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James McAvoy - Biography

Scotland-born James McAvoy is a huge star from blockbusters to the theatre

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James McAvoy is a popular actor who rose to fame with roles including Shameless and Becoming Jane, and went on to become one of Hollywood's most prolific A-listers, having starred in the X-Men franchise, Split and the hit TV series His Dark Materials. 

james mcavoy london home© Photo: Getty Images
James McAvoy at the Dark Phoenix premiere

James McAvoy's early life

The charismatic Glaswegian actor had actually intended joining the navy or the priesthood before he stumbled upon acting as a career. James was 16 when the actor and director David Hayman visited St Thomas Aquinas school in Drumchapel to give a talk on Shakespeare and ended up being heckled by some class troublemakers. 

"I felt bad for him," recalls James. "So I went up at the end and said, 'Thanks very much. That was very interesting,' and asked him if I could make the tea, do some work experience, if he was ever doing another film." It was, he says, the first time he'd ever taken a responsibility like that upon himself - and it paid off. Four months later David called and asked if he'd like to audition for a part. It was the role of pimp's son Kevin in 1995's The Near Room. Giving something a try and seeing what happens is a practical trait he learned from his maternal grandparents. 

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James McAvoy rose to fame with roles in Wimbledon and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

"'Have a go, son' was always their motto, and I have done," he previously revealed. The senior couple brought up James - born April 21, 1979 - and his sister Joy on a Glasgow housing estate. They instilled a strong work ethic in the youngster, and so when a place came up at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama James continued doing the early shift at Sainsbury's bakery, where he was a trainee confectioner, to earn his keep. At 20 the aspiring thesp moved to London and hit the auditions circuit. 

James McAvoy's early career

James landed a small part in the 2001 WWII mini-series Band Of Brothers and appeared at London's Donmar Warehouse in Privates On Parade, where his potential was spotted by director Sam Mendes. Other small screen roles followed, including The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Foyles War and Children of Dune

james mcavoy© Photo: BBC
James in His Dark Materials

In 2003 he featured in Stephen Fry film Bright Young Things and was cast in two TV series, the comedy Early Doors and the award-winning drama State Of Play. The following year he made his big screen debut in Paul Bettany's rom-com Wimbledon and landed a part in the gritty comedy Shameless, where he won plaudits for his performance as the charismatic Steve. 

Breakthrough roles 

Cast as the faun Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, James further cemented his Hollywood credentials by playing a fictional physician to Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland,  and the lead in 2006 coming-of-age drama Starter For Ten. He went on to become a household name as the romantic lead Robbie in Atonement. The heartbreaking role rarned him a Golden Globe nod. 

James with Keira Knightley in Atonement

"He's the favourite character I have ever played," James revealed in September 2007. "I love him dearly. I wish I was him."After a plethora of 'serious' roles the actor had the chance to explore a new genre when he was cast alongside Angelina Jolie in sci-fi action flick Wanted as a geek who becomes a deadly assassin. Despite an "epic snog" with Angelina, which he describes as "kind of weird", and star billing, he still doesn't see himself as a fully paid-up member of the A-list. "But I take a lot of pride in being myself. I'm comfortable with who I am," he says.

James McAvoy's personal life 

James tied the knot with his on-screen Shameless love interest Anne-Marie Duff. They married in 2006, the same year James was recognised with a rising star BAFTA, and made a pact never to talk publicly about their relationship. However, the pair split in 2016, citing irreconcilable differences. They share one son who was born in 2010. The actor went on to wed his partner Lisa Liberati in 2022. The pair met on the set of M. Night Shyamalan's film Split, where Lisa worked as the director's assistant. 

James McAvoy Lisa Liberati pose at Met Gala© Getty
James McAvoy and Lisa Liberati attend the 2023 Met Gala

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