James McAvoy talks Filth and Bruce Robertson

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JUNKETS. That’s what they’re known as in the business. The day film distributors gather the stars of their latest release together and schedule access for the press.

Most happen in London, usually in a swanky, top-dollar hotel, but over the last couple of weeks, two such events have taken place in the Capital.

James McAvoy in Filth. Pic: Comp

James McAvoy in Filth. Pic: Comp

Sunshine On Leith started the trend last week, while on Monday, it was the turn of Filth, the movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s long-thought unfilmable novel about a bent Edinburgh cop.

No swanky hotel for this affair, however, instead a library in the offices of Creative Scotland, housed in what was once the GPO.

Here, running late (as these days always do) and with his lunch in a salad box, waits the 34-year-old who is currently Scotland’s hottest screen talent, Hollywood A-lister James McAvoy.

As he tucks in to his meal, the quietly spoken star, who won millions of fans worldwide as the young Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, is relaxed as he reveals filming in the Capital is comparable with just one other location in the world, New York.

“What you get with Edinburgh is the same thing you get with New York. When you see New York in a film you just go, ‘Oh my god...’ It is just like a movie set. When you walk through the streets of New York, you feel like you are in a movie.

“While Edinburgh has never been captured as consistently as New York on film, you do have the same thing. Put a camera on a street in Edinburgh and you get that instant production value - the rocks, the stones, the buildings and the colour in the sky... it’s old, there’s history in it all. You get something more for your film for free basically, because of all of that.”

Even with a backdrop as spectacular and historic as Edinburgh, however, there’s no disguising the fact that filming on location is never as glamorous as it might appear.

“No matter where you are, the undeniable truth about filming is that it’s absolutely boring to watch,” says McAvoy.

Not that people are put off easily. Audiences gather wherever a camera appears.

“You might get the odd wee shout out or sarky comment but generally people are pretty cool,” he adds. “They want to have a wee look, then move on because they have better things to do, unless you happen to be around at the moment a big stunt is being performed,. There’s generally four or five hours before and four or five hours after each scene when, although there’s lots happening, to the casual observer there’s nothing going on.”

Filmed around the city, the iconic backdrop of the Grassmarket and Victoria Street grace many of Filth’s publicity shots.

The movie finds McAvoy playing Bruce Robertson, a bigoted and corrupt policeman. In line for promotion, he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Enlisted to solve a brutal murder and threatened by the aspirations of his colleagues, he sets about ensuring their ruin. As he sets his workmates against one and other by stealing their wives and exposing their secrets Bruce starts to loose himself in a web of deceit he can no longer control.

With his past slowly catching up on him - a missing wife, suspicious colleagues and a crippling drug habit - can he keep a grip long enough to disentangle himself from the filth?

It’s a role that has won McAvoy universal plaudits, a coming-of-age part showcasing his talent and cementing his status as the Scottish actor of his generation.

Still, McAvoy is modest when asked about creating such an extreme character - obscene, warped, insane, and depraved are just some of the words used to describe the movie’s content, but then it does carry an 18 certificate.

So what attracted him to the role? “It’s all about whether, as an actor, you can respond to the script,” he says. “You know you are onto a winner when you read the script and the narrative is really, really clear.

“When I finished reading Filth for the very first time, I closed it and went, ‘I know what I want to do with this character in pretty much every scene.’

“The biggest thing for me then was to read the script again, and again, and again... read it to the point that you don’t even need to learn your lines because you just know them. It’s what I always try to do, you just know your lines by accident.”

Learning lines is one thing, but then comes the challenge of colouring them, creating the character, discovering who is Bruce Robertson.

“I had to define what it is about him that makes him what he is; why is he so misogynistic, so racist, so homophobic? And you figure out that, of course, he’s not; he’s totally terrified of all these people. Most bad behaviour is sourced back to a form of fear and he’s afraid of everything, so he puts up this front to pretend he is strong.

“I realised that this was the key into showing why his brain was falling apart - he’s mentally ill. His misogyny, racism and homophobia are symptoms of his illness.

“I’m not trying to justify it, or say it’s okay, but it is an interesting thing when you are told ‘this guy is despicable... this guy is despicable... this guy is despicable...’ and now we are going to ask you to understand why he is despicable.”

To get into the mindset of his character, McAvoy asked himself what would happen if fear overcame him.

“We all have our own individual fears and they can overwhelm anybody at anytime,” he says. “I suppose the rational barrier between mental health and mental infirmity is whether or not we succumb to our fears.

“I asked myself what would happen if I gave into my fears, like not being able to continue working, not being able to provide from my family ten years from now.

“What if my fears took control of me and I got into that ever downward spiral of thinking that is linked not only to depression but also to mania - which is key to the movie, because it’s not just about a guy with bi-polarism, it’s about a guy who is manic and has raging delusions.

“Now I don’t have the same fears as Bruce, but I can imagine that I would come off the rails quite quickly. So the only imagining I had to do was relocate my fears and expand the inferiority complex that nearly every single person has to some tiny wee extent - it’s just that his is raging.

“It’s massive to the point that he has created this alter-ego who actually isn’t him, just to mask that he feels inferior to everybody and every thing.”

With the next interviewer waiting their turn it’s time to wind up today’s chat, but there’s no doubt that Bruce Robertson is a character McAvoy and cinemagoers everywhere will be talking about for a long time to come.

Filth goes on general release in cinemas tomorrow