The only thing James McAvoy's recent leading roles have had in common is kissing scenes with some of Hollywood's hottest female stars.
First there was the forbidden affair with Kerry Washington in "The Last King of Scotland" (2006). Then there was the steamy library scene and driveway embrace with Kiera Knightly in "Atonement" (2007). Now starring in the upcoming film "Wanted," McAvoy can be seen locking lips with sultry assassin Angelina Jolie.
The serious yet soft-spoken Scotsman insists it was not the leading ladies that hooked him on the films, but rather the thrill of trying something new.
"I read 'Wanted' and I thought this is completely different from anything I've ever done, which is always attractive," McAvoy told Peter Travers, host of ABC News Now's "Popcorn."
Tune in to ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers" at 8:35 EST to watch the full interview.
With "Wanted," the 29-year-old actor has indeed taken a daring leap into yet a new genre — that of big-budget, sci-fi action thriller, albeit a sharp-witted one.
His character, Wesley Gibson, is not your average action star either. "He's clinically depressed. … His girlfriend is having sex with his best friend but he just can't bring himself to do anything about it," he said.
All that changes when Angelina Jolie enters as Fox, and tells Wesley that his father, whom he thought had been dead his whole life, was actually killed just that day. And the guy who killed his father is now coming after him. The only way out, she explains, is to join her fraternity of assassins and train to kill the culprit himself.
The ancient fraternity, lead by Morgan Freeman as Sloan, exists to carry out fate's missions that they receive by deciphering code from a loom. Though the premise is far flung, the movie also holds enough real-life relatable grit to keep any adult audience member amused.
"One of the nicest things about this film is that it really supplies one of the adult fantasies of giving the big 'f-you' moment to your boss and, as fantastic as this film is, as ridiculous and over the top as the action gets, there's always moments in the film where I think they help you identify with the character," McAvoy said.
Thanks to Jolie's Fox and the fraternity, mid-way through the movie Wesley finally builds up the self-respect to tell his boss, best friend and girlfriend to f--- off. The scene is so satisfying it makes the victory of Jerry McGuire's office exit seem petty.
"Wanted" is filled with such moments when you can't but help cheer for McAvoy's character. Most of the time, though. it's in the midst of adrenaline-packed, stunningly creative stunts, such as one where he flips his car through the air to shoot a man through his sunroof, and peels away with a grin.
"He starts off in a very interesting and depressed place, and he ends up in a very interesting psychopathic place," McAvoy said of his character with a laugh. "I think what's the most interesting thing about the film is how he gets from one to the other. … I do feel like the progression is quite well integrated, it's the whole movie of change."
By the end of the film this once listless cubicle rat evolves into a true action hero, having picked up a newfound sense of nobility and sex appeal along the way. Jolie's soft and steely performance only helps him get there faster.
McAvoy, who says he's "emotionally" not a gym rat, trained rigorously for the role, including an hour each day of kickboxing with his world champion stunt double and months of protein shakes, which he doesn't advise. "They are horrible and they make your bottom smell rather strange," he told Travers.
For this trained actor who has spent most of his career doing art house or drama, it's not surprising that the toughest part of "Wanted" for him was actually the dialogue of an action movie and not the stunts.
"It was Harrison Ford, I think, who said 'ya know you can write it but you can't say it.' … Sometimes that is true because it's just such an unbelievable environment. … When you're doing it you're like, 'man, how do I commit to this' and you almost have to commit to it more than you commit to contemporary realism and so I found that quite interesting."
Co-Starring Angelina Jolie, It's Just a Job
Though he has co-starred alongside several of Hollywood's biggest stars, almost no one tops Jolie's status. If that weren't pressure enough, their first day onset together they filmed the "kiss scene."
"It was strange," he said.