James McAvoy on Accents, and Why ‘Voice’ Is More Important for Good Acting

If you know James McAvoy from his role (er, roles) in Glass, where he got ripped and played a man with multiple personalities, you might not have guessed that he’s Scottish—that’s how convincing his American accent was. As any actor (or anyone who has tried to do impressions) can tell you, that’s no small feat. But for the February Men’s Journal cover star, really understanding a character is far more important than making his voice sound one way or another.

“It’s more, what’s the key to feeling like you are that person?” he told Men’s Journal behind the scenes at our cover shoot.

For McAvoy, the best performances come when he’s really inhabiting a character. To do that, he explained, he has to find that character’s voice, which is different from nailing a particular accent: It’s about understanding who that person is and expressing it for the camera. Accents are secondary.

“I’d rather watch someone do a really bad accent,” he said, “but really inhabit the voice of the character they’re playing.”

Of course, stellar acting chops and great accent skills go well together, and it’s a pairing that McAvoy has down pat—just look at his success with a wide range of roles in films like Atonement, Split, and now Glass. But even he knows his limits. If you want a really solid American accent, there’s only one thing to do:

“Hire an American actor,” he said.

Get the scoop on how McAvoy approaches his roles (American or otherwise) in the video above, and check out his full profile in the February issue of Men’s Journal, on newsstands now.

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