Split exclusive: James McAvoy on “Doing my job nine times in one movie”

We spoke to the Split star about M Night Shyamalan’s new film

It says a lot that no matter how many critical knockbacks he gets, M Night Shyamalan keeps getting back up. This time around, however, he’s showing signs that he might be returning to the form he demonstrated earlier on in his career via the likes of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, rather than his more recent follies like The Last Airbender and The Happening.

His latest outing, Split, is keeping everyone guessing. Starring James McAvoy as Kevin, a man suffering from a serious case of split-personality disorder – 23, to be precise – we first meet him as he abducts three teenage girls: Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), upon which his various sides, good and bad, start to emerge. We spoke to McAvoy about working together on what is potentially the director’s most ambitious outing to date…

You’re playing a lot of different personalities. Do you have a favourite part that you got to play?
Yeah, it’s a toss-up between Barry and Hedwig. I found Barry really easy to play, and Hedwig really difficult. Originally, it was really hard, but ultimately I had a lot of love for Hedwig. It’s always fun to get to play a child, but also playing someone that the audience thinks is really innocent and sweet, but then he’s actually got a little bit of a nasty thing about him too, which I quite liked.

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The signs are promising for Split, M Night Shyamalan’s latest movie.

Was playing different characters in one film different to playing them across different films?
Yeah, a little bit. People are like, “It must be so hard playing nine different characters”, and I was like, “I played like 100 different characters in my career, it’s just like doing my job nine times in one movie”.  So in terms of effort, yeah it was different and hard, but it was just what I always have to do.

The changes are the tricky part, but they’re also the most exciting part to play for an actor, and pretty exciting part for an audience to watch that happen: “Ooh, he’s gone into that one now”. That’s a pretty fascinating thing, and when I’ve watched people with DID switch or someone else take over, it’s a mesmeric thing to watch – an absolutely compelling moment.

Were you familiar with M Night Shyamalan’s films, and what do you think of him as a director?
I think he is one of the most prepared directors I’ve ever worked with. Night knows that script backwards – he knows every single shot in his head before he shoots it. Lots of directors spend that time previzing, shot listing, drawing sketches and sometimes spending hundreds of thousands of pounds doing so, and at the end of the day they don’t really use it.

He’s very particular, but because he knows the material inside out and he’s got such an incredibly well thought-out vision to the end full of glee, of complexity and detail, I feel very safe going with him: “I’ll go wherever you want me to go”. Even when I wasn’t sure about things, I’d be like “do you know what? You know this better than anybody, this is such your baby and I’ll do whatever you want me to do, and if it doesn’t work out we’ll try something else.”

Split will be released in cinemas on 20 January 2017. For all the latest movie news, pick up the new issue of SciFiNow.