Fans of actor Scottish James McAvoy are in for a shock when they see his new film Filth.
After coming to international attention playing the kindly Mr. Tumnus in Andrew Adamson's New Zealand-shot epic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, McAvoy has played his fair share of dashing leading men in everything from 2007's Atonement to 2011's X-Men: First Class.
But this year has seen the Scot appear in a series of increasingly intense roles, starting with the London-set action thriller Welcome To The Punch, continuing with Danny Boyle's subversive Trance and culminating with Filth, a jet-black comedy thriller based on the 1998 novel by Scottish writer Irvine Welsh, of Trainspotting fame.
McAvoy stars as a sickly, booze-addled, drug-addicted, slovenly corrupt cop whose attempts to secure a promotion entail all sorts of despicable acts towards his friends, co-workers and himself.
It's a far cry from the way we're used to seeing McAvoy on screen, and when Living spoke to him on the phone, I asked if he had made a conscious decision to play three image-challenging roles in a row.
"It's kind of just turned out that way to be honest with you. It's something I've definitely been keen to explore, but you only really get to do the jobs that you're offered. And the jobs that I've been offered over the last year or so all seem to be about people who are sort of f**ked up and quite mentally ill in a lot of ways. I've really enjoyed it!
"It's also something to do with the fact that at 32, 33, 34-years-old, the parts start to become more interesting. After first playing younger guys who become men throughout the course of the film, you start playing people who already are who they're always going to be. It's also when Jesus died, 33. That's the time when the most amazing things are gonna happen to you."
Despite the sometimes unbelievably awful things that occur in Filth, McAvoy appreciated the chance to flex his funny bone.
"This kind of movie, it's abusive and horrible, but it can also be quite funny. It's got Irvine's sense of humour - abusive at times, and twisted, but I love it. My grandad in particular thought it was one of the funniest films he's seen."
Did the actor try to make this reprehensible character likable?
"I just tried to make him interesting. Not that he wasn't interesting on the page, but it was my job to help get that out. You make the audience laugh, then you can disarm them by making them like him for a moment; then you go and do something really awful and alienate them again. You push them away and pull them towards you."
It must've been fun to delve into such an extreme mental space?
"I got to do my job in an extreme way on this film, so yeah, it was fun. Because I got to play somebody who thought he was happy one minute, then incredibly suicidal the next, then gleefully abusive and on top of the world the next. And that's happening basically every 20 seconds. That's what made it fun for me, the acting acrobatics of it."
Adopting the character's seedy physical appearance required extra commitment on the actor's part. "I ate too much and I drank too much and did daft stupid things like rubbing my eyes before every take so they would be bloodshot."
Although McAvoy hasn't been back down this way since making Narnia, he is full of positive memories of our fair shores. "I had such an amazing time on that gig ... I only had about a month's worth of work over that six months. I just went off hiking and trekking, I was up in the Coromandel Peninsula one week; then I'd be down in Arthur's Pass the next, then I'd go back and do a week on Narnia."
Next for the actor is the blockbuster sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past. "I'm looking forward to it. Again, Professor X, he's got some issues he needs to figure out."
Filth is screening now.