Happy Birthday to James McAvoy and His Dreamy Blue Eyes

Why the Atonement and Atomic Blonde star holds our gaze in every movie he’s in.

James McAvoy is about to have an action-packed summer. As the rogue undercover agent David Percival in Focus Features' new film Atomic Blonde­­he moves in and out of East and West Berlin––and from different personas––with skill and ease. But even in the most nail-biting, brutal fight sequences, you can’t look away if McAvoy is on the screen. We blame it on those gorgeous blue eyes, which have been capturing critics' and audiences' hearts since he was a teen.

See James McAvoy in the new trailer for Atomic Blonde

Born on April 21, 1979, James McAvoy was raised by his grandparents in Glasgow, Scotland, after his parents’ marriage broke up. Without any dreams of becoming a movie star, McAvoy’s life changed forever in 1995 when director David Hayman visited his high school class. “You know when someone’s got it,” Hayman later recalled about why he cast the unknown 16-year-old student with the brilliant blue eyes to be in his film The Near Room.

After graduating from the Royal Scottish Academy in 2000, McAvoy just kept working. “I certainly didn’t harbor any ambition of being an actor because no one I knew had ever done anything like that,” McAvoy told the Telegraph. “I just started off and one thing seemed to lead to another.” Thankfully, McAvoy's path lead to two Focus films––Atonement and the not-to-be-missed Atomic Blonde.

James McAvoy flashes his brilliant assets in Atonement

“The biggest blue eyes in movies.”

In casting Atonement, Wright was first drawn to McAvoy’s eyes. “I always liked the description in Ian McEwan’s novel [Atonement] of Robbie having “eyes of optimism” and I felt that James has eyes of optimism,” he told ComingSoon.net. Indeed it’s hard to look away from them. Vanity Fair writes, “They’re the biggest blue eyes in movies just now. They were all one could look at in Atonement’s most wrenching scene.”

In later films, McAvoy’s eyes have been his secret weapon to quietly express sympathy, love, intelligence, and even malice. In playing the legendary super hero Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, McAvoy lets his eyes demonstrate his all-seeing power. As Elle put it  “While not the brawniest, he's got those blue eyes.”

“I’m not an angel.”

Wright first noticed McAvoy in 2001 while he was appearing in a small London play and, as he told Edge Media, “ever since then, I've been watching his work." McAvoy gained an international reputation with such memorable parts as the goat-man Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and as the idealistic doctor in The Last King of Scotland.

With Atonement, Wright finally had the perfect role to offer McAvoy. He wanted him to play Robbie Turner, the charismatic son of a servant whose life and romance with the daughter of the manor, Cecila (Keira Knightley), are turned upside down by a malicious lie. At first McAvoy found the character impossible to get inside. “His angelic kind of character was something I didn’t identify with because I’m not an angel,” McAvoy explained.

In crafting his acclaimed performance, McAvoy found a way to turn Robbie’s innocence into a mirror on the tragedy of World War II. In the film’s legendary tracking shot of the evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk beach, Empire’s Helen O'hara notes that “Wright keeps turning back to McAvoy’s face, as the best young British actor of our times reflects the weary horror of the day before the ships arrive.”

Get Atonement now at Amazon.

James McAvoy registers the horrors of war in Atonement

Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in Cold War Berlin in Atomic Blonde

"A hurricane in a storm."

In David Leitch’s upcoming spy thriller Atomic Blonde, McAvoy stars as David Percival, the MI6 station chief who may have spent too long fighting the Cold War in Berlin. When he partners with Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a spy dispatched to investigate the death of an undercover agent, their uneasy alliance makes for high-energy drama.

It’s another bravura performance that demonstrates McAvoy’s talent for exploring wild, dark characters. In Filth playing a rogue cop, “McAvoy’s go-for-broke performance is its own hurricane within the storm” notes Variety.

McAvoy takes on the 24 personalities of man with severe dissociative identity disorder in M. Night Shyamalan’s horror thriller Split.  As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers explains, “McAvoy, playing these characters for real, with everything he's got, as if they meant something. Thanks to him, they do.”

It’s a comment that applies to every film McAvoy has ever done, including Atomic Blonde, which opens July 28. As the punked-out, Jack Daniels-swigging agent who in MI6-speak has “gone feral,” McAvoy plays the role for all its worth. 

Atomic Blonde's restricted trailer

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