He's gone from turning out butterfly buns and cream-filled apple turnovers in Sainsbury's to being recognised as the crème de la crème of British acting talent. But James McAvoy admits he still worries that one of these days someone's going to say: "Ach, you're not as good as you thought you were". There's no turning back, though, for the seld-deprecating Scot, who now shares top billing with the Hollywood big-guns not to mention lingering kisses with Angelina Jolie.
The charismatic Glaswegian had actually intended joining the navy or the priesthood before he stumbled upon acting as a career. James was 16 when the actor and director David Hayman visited St Thomas Aquinas school in Drumchapel to give a talk on Shakespeare and ended up being heckled by some class troublemakers. "I felt bad for him," recalls James. "So I went up at the end and said, 'Thanks very much. That was very interesting,' and asked him if I could make the tea, do some work experience, if he was ever doing another film."
It was, he says, the first time he'd ever taken a responsibility like that upon himself - and it paid off. Four months later David called and asked if he'd like to audition for a part. It was the role of pimp's son Kevin in 1995's The Near Room
. Giving something a try and seeing what happens is a practical trait he learned from his maternal grandparents. "'Have a go, son' was always their motto, and I have done," he says.
The senior couple brought up James - born April 21, 1979 - and his sister Joy on a Glasgow housing estate when his mother, a psychiatric nurse, was unable to cope after his builder father left the family. They instilled a strong work ethic in the youngster and gave him a steady upbringing. So when a place came up at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama James continued doing the early shift at Sainsbury's bakery, where he was a trainee confectioner, to earn his keep.
At 20 the aspiring thesp moved to London and hit the auditions circuit. He landed a small part in the 2001 WWII mini-series Band Of Brothers
and appeared at London's Donmar Warehouse in Privates On Parade
, where his potential was spotted by director Sam Mendes. Other small screen roles followed, with appearances in The Inspector Lynley Mysteries
, Foyles War
and Children of Dune
. In 2003 he featured in Stephen Fry film Bright Young Things
and was cast in two TV series, comedy Early Doors
and the award-winning drama State Of Play
The following year he made his big screen debut in Paul Bettany vehicle Wimbledon
and landed a part in gritty comedy Shameless
, where he won plaudits for his performance as charismatic wide boy Steve.
It was a role which not only made the Scotsman a household name but also brought romance with on-screen love interest Anne-Marie Duff
- who has since also gone on to enjoy an impressive film and theatre career herself. The ultra-private duo married in 2006, the same year James was recognised with a rising star Bafta, and made a pact never to talk publicly about their relationship. Down-to-earth despite their joint success, they don't 'do' the celebrity party scene. "I just put all invitations in the bin... ethically I've got a problem with using your social life to aid your career," says the actor. Instead, when not dazzling the critics with his on-screen performances, his favourite past-times include supporting Celtic football team and mountain-climbing.
During his two-series run in Shameless
James experienced a low point during which he was plagued by insecurity. The support of Anne-Marie and a startling performance as a paralysed young man in small budget flick Inside I'm Dancing
, helped him bounce back, however. "I realised how much I loved doing it, and how happy I was. And I stopped fighting it," he recalls.
Hollywood soon came calling. Cast as a faun in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
James and his acting skills were exposed to an international audience. He further cemented his Hollywood credentials playing a fictional physician to Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland
, during the filming of which he burst a blood vessel when a torture scene went wrong. He lost out on an Oscar nod, however, to co-star Forest Whitaker
The lead in 2006 coming-of-age drama Starter For Ten
followed. It was a credit to his versatility as an actor that James could play gormless fresher Brian one minute and Jane Austen's love interest opposite Anne Hathaway
the next in Becoming Jane
. Despite not being a typical pin-up, the features Stephen Fry describes as "almost pretty" manage to convey both sensitivity and masculinity.
James' convincing turn the following year as the romantic lead in Atonement
with Keira Knightley
secured his leading man status and earned him a Golden Globe nod. "He's the favourite character I have ever played," James revealed in September 2007. "I love him dearly. I wish I was him."
After a plethora of 'serious' roles the actor had the chance to explore a new genre when he was cast alongside Angelina Jolie
in sci-fi action flick Wanted
as a geek who becomes a deadly assassin. Despite an "epic snog" with Angelina, which he describes as "kind of weird", and star billing, he still doesn't see himself as a fully paid-up member of the A-list. "But I take a lot of pride in being myself. I'm comfortable with who I am," he says.