james mcavoyEarlier this year, James McAvoy dazzled audiences as the psychic mutant Charles Xavier (known mostly by his cool superhero moniker Professor X) in the blockbuster "X-Men: Days of Future Past." In that movie, he was on one side of an embittered relationship with the leader of the mutant uprising, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and the movie tried, with varying degrees of success, to show both sides of that relationship (and point-of-view).

Similarly, McAvoy returns to cinemas this week in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them." Now, when the film played the Toronto International Film Festival last year and Cannes this year, it was split into two halves: "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him" and "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her." The "Him" chapter told the story of a crumbling relationship from McAvoy's perspective, while "Her" was completely devoted to the point-of-view of his ex-wife, played by always-wonderful Jessica Chastain. It's like the Magneto/Professor X schism writ large (or is it small?) Either way, there are no giant killer robots. Take that as you will.

For the movie's initial theatrical release, the two halves have been condensed, creating "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them," with the two separate films being released theatrically at a later date. So, yes, there are three versions of "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" -- but "Them" will fill you up, if you're at least curious. The "Them" version is full of emotionally adroit performances, nimble storytelling, and gorgeous photography of both Manhattan and (huzzah!) suburban Connecticut.

We got a chance to talk to McAvoy about how he played the character in each version of the movie, which of his movies he'd like to see from the opposite perspective, what it was like shooting his "Muppets Most Wanted" cameo, and how Fassbender is listed in his phone (they're besties). We also try to squeeze info out of him about two big movies he's working on -- "X-Men: Apocalypse" and Fox's retelling of "Victor Frankenstein." It's alive!

Moviefone: The movie was always conceived as being in these two parts. Now there's a shortened version. Do you have any particular feelings about that?

James McAvoy: I'm really proud of it. I think it's really good. It's not what we set out to do. But I'm not sure that any movie I've ever done has been what we set out to do. You've got to accept what the movie wants to become. And what's really good is that we still have the two "Him" and "Her" versions, which are coming out later. I think the distribution model is exciting and dynamic and it's always, just artistically, to have those two separate points-of-view to the ending of a relationship, is really interesting. It's something that the industry are really excited about. But to ask somebody who goes to the cinema to dip into their pocket twice a month, that can cost up to $20 or whatever, you've got to reach out and help an audience find your movie. By combining the movies, you still get the most important thing, which is this story and it's a great story and a really moving story but you save the thing that goes on top of the big story, which is the subjective point of views on the film, and you save that for people who have the inclination, the passion, and the money. And that's what's great.

Did your approach to playing the same character change in each half of the movie, or was it an established, consistent character?

You're not playing Jekyll and Hyde, but you are playing it differently in her movie than in yours. In your movie, you're in charge and it's your characterization and it's up to you. In her movie, you're at the whim of her memory and her imagination. How she remembers that night, how she imagines that night went down. And the movie is really a battle of whose memory is right or whose perspective is more truthful. So I'll be in her version of the film doing things that honestly I wouldn't do in my version because I don't think I'd do those things. But it was fine because you were there to serve her version of things. It was very weird and a very exciting and fun thing to do.

What was it like collaborating with Jessica [Chastain]?

We talked a lot about the bit where it's revealed that I have transgressed. And in my movie I reveal it. I can't take it, and I have to man up and fess up. But in her movie, we were quite keen to reverse that and I don't fess up, she just guesses. She remembers it that she guesses that I've done this terrible thing, whereas in my version I man up and try to have some sort of honor. It's an interesting thing to play because so many couples have that argument. Like "no, no, no, I told you that..." How two people who are so close and can spend so much of their life together can remember things so incredibly differently and interpret things so incredibly differently is really fascinating to me.

And you have a scene with the legendary Isabelle Huppert. What was that like?

Unfortunately, I only get one scene with her but let me tell you, it was awesome. And also, in the script, it wasn't written that she plays it all slutty and stuff. But she totally played it all sexy and it was brilliant. I was getting very hot under the collar. That was weird. I didn't expect that -- to have Jessica's mom making eyes at you. It was ballsy. She's got great balls.

Of all the movies you've done, what movie do you think would be cool to see from the opposite perspective?

Oh wow... Maybe "Wanted." Because Morgan Freeman is in it and you could do it from his perspective... simply because he's the coolest f*cking dude ever. It'd be cool to just see it from his point-of-view. Also because he's the bad guy and you don't know it for the whole movie so that could be quite fun just watching him rubbing his hands together and going "Mwa ha ha." But primarily because he's so cool.

You were in another movie earlier this year that is obviously just as important -- "Muppets Most Wanted." What was that experience like? Was it everything you hoped it would be?

Thank you. It's totally the pinnacle of my career. It was intense, it was short, it was bittersweet, it was nerve-inducing, I learned a lot. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it but I came out on the other side of it a stronger actor. You know, when you work with somebody like Sam the Eagle, you really know that you've been in the ring with a professional.

I know that you and Michael Fassbender are BFFs. What is he under in your cell phone?

Oooo... just "Fass." It's not a nickname. It's just what he's in my phone as.

You guys were just in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" this year, and you're already gearing up for the third one. How is that looking?

I've seen and heard nothing. I've been too busy doing all of the other things at the moment. Last time out [writer/producer] Simon Kinberg was really cool and really inclusive with his actors. And he tells me he's going to be doing that again. So I'm sure he'll be reaching out at some point and we'll have a chat and exchange ideas.

Another cool thing you've got coming up is the "Victor Frankenstein" movie. You play the title role and I was wondering what your take on the character was.

The only thing I can definitely take from the book is that he's very much an addict -- he's obsessed and he's got a very maniacal desire to create life but also to push back scientific and medical boundaries. And he has contempt for people who say it can't be done. He's possessed. In the book, there's this thing where he comes back and he's like, "Well, I'm not crazy anymore." Whereas in this film we don't do that. We don't magically cure him in the film and make him chilled out halfway through and make him a well-rounded person who's got to deal with the fallout of his creation.

So he's a freak the whole time?

Well, he's not a freak... Actually, he is quite mental the whole time. So that's the only thing that's really different in terms of my character versus what you'd maybe get in the book. It's cool because the book was incredibly controversial in its time. And it's really hard to be controversial now without trying to hard. So we've got to try and do things that will make people feel uncomfortable, we've got to do things that make people worried a little bit when they're watching it, in the same way that people felt while reading it when it first came out. It was a massive controversy and a religious affront. So how do we do that in a world where it's very hard to get people to raise their eyebrows and if they do invariably they think you're trying to hard. So what you do is go there with the limits to which characters will push themselves. And that's how we make it as extreme as the book.

Do you get to say, "It's alive, it's alive"?

Um... Yes. I do. And it was brilliant. I was so stressed about that. There's two nods to the other movies. There's a nod to "Flash Gordon," strangely. And there's also a nod to "Young Frankenstein" as well. I don't know if they'll stay in the movie because it might take people out of the story a little bit. But we did them on the day.

And "Victor Frankenstein" is oddly like "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" because it's from Igor's point of view, right?

Yes. Exactly.

"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" is in theaters Friday, September 12.

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Movie Poster
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
In Theaters on September 12, 2014

Following the death of their child, a woman (Jessica Chastain) leaves her husband (James McAvoy) and... Read More

categories Interviews, Movies