James McAvoy forges a connection with Alicia Vikander in 'Submergence'
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James McAvoy forges a connection with Alicia Vikander in ‘Submergence’

Sci-fi superhero, fantasy creature, dangerous psycho, Shakespearean thespian, cop, comic, heartthrob — you name it.

There’s nothing James McAvoy cannot play.

The Scots actor is the romantic lead in Submergence, an intense love drama from filmmaker Wim Wenders. McAvoy plays a dedicated spy getting ready to go to Somalia to find a terrorist; Alicia Vikander co-stars as a scientist preparing for a trip to the bottom of the sea in a submersible. They meet in Normandy and fall in love before adventure separates them; the film covers love, life, and the universe, happy endings not guaranteed.

The film is in select theatres and VOD now.

An actor since adolescence, McAvoy trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and had breakout roles in The Last King of Scotland (2006) and Atonement (2007). His films include Wanted, Filth, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, the X-Men franchise, Split, Atomic Blonde and Muppets Most Wanted.

McAvoy has been in the news a lot lately as he’s rumoured to be playing the adult Bill Denbrough in the next chapter of It. We spoke to McAvoy when he visited TIFF.

You and the terrorist you’re hunting in Submergence have a few things in common. Have we seen anything this specific before?

I don’t know. Since I had a kid about seven years ago, I’ve only seen about four films. What surprised me was the commonality I found among people committed to something, who were willing to give up their life for something. I had a completely opposing view to the person I was playing, who was completely committed to something and willing to give up his life for it, and I found that the level of commitment on both sides was pretty similar. Both had this feeling of being disenfranchised, and therefore joined an organization they thought empowered them to change the world for the better. As they saw it. Same on both sides, whether it’s the entitled white guy from Britain [his character] or the disenfranchised guy from Africa. I find that quite a leveller in many ways, amongst very different people.

How did you and Alicia Vikander prepare to play these characters?

The four of us did a ton of chatting — me, Wim Wenders, Alicia and Erin Dignam, the writer — trying to figure out why they’re into each other, why does fate put them together just there, are they already connected before they meet, are we all connected, are we all touching each other. We got a bit touchy-feely with our chat on this film. It was all very head in the clouds, which was lovely, to get so romantic and try to unpack what love was. And sitting in a beautiful house in Normandy for a week and a half.

Have you begun work on X-Men and the Watership Down mini-series?

No, I just took a year off. Just staying home taking care of my kid. But I did three movies — Atomic Blonde, Split and Submergence — and a nice run of different characters before coming back and playing a character I’ve done four times now, in X Men. Good to get that bunch of desperate and diverse people in. [Laughs]

Your son is seven. Is he old enough to see X-Men?

No, but he’s a big fan of the comics. He’s never watched the movies or the cartoons. He started on the cartoons from the ‘90s, but it got too scary. He’s not too interested in anything I’ve done or his mother’s [Anne-Marie Duff] done. His interests lie mainly in cartoons that don’t involve our voices.