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Becoming James
McAvoy's latest premieres in London...

05 March 2007  |  Written by   

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It’s been only seven days since the world last caught a glimpse of James McAvoy. A week ago, he took the stage at the Kodak Theatre, given the task of presenting one of those little gold men to a happily smiling winner. But now that the pre/during/post-Oscar celebrations have come to an end and the streets of Hollywood are left littered with champagne corks and nasty hangovers, the star of Becoming Jane is straight back to work. Tonight, the Odeon West End is playing host to the world premiere of this new Jane Austen biopic and its leading light is due to sashay down the red carpet, greet his fans, pose for the photographers and head for the cinema. But not before he’s had a chat with Empire
“Ms. Anne Hathaway is currently filming in British Columbia", revealed McAvoy when asked to comment on the curious absence of Austen herself: "I can’t remember what film she’s doing…it’s probably rubbish [laughs]. No, I’m sure she’s away being brilliant somewhere."
“The Oscars were very, very Oscar-y”, added a half-drenched McAvoy: “Lots of glitz and lots of stars. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy those kind of things, but I did enjoy that one. I got to see Beyoncé Knowles singing about ten feet away from me, which was very exciting. Ellen DeGeneres was funny and Forrest won…so that was good.” And how does tonight’s rain-swept event compare to the 79th Academy Awards? “Well, this is very nice, very unexpected and it’s always great to see people coming out to support a British film.” “It’s excellent”, agreed director Julian Jerrold. “It’s raining a little too much, but that’s very English. And very appropriate for Jane Austen.”
The weather may be incrementally apt, but Becoming Jane is not your standard period drama. Focussing on the early life of Austen, the movie tells the tale of the writer’s relationship with mischievous London cad, Tom Lefroy (McAvoy). Based heavily on John Spence’s revelatory biography, the movie sees a young Jane (Hathaway) torn between her burning passion for non-conformist Lefroy and society’s imposed marital conventions. As one of England’s most heralded literary figures, the decision to cast a Brooklyn-born twenty-four year old in the lead role was always going stir up controversy: “There’s always going to be a wary reaction when you cast an American in such an iconic English part, but when people see the film I think they’ll be convinced by it”, said Jerrold. “Anne was so committed to the part and she had done a great deal of homework – there was really no choice.”
The director’s opinion was seconded by his leading actor: “That reaction is fairly expected, but I don’t really care. Look at me - I’ve only played two Scottish people in the last seven years. When you see a British person playing a big American icon, nobody bats an eyelid, so I’m really not quite sure why everybody gets so annoyed.” “I think it was tremendously brave”, added co-star Anna Maxwell-Martin. “We were all taken aback in the first week of rehearsals, because she knew far more about the subject than the rest of us. She was quoting Jane Austen left, right and centre. And when we got on set, you could see her growing daily.”

Of course, the exact details of Lefroy’s dalliances with the young Austen and the supposed influence he had on her early work, is mostly speculation: “Well, we can’t really say if it’s accurate or not, because most of the information we have about Jane starts much later – there’s a blank spot in this period of her life”, explained McAvoy. “But she definitely had a very strong relationship with this young man. And what’s very interesting is that shortly after their engagement became a possibility, she burnt all the letters he’d sent her. It’s all worth investigating.”
With the audience seated and the introductions about to begin, the cast were hurried into the jam-packed auditorium. But there’s one persistent James McAvoy rumour that just won’t go away and one Empire couldn’t resist pursuing. Will he be spending Christmas 2008 aboard the U.S.S Enterprise in JJ Abrams Star Trek XI? “No. There’s no truth in the Star Trek rumours. I am a Trekkie, but no – absolutely not.” And if he was offered a part…any part? “Hmmm [smiling]…I’d have to see.”
Becoming Jane is in cinemas from Friday (March 9)

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