A lot has been written about next week’s family-friendly demolition derby, which will see Disney’s “The Muppets,” Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and Sony/Aardman’s “Arthur Christmas” already entering a landscape that includes Warner Bros’ “Happy Feet Two” and “Puss In Boots” from DreamWorks. But what’s not being said is how truly, remarkably good “Arthur Christmas” really is – what a surprisingly charming, tear-jerking, dazzling-looking movie it has turned out to be. Part of the charm belongs to the vocal talents of James McAvoy who, as the titular Arthur, struggles to make sure to make things right after Santa’s grand-scale operation encounters a glitch. We got to speak to McAvoy about “Arthur Christmas,” what his favorite holiday movies are, and what his upcoming projects are all about.
While McAvoy describes the hiring process for “Arthur Christmas” as “really dull, boring,” he still says that it was somewhat unique. “They did an audition process where they took the voices of a handful of different actors and edited pieces out of other movies we’d been in and placed them onto an animation of Arthur prancing around,” McAvoy said, which mirrors stories Tom Hanks used to tell about being sold on “Toy Story” after seeing his dialogue being spoken by Woody (who at that point wasn’t a pull-string toy but a cloggy woody marionette puppet). “Then they decided which one worked the best, and that was me.”
Sarah Smith, the director and co-writer of “Arthur Christmas,” told us that she was initially worried about McAvoy because she feared his voice wasn’t “young enough.” We asked McAvoy what he had to do to convince her. “”I just made his voice a bit higher – she kept asking for my voice to be higher and to be sweeter,” McAvoy said. He paused. ” She was kind of riding my ass about that one.”
Although McAvoy didn’t inspire the look of his character in Arthur Christmas (he said it had been finalized well before he came onboard), he said he was really surprised when he saw the final product. “I find it really funny and I cried my ass off,” he said. “I found it really moving. It was quite poignant and sad and at times quite hard, in terms of the father not being who you thought he was…I found all of that quite hard but ultimately moving in a really good way.”
He does have a dream for the movie, too. “I’d love for it to go on to become one of those Christmas classics,” McAvoy said, saying of his personal favorite holiday classics, “When I was growing up I loved ‘Santa Claus: The Movie‘ with Dudley Moore and more recently ‘The Polar Express.’ ”
But just in case “Arthur Christmas” isn’t a perennial sensation, he’s still got a whole host of movies coming up, including “Welcome to the Punch,” which he calls, simply “a London-based crime thriller;” an adaptation of Irvine Welsh‘s “Filth,” which starts filming in January “up in Glasgow,” and, most intriguingly, the art heist thriller “Trance,” a Danny Boyle project which has already been filmed but won’t be completed until after Boyle finishes his commitment to next summer’s London Olympic Games.
When we asked what brought him to “Trance” (in a role originally pegged for Michael Fassbender), McAvoy said “The first thing that made me so attracted to it was the director, Danny Boyle. When he asks you to do something, you don’t ask too many questions, you just say yes.” He went on to describe it as “really interesting,” and “twisty, turny, and mind-bending.” But he circled it back to its director. “But it’s Danny Boyle. You just don’t say no to Danny Boyle.”
Less substantial are the rumors that he would play Elton John in the John-produced biography “Rocketman” (a rumor started by John himself!) “Elton asked me to do it in a room full of journalists at a press conference for ‘Gnomeo & Juliet.’ So that’s where that comes from. If he offered to the part and the script was good, then yeah I’d consider it.”
For those that are eager for more young X-Men antics after this summer’s surprisingly solid “X-Men: First Class,” he says things are going well so far. “I’ve spoken to the director [Matthew Vaughn], spoken to Michael [Fassbender]. We’ve all got ideas but as of yet we don’t know,” McAvoy said, before complimenting the wait-and-see approach the studio is taking. “I think Fox is doing the right thing, which is wait until they’ve got the script before they decide to green light. Which I think is responsible. It’d be easy just to green light it because it did well but then we’d be stuck with a rubbish piece of nonsense.”
When we were getting off the phone with McAvoy, he wished us a cheery “Have a good holiday period!” Quite frankly, it sounded a little like we were actually talking to Arthur Christmas for a minute. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. “Arthur Christmas” appears in your stockings (and in cinemas nationwide) on Wednesday, November 23rd.