James McAvoy plays 23 personalities in Split, and makes it all seem like a piece of cake
When James McAvoy first met Manoj Night Shyamalan for a script reading of Split, the first thing he asked was the name of the character he would be portraying.Shyamalan refused to reveal the name, and asked him to read the script, instead.
McAvoy admits to immediately being intrigued with the story’s many twists and turns. “I read the first 10 pages and thought, ‘Wow, what is this?’ Then I read the next 10 pages and thought, ‘What is that?’” he says, adding, “It felt like I was being continually confronted with something completely different. That’s the joy of what Night does so well. He keeps the audience on their toes trying to figure out what the film is — are we watching a thriller, a psychological drama, horror, sci-fi or something supernatural? This film is all of those genres.”
Shyamalan and McAvoy worked closely to ensure the actor’s performance remained singular, even as he transformed into each role with authenticity. McAvoy says, “Night is demanding and almost forensic in what he wants you to do. He has a specific idea of what he wants, yet he’s extremely collaborative and giving.”
Changing colours and characters, sometimes within the same shot, was particularly demanding. “You hope the audience will buy you as one character,” McAvoy explains.“Then you need them to buy you as this next persona and make that transition interesting without alienating viewers.”
The role presented the seasoned actor with an extraordinary opportunity. “I enjoyed playing each character, because as an actor you rarely get the chance to do something like this. It’s exciting to radically change what you’re thinking and who you are,”
Split releases today.
— Team Indulge