Five years ago, James McAvoy couldn’t survive one episode of Band of Brothers. He was scarcely more recognizable as the faun in The Chronicles of Narnia. But at the Toronto Film Festival, the 27-year-old Scottish actor was touted as the next Ewan McGregor, thanks to starring roles in three movies, including The Last King of Scotland, in which McAvoy plays Idi Amin’s (fictional) physician. A long way from the Glasgow council estates where he was raised by his grandparents, McAvoy talked to Rebecca Marx.
Did you know a lot about Amin before you got involved with the film?
Yeah, my grandparents used to tell me that if I didn’t behave, he’d come and eat me.
Lately, the West has taken an interest in putting Africa on the screen: Hotel Rwanda, Catch a Fire.
It’s strange—the filmmakers are all white, and those aren’t the guys to tell an African story. If it’s in Africa, it’s about Britain, really.
Well, what about your movie, then?
It’s also a little bit of a white man’s story. That was a problem. But after Kevin [Macdonald, the director] told me that Forest Whitaker was playing Amin, I thought, No matter how many lines I’ve got, it’s going to be Forest’s film. And it’s not like my character is a young white hero. He’s this completely selfish prick. I feel like the West gets punished in this film.
Speaking of white guys in Africa, didn’t you once want to become a missionary?
Yeah, when I was about 16. I realized that all I wanted was an adventure, and I was using do-goodery and Christianity as an excuse to get a free ticket to explore. I realized that I’d better serve my ambitions in other ways, rather than selling my soul to God.
So you went to acting school instead, right after the Trainspotting craze.
I didn’t see Trainspotting until I was about 20. I was too young to see it in the cinema, and I could never watch it in the house. My grandparents would never have sat through it.
The Last King of Scotland