Onscreen for nearly a decade at the time he was cast in director Kevin McDonald's The Last King of Scotland, Glasgow-born actor James McAvoy seemed to many an overnight sensation. The fact is, however, that the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama alumnus had already formed the foundation of an enduring career at the time he was charged with holding his own opposite the formidable -- and, eventually, Oscar-winning -- Forest Whitaker.
McAvoy's parents divorced when he was just seven years old. In the aftermath, he and his mother would go to live with his grandparents in Glasgow's housing projects, with the youngster's notable interest in stage and film work eventually leading him to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. At 16, McAvoy made his professional acting debut in the child abuse drama The Near Room, with a role in the long-running British crime drama The Bill following in short order. On the heels of a part in 2001's Emmy Award-winning WWII miniseries Band of Brothers, McAvoy caught the eye of critics in the small-screen adaptation White Teeth before being cast in a pivotal role in the sci-fi effort Children of Dune.
While roles in such U.K. television dramas as Early Doors, Shameless, and State of Play found McAvoy growing increasingly comfortable on the small screen, feature performances in Bright Young Things, Wimbledon, and Inside I'm Dancing (aka, Rory O'Shea Was Here) brought him to the attention of Hollywood. In 2005, the actor went global in a very big way with a pivotal appearance as Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But it was his Last King role the following year, as a hard-partying doctor who gradually becomes a captive to one of the 20th century's most notorious dictators, that truly propelled him to international acclaim.
With his star-making role in The Last King of Scotland, McAvoy became not only a critical darling, but a serious dramatic talent whose future appeared to hold great things as well. Indeed, his follow-ups to Last King proved to feature him in one lead role after another. He romanced Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a story about the young Jane Austen; anguished over his separation from Keira Knightley in the Oscar-nominated WWII-era romance Atonement; and fell unexpectedly in love with Christina Ricci in the fantasy Penelope. After this string of romantic leading-man roles, McAvoy did an about-face and co-starred as a reluctant but innately talented assassin in the action-packed thriller Wanted opposite Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman. He had the lead role in 2009's drama The Last Station, and played a layer in the historical drama The Conspirator one year later. He voiced the part of Gnomeo in the animated family film Gnomeo & Juliet in 2011, and that same year he was cast as the young Professor X in the action spectacle X-Men: First Class. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi