By: Donna Freydkin
We defy you to keep a straight face while talking to Scottish actor James McAvoy.
"I love innuendo," he jokes.
The cut-up, who has a devilish sense of humor, has the kind of acting career most only dream of. On the one hand, he gets to appear in emotionally-charged fare like the 2007's "Atonement" and 2014's searing "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," opposite Jessica Chastain. Plus, he played none other than Macbeth in London's West End in 2013.
And on the flip side, there's his equally passionate work as young Professor Charles Xavier in the "X-Men" films, starting with the 2011 "X-Men: First Class," followed up by "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and now, "X-Men: Apocalypse." This time, his professor is full of optimism and goodwill, a teacher running a school for mutants and still hopeful about humanity -- until faced with the immortal monster Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who's seemingly all-powerful.
Balancing franchises with indies has paid off, says McAvoy.
"It's given me a ton of freedom," says McAvoy.
Meaning that he can be in "independent movies that are hard to get made. For me personally it's given me the opportunity to be fulfilled and keep stretching myself and exploring not only different kinds of stories and the different kind of actor that I can be."
He and Michael Fassbender, as Magneto, are the veterans of the franchise. So given the newcomers present in "Apocalypse," did McAvoy dispense any -- "alcohol?" he interrupts with a laugh. "I did actually. Did I dispense any tips? I don't think so. Michael and I are the elder statesmen. I have gray hair now, check it out. I didn't before I shaved my head. And it grew back nine months later and it's gray."
But in all seriousness, the newcomers "were all pretty cool," says McAvoy. "Michael and I, we try to lead by example anyway. They're a cool, mature bunch."
His character is wheelchair-bound, which to McAvoy is an integral part of his performance.
"Your physical life as an actor usually just happens subconsciously. I am quite a physical actor," says McAvoy. "When you're fully able-bodied, you do take it for granted. The way you negotiate a room and the people around you, there's an authenticity to that, that I don't have to struggle to find."
Playing Xavier has another upside. And it's a biggie. It's given him time off to be a dad to son Brendan, who's based in the United Kingdom, along with McAvoy. His son knows that dad plays the iconic sage of the mutants.
"He does understand. He kinds of gets it," says McAvoy.
Emphasis on kind of. "He likes the pretend superheroes that we invent ourselves, more than the real ones. We make trading cards with our own made-up superheroes," says McAvoy.