Feb 22,2013

Playing Macbeth is my toughest role yet, says action hero James McAvoy

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by Louise Jury

He starred in the action movie Wanted opposite Angelina Jolie, played a telepathic superhero in X-Men: First Class and won the heart of Keira Knightley in Atonement.

But as he prepares to face theatre critics tonight, James McAvoy said playing Macbeth was tearing him apart.

“It’s like being mentally ill and being beaten up a lot. This is undoubtedly the hardest part I’ve ever played,” said McAvoy, 33, of the production in which he is constantly running, fighting and proving himself the bloodied virile soldier.

“I always wanted it to be a physical production because it’s a play that talks about killing people and killing people with your hands. It just so happened that the director Jamie Lloyd seemed to want to go for that with gusto. But be careful what you wish for. Now I’m falling to pieces.”

Lloyd’s version is set in a post-apocalyptic world of environmental disaster half a century in the future, with a dark atmosphere of godless superstition. McAvoy and Claire Foy, 28, who plays Lady Macbeth, are much younger than many of the actors who have tackled the roles — including Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Patrick Stewart — and McAvoy said their youth “just increases the tragedy of the situation”.

Shakespeare suggests that Lady Macbeth has recently lost a baby and McAvoy sees the notion of “a big hole in their lives” as the fire that drives the drama. “The tragedy of their childlessness is really relevant. They’re at an age where they should have been making babies,” he said. Foy, who starred in Upstairs Downstairs, said: “I think it does add to the vibrancy of the production that we’re younger. He’s a brave warrior. I’m supposed to be a fertile young woman. But we end up throwing our entire lives away.”

The play is the first by Trafalgar Transformed, a partnership between director Lloyd and theatre owner Howard Panter. It runs at the Trafalgar Studios until April 27. Day seats cost £10. www.macbethwestend.com

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