Fear of Fame

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

NEW YORK James McAvoy needs a J-O-B. Unemployed and under pressure, the Scottish actor hasn't worked since the summer. "I have nothing in the pipeline," he says. "Nothing."

On one of McAvoy's most recent jobs, he made out with the minxy Keira Knightley. Good work if you can get it!


McAvoy won't actually have a problem getting himself hired again. Especially not with so many people suddenly stringing "McAvoy" and "Oscar contender" together in sentences. Who needs references when you have Academy Award buzz? (The buzzed-about film: "Atonement," an adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel opening Friday.)

What McAvoy does need is answers. He's vexed by questions he never thought he'd consider, in a profession he wound up in almost by accident, after following a boyhood crush to youth theater.

How do you follow a job so exceptionally well done that people are tripping over themselves to praise you? How do you avoid tripping over yourself when suddenly everybody wants you to be in their films? Oh, the angst!

"I am slightly freaked out about it, if I'm being honest," he says. "I really didn't think I was going to work [as an actor]. So the fact that anybody is saying nice things about me is amazing." But, he says, he has choices now, and he's fearful of making the wrong one, of picking the wrong project. "If I don't get it right next time, then it's going to make my fall even bigger."

* * *

This is life on the precipice of great success. This is the freaky terror of being a fairly regular guy when suddenly People magazine includes you in its "Sexiest Men Alive" issue with Matt and Brad.

In "Atonement," McAvoy plays Robbie Turner, an idealistic, upwardly mobile English housekeeper's son whose life takes a ruinous turn when he's accused of a crime he didn't commit.

A gorgeously rendered period piece (Europe, 1930s), "Atonement" triggered a droolfest when it played on the international festival circuit. So, too, did McAvoy's pitch-perfect performance; the director of the Venice Film Festival gushed that McAvoy, at 28, is one of the finest acting talents in world cinema.

Just who is this James McAvoy who has Those Who Closely Follow Cinema all agog?

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