Slick and sharp British film that is unlike any other
WELCOME TO THE PUNCH
Starring: James McAvoy, Mark Strong, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Eran Creevy
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What's it about? A haunted cop is determined to bring down the gangster who ruined his career – but is there a bigger conspiracy at play?
Verdict: Slick, stylish Brit thriller
I t might be considered bad luck to say Macbeth out loud but James McAvoy can't be doing with any of that superstitious bunkum.
"We say Macbeth in the theatre," says McAvoy, who plays the Scottish lord in the current West End production of Shakespeare's tragedy.
"It's about a man who disdains his fortune and says, 'Damn you, fate, I'm not going to die today', and so from that moment on he's sort of outside of fate.
"You feel like you can't play him unless you go, 'C'mon, Macbeth'!" says the proud Glaswegian, littering his sentences with swear words and throwing in a double- finger salute for good measure.
Physically, it is the most demanding role the 33-year-old has ever undertaken, and this is the man who dodged bullets with Angelina Jolie in the action-packed Wanted and experienced the horror of the trenches in the Second World War epic Atonement.
"We've got cuts and bruises all over and were down the physio a couple of times a week. We're like an army that are struggling to get through it at the moment," says a bearded McAvoy, dressed in combat trousers and a blue T-shirt, revealing bruises on his arms.
He is also promoting his new movie Welcome To The Punch, a slick cops and robbers-style action thriller shot in the city of London.
Surely he learned a thing or two about multi-tasking from Danny Boyle (who directed the upcoming movie Trance, also starring McAvoy, while also helming the epic Olympic opening ceremony)?
"Yeah, but the thing about Danny is he's got a sort of advantage over mere mortals in that he's got a nuclear power station in his belly that fuels him 24/7 and he can go and go," says the actor, laughing.
McAvoy, boyish-looking with those big blue expressive eyes, eschews the limelight when he is not promoting his latest project.
"It's important for me to disappear, so audiences don't get sick of you and also to allow time for you to grow, so you don't get caught doing the same thing again and again," he says.
He is also "a wee bit picky", admitting with a smile: "I think I drive my agents nuts sometimes."
That would explain why Eran Creevy, the director of Welcome To The Punch, has remarked how nervous he was on approaching McAvoy to play police detective Max Lewinsky.
Does it feel strange to have that sort of impact? "It makes me feel powerful!" jokes McAvoy. "No, it does make me feel funny, actually, because I don't want anyone feeling nervous and there's no reason to.
"But also, Creevy's nervous because he needs to get somebody with a certain level of profile to get his movie funded, so all these meetings he goes into like that are make or break."
It is rare for a movie to be given the green light to shoot in the UK's banking epicentre – even Brad Pitt was turned down for his new film World War Z.
But Creevy, who had only made one, albeit critically-acclaimed, movie called Shifty prior to Welcome To The Punch, has contacts in the city.
The result is a British film that looks unlike any other, which was one of the draws for McAvoy.
"I think we do great gritty British drama but I really responded to the fact that this director, this particular script, these particularly characters, seemed like something out of a Hong Kong action movie," says the actor.
"It's a lot slicker and sharper and a lot more beautiful, dare I say it, than the usual geezer, street gangster kind of thing."
The film follows the story of two male protagonists, Lewinsky and Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), operating on different sides of the law.
In the aftermath of his character's early, botched bid to catch Sternwood, Lewinsky has gone from "being a flag bearer and a champion of his division to being a bit of a joke and a bit of a has-been", says McAvoy.
"He comes a cropper thanks to Sternwood, who leaves him with a very bad leg and head, and suddenly he knows he's mortal and becomes a very frightened person."
Unlike Lewinsky, McAvoy has never experienced a crisis of confidence in his career.
"I'm still very enthusiastic and I don't think I'm too jaded but I'm much more aware of what goes on in the business, and how I can do my job better and not be distracted by irrelevant stuff," he says.
Welcome To The Punch is out now.