The Hottest Ugly Actor: James McAvoy

One of this generation’s most incredible actors is the phenomenal ugly actor James McAvoy. When I say “ugly” I’m talking about someone who plays a character with conviction and integrity. Telling the truth about that character and their world, no matter what. This means they can’t be focused on what they look like. They can’t be focused on whether or not their hair is falling in the right way, or if their wardrobe is hanging just right. Their entire focus is on living believably.

Through the past few years I’ve shared some of my favourite ugly actors with you. Like Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, and Emily Blunt to name a few. I’m delighted to add James McAvoy to the best of the best!


I’m a little obsessed with these films at the moment. I’ve watched Split three times in the last month. Partially because I’m a fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s Eastrail 177 Universe, and partially because I’m fascinated by the multiple characters McAvoy jumps between. Especially scenes where he has to jump between several in the span of seconds.

My absolute favourite ugly moment happens in Split. Dennis, who’s pretending to be Barry (one of Kevin Wendle Crumb’s 23 personalities) is visiting Dr. Fletcher and she figures out it’s not Barry who sits opposite her but Dennis, and in a moment of raw vulnerability Dennis reveals himself to her.

Every time I watch this scene I am blown away by McAvoy’s subtle performance. From the reaction of hearing about Kevin’s past abuse, to struggling against the emotion of hearing Dr. Fletcher say she doesn’t think he’s evil, to finally admitting he is Dennis, it’s a scene I could watch over and over again to break down this ugly moment.

In one interview, McAvoy mentioned spending time with medical professionals who gave him some insight to DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), but interestingly, he did most of his prep work for Split by watching vlogs and YouTube videos of those who have DID and what their day to day life is like. This gives us some insight into the one month of prep he had for the role, but man alive, I’d love to pick McAvoy’s brain on how he prepared for this scene in particular.


Ok getting on a soap-box for five seconds. I don’t think we give actors who work in sci-fi and fantasy movies enough credit. Many times they’re shoved in a green room and told to act with a ball shoved on a stick at the right eye level. When it’s done well, the acting is so seamless we often don’t think twice about them talking to a CGI character.  So, while many would want to give examples of ugly acting from Academy award winning films, I think we should recognise the full body of their work. Which is why I’ve picked the X-men franchise for my last ugly point on McAvoy.

In X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days Of Future Past the character arc of Professor X is full of heartbreak and overcoming obstacles, which McAvoy presents with incredible ugliness.

The heartbreak in telling Erik the truth at the end of First Class is done with conviction. You can see McAvoy’s thought-process in having to tell his friend the ugly truth about his choices. And in Days Of Future Past, McAvoy doesn’t shy away from showing the ugliness of someone who’s lost all hope. We see a side of Professor X that scares us because he doesn’t seem to care and anytime he starts to care he hides it by taking drugs. It’s an ugly thing to watch, but it’s done well. McAvoy’s done his homework and invests in the character wholeheartedly and we love him for it.

“Erik. Please … She didn’t do this, Erik … You did.” – Charles Xavier, X-Men: First Class

What makes his portrayal even more interesting to watch is hearing how he prepared for it. In one interview, McAvoy mentioned watching everything he could of Patrick Stewart’s early work, so that he knew how to bring some of Stewart to his own take on Xavier. Interestingly, he found what he needed by searching YouTube, yet again. Which just goes to show the wealth of information out there for us actors to make the roles we take on even more compelling.

Learn from this ugly actor, it’s all about doing the homework people.

There are many other ugly acting moments from McAvoy — The Last King Of Scotland, Becoming Jane, and Inside I’m Dancing to name a few. This is one actor who has much to show us yet and I for one can’t wait to see the characters he brings to life.

Do you have a favourite McAvoy ugly acting moment I didn’t mention? Leave a comment with your suggestions, so the rest of this film community can be sure to watch it.


  • Charis Joy Jackson

    Producer, Director, Writer, Actress

    Charis Joy Jackson is a writer, director, producer and teacher working with The Initiative Production Company. During the day she makes movies and in her spare time writes short stories and novel. She's a self-proclaimed nerd who wishes she could live in Hobbiton. You can follow her on Instagram @charisjoyjackson

  • Show Comments

  • liza

    Trance by Danny Boyle?

    • The Initiative Production Company

      Thanks for the suggestion, Liza! I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this one yet! Definitely, need to watch it.
      – Charis

Comments are closed.


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