working on Glass as well, what can we expect?
JM ‘Just pure indulgent, brilliant madness, haha!’
RSNG You showed off nine personalities in Split, will you be giving us more?
JM ’Well I, I think there's more. If I've counted right? But we're not pumping out more just because it's a sequel, we don't want a gimmicky feel to it, taking the piss – this is a real condition a lot of people live with and ultimately I want to pay it the respect it should command.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for Submergence starring James McEvoy and Alicia Vikander.