chat room

James McAvoy on Trance, Hypnosis, and Pubic Hair

Scottish actor James McAvoy poses for pictures on the red carpet as he arrives to attend the world premiere of his latest film
James McAvoy. Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

Danny Boyle’s latest film, Trance, plummets James McAvoy into the world of art thieves and hypnotism. When his character Simon can’t remember where he placed a valuable art piece after a heist in which he suffered a head injury, he visits a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to retrieve his lost memory. As she places him into trance after deeper trance, the definitions of reality and free become very blurry. McAvoy, who is onstage in England for a production of Macbeth, called Vulture to chat about the movie, pubic hair, and superstition.

Do you think you would be highly suggestible if you underwent hypnosis?
I did undergo hypnotherapy, and it didn’t work! The guy couldn’t put me under. I was very disappointed. I was very keen to be suggested, to have somebody tell me to run naked or cluck like a chicken or whatever, but it didn’t work for me, I’m afraid.

What did you try to get hypnotherapy for, if you don’t mind me asking?
Uh, my sex addiction! [Laughs.] No, not really. It was for research for Trance, actually. I spent some time with a hypnotherapist talking about just what posthypnotic suggestion actually is, and how it affects you, and how we actually see these moments of our lives. If we had to tell ourselves to do every single thing in our body that our body does to keep ourselves alive, we would die immediately, because we don’t have the facility to control ourselves consciously. And all hypnosis is, is tapping into the part of your brain that operates things, makes decisions, and executes those decisions in your body without you even considering it, i.e. breathing, or walking up the stairs, putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m hoping you were a little easier on Rosario Dawson than you were on Angelina Jolie on Wanted — no eating tuna fish this time before any romantic scenes?
Ah, lady! That was not my fault! Angelina decided to switch the scenes. She wanted to do the kissing scene because she had to get home or something like that, so I cannot be blamed. Rosario … did I have to kiss Rosario? Yes, I did have to kiss Rosario, and I was minted up to the max.

Good to know. She had it a little tougher than you, just because she had to go full-frontal because of your character’s preferences regarding pubic hair.
Yeah, I know! Tough gig! Even when I watched the movie, I was like, “Wow! That’s … ” Hold on for a second. [Says good-bye to someone.] Where were we? Ah, shaving the vagina, as people do.

Well, usually as women do. Men, not so much, at least not for the movies.
I don’t know if that’s true! I think a lot of men shave their, um, their balls and their shaft, but that, that’s just for pornos, which are still technically movies. With Simon, a woman shaving is what he prefers, it is part of his fantasy, but the reason why he likes it is a little deeper than why most guys apparently like it. He has a particular classical and artistically related aesthetic. I don’t know if most guys do like it, by the way. I think most people in porn films seem to like it! But I don’t know if it’s necessarily what people want. Maybe it is.

Did you know your hard-core fans call themselves McAvoyeurs? As in voyeurism?
Yeah, I did know that. That’s been kicking about for a good three, four, five years now. It’s kind of lovely, I have to say. The voyeuristic element of the title inspires a certain amount of paranoia, but they have proved to be the nicest, the most respectful, and kind, supportive fans over the last few years. McAvoyeurs tend to be really nice, really chilled out. There’s no hysteria, no craziness, so whenever I meet fans, I can always tell a McAvoyeur, because they’re pretty cool. My favorite name of a fandom is Benedict Cumberbatch’s — the Cumberbatches is just the best name.

The day you finish Macbeth, the very next day you start the next X-Men? You don’t get a break at all?
So far. When we were doing the deal, and I was trying to get released from the start of X-Men so I could make the play happen, because I think I have to miss the first couple of weeks of the shoot, they basically said, “We need you to fly the day after you finish.” So I said, “Cool. That’s fine.” That may not be the case, it may not become necessary, but I imagine it probably will, because they’ll need to do costume-fitting and stunt meetings and shit like that, you know? But as always with the X-Men movies, it’s a massive cast, so they have a lot to get through, so hopefully that buys me a little bit of leeway and I’ll get a breather in Montreal before I start working.

You’re going to be on set with a couple of guys who’ve played Macbeth before: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.
It would be an absolute fucking hoot to sit round the coffee table with them and perhaps, maybe, have a good old chin wag about playing the King killer who is the Thane of Cawdor, hmmm? You know, the superstition is you’re allowed to say “Macbeth” wherever you like, but in the theater, in a theatrical space, you can’t say that. For me, I don’t give a shit. I call it whatever I want to call it. I think Macbeth gives the finger, to fate, to God, to fortune, to destiny, and says, “Fuck you, I will not die in this battle. I will return to my wife. I will have children. And I will take what you have tried to take from me.” In his eyes, the world has wronged him. And as such, our company is giving the finger to superstition as well.