Monday, May 7, 2007

Fruits of "socialist democracy" indeed?

In the May 6 New York Times, I found a refreshing article about an actor, James McAvoy, who seems to have discovered, and as Karen Durbin's piece is titled, "How to Leap Into Fame and Keep Your Head." Before I read it, I noted to Layne a letter in the LA Times by an astute fellow peruser of both papers. The writer had commented that if friends asked her to sum up the intellectual difference between the two cities in their cultural attainments and literary sophistication, she simply invited her interlocutors to place side by side the two papers' Book Reviews. I rest my case, adding only that I mentioned to my own interlocutor moments before reading that below how she need not bother with the Calendar section of the LAT as it was only puff pieces about blockbusters written by flacks. Why, I mused as I opened the Arts & Culture portion of the NYT, do I tend to actually skim at least the articles rather than, as with the LAT, not get past most headlines? Is it snobbery? If stripped of their identifying typefaces and placed side by side as plain text (and not Times Roman!) would I tell the difference? Such bits as what I share now make me think I could. McAvoy sounds like a smart fellow.

I have never seen the actor in any film, but the article drew me in. The literate and intelligent content, as handled by the interviewer and the interviewee, I think, shows well (and this only half of the full entry given over to his role in an upcoming Jane Austen adaptation) how the NYT strives to capture the human interest beneath the PR campaign and the apparently tedious (yeah right, give me that job on either end) rounds that those deemed our next stars make with jaded journalists. Or it may be that we Celts are simply eloquent.

BEFORE going to his first Academy Awards ceremony this year, the Scottish actor James McAvoy spent a week in Uganda making a documentary for a Red Cross fund-raising campaign to help the country’s 1.4 million people left homeless by years of civil war. For Mr. McAvoy the campaign is payback for “The Last King of Scotland,” which was set in Uganda and stars Forest Whitaker as the country’s infamous 1970s dictator, Idi Amin, and Mr. McAvoy as a young doctor who falls under his sway.

“The movie has been so good for our careers,” Mr. McAvoy, 28, said recently. “So it’s ridiculous not to use that to help.”

[. . . .]At the end of the year he and Keira Knightley portray the tragic lovers in the film adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel “Atonement.”

[. . . . } By his own account, Mr. McAvoy is a great reader. Last summer, just before “The Last King of Scotland” had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, he was a fan of “A Dance to the Music of Time,” Anthony Powell’s great 12-volume novel cycle of 20th-century English life. This time, his current reading was work related and a bit different.

“It’s one of the most successful books in recent times,” he said. “And it’s just terrible. It’s like someone’s released a book called ‘How Not to Write a Novel,’ and this guy has got that book and used it as a blueprint. Atrocious and successful. And I can’t say what it is because they’re making a movie of it, so I agreed to read it.”

As for the movie, “Hopefully not,” he said with a wry smile. “Hopefully, I’ll get out from under that one.”

[. . . .]
When Mr. McAvoy was 7, his parents divorced. His father walked out of his life. His mother, a psychiatric nurse, stayed close but took him to live with her parents in the vast Drumchapel housing projects in Glasgow. There’s stuff here for trauma, but Mr. McAvoy doesn’t see it that way.

“I think I was very lucky to be brought up by people who were the products of socialist democracy,” he said, and he means it.

In the course of talking about the imminent onset of fame and possible wealth, he referred more than once to a contemporary feel-good bromide that sticks in his craw. “This thing of telling kids, ‘You can be whatever you want to be’ — it’s really unfair,” he said. “Because they can’t. They have the right to try, but it’s not necessarily going to happen. When you make everything possible and all possibilities achievable, you leave someone no excuse to fail. That’s not healthy, I think. It’s a lie.”

He said that he credited a decent secondary school and two music teachers with nudging him toward the possibility of a creative life, but that he was sharply aware of the many students who left the same school with nothing. That awareness informs his view of the world and of his own good fortune. It’s what Mr. Palansky was referring to when he described Mr. McAvoy as someone “who feels the burden of the world.”

But that doesn’t mean he can’t be funny about it. Asked how becoming famous enough to be recognized on the street had affected his life, he pointed out that he was no Jude Law, but said: “My time is taken up a hell of a lot with saying ‘Hi’ to everybody. I try to be polite. But it takes away from the time you’d like to spend with your wife and your friends. So that is a strange thing.”

Stranger still, he said, is the way fame has become the only ambition for too many young people, and worse yet is the deification of movie stars. “Not,” he added with a grin, “that anybody’s deified me yet.”

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