McAvoy feels passion after Atonement

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James McAvoy seems like a reasonable and genial young actor, but dont get him started on the subject of Briony Tallis. Even the mention of her name makes him mad.

James McAvoy seems like a reasonable and genial young actor, but dont get him started on the subject of Briony Tallis. Even the mention of her name makes him mad.

Im really angry at Briony, McAvoy was saying in a telephone interview from London the other day. I dont forgive her. He went into a long rant about the egotism of children - Briony is only 13 years old - but even given that, Briony is different, he says. Shes the kind of person who stays self-involved all of her life.

Theres no one she loves as much as she loves herself. She glorifies her own angst.

The object of this vituperation is not around to defend herself because, in most senses, she does not exist. Briony is a character in Atonement, the Second World War tragedy in which the interference of a young girl changes the lives of two lovers, played by McAvoy and Keira Knightley, causing a greater calamity than the war itself.

Atonement is based on the novel by Ian McEwan in which the fulcrum of the drama is a misunderstanding. Briony (newcomer Saoirse Ronan), a headstrong rich girl living in an English mansion, misinterprets the relationship between her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the housekeepers son Robbie (McAvoy): their innocent love seems corrupt. She tells a lie that destroys several lives and then returns at the end of the film (now played by Vanessa Redgrave) to try to make amends.

You can choose to accept the closure the film offers you, I think, or you can go, No f-ing way, McAvoy says in his rich Scots accent. She is a maniacal, egotistical maniac and she is guilty as sin. And I like that. Thats what I want the audience to feel. Thats the way I feel.

The extent of McAvoys passion is a reflection of both the complex story and the actors own style.

Hes a very emotional kind of guy, and he wears his heart on his sleeve, which I love about him, says Joe Wright, the director of Atonement. A lot of actors play their cards very close to their chest and James doesnt do that much. So he was able to act those emotions quite simply.

Atonement reunited Wright with Knightley, whom he directed to an Oscar nomination for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in his first film, Pride & Prejudice (2005). He says his first idea was to cast her as Briony because I still imagined her as the girl who played Lizzie Bennet. And then I met up with her at a function and shed changed into a proper woman and I thought it would be exciting to try to capture that change.

Organizations: Pride & Prejudice

Geographic location: London

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