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James McAvoy: Playing The Beast who is on the edge of pouncing hurt me physically - my collar bone and neck were killing me

M Night Shyamalan is back with Glass, the third film in the director's series that began with dark drama Unbreakable and then psychological horror-thriller Split. Kerri-Ann Roper talks to the movie's cast

Shattered: James McAvoy as the Beast in Glass
Shattered: James McAvoy as the Beast in Glass
James McAvoy's co-star Sarah Paulson

Playing one character can be challenging enough. So taking on a big screen character with 20 personalities is no small feat. But it's a role James McAvoy has been happy to return to.

The Scottish star is back reprising Kevin Wendell Crumb, who suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), in director M Night Shyamalan's Glass.

It's a character audiences first met in 2016's Split, and Glass is the much-anticipated sequel to that film and the 2000 thriller Unbreakable starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson.

"Kevin is a guy who was abused horribly by his mother, and as a result his mind fragmented and dissociated. From that, 23 other people were born," McAvoy explains. Ask if he has a favourite personality and there's no hesitation in his answer.

"I love Patricia," he says. "She is probably my favourite character to play, partly because she's always, no matter what is happening to her, she's always got a thought in her mind."

In Split, audiences were also introduced to another personality: The Beast. For Glass, this required McAvoy to bulk up even more than the last time around.

The 39-year-old Glaswegian says playing The Beast for longer periods was demanding.

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He explains: "He's so physically tense and on the edge of pouncing because he's so animalistic that I find it hurts me, physically, to play him. After I play him for a few days, my collar bone and neck are killing me for days afterward."

Audiences will also once again meet his other personalities: Barry, Dennis and nine-year-old Hedwig, to name but a few.

"Dennis came from this guy I've known my whole life who breathes in a particular way, very considered and slow. Dennis isn't like that person, but I copied his breathing and it kind of gave me the rest of Dennis," he says.

And what about the others?

"Some are completely invented, but a few of them are people I've nicked from somewhere else. Barry is very like someone I know and in fact his dress sense with the big coats and little hats, that you don't see in Glass actually but you saw in Split, I ripped that off a guy completely".

The film marks the first time all three characters - Crumb, Willis' character David Dunn (known as The Overseer) and Jackson's character Elijah Price (also known as Mr Glass) - star alongside each other.

Director Shyamalan, famed for psychological thrillers The Sixth Sense and The Village, says it was all about balance in having the trio of characters together for the first time.

Shyamalan's characters are never simplistic, and he smiles when asked if the trio are the "thinking man's superheroes". He's passionate as he talks about creating characters that challenge the audience.

"I think for me, and I've been thinking about it a ton, the passive art form of cinema is not something I'm OK with, where as a storyteller I will do everything for you and then it's easier for you and in many ways more enjoyable for you," he says.

Something fans are likely to enjoy is the addition of American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson. The 44-year-old says the prospect of working with Shyamalan was so exciting she said yes without reading the script.

"I met with him and was so enchanted by him as I think everyone is when you meet him and, it was only then that I found out I was going to get to work with these incredible actors, that would have been the draw too had I known they were all going to be in it and what I was going to be doing with them, but initially it was absolutely Night," she says earnestly.

The sentiment is echoed by Shyamalan in casting her for the role of Dr Ellie Staple.

Samuel L Jackson
Samuel L Jackson

"I wanted someone who could match those three men in craft, and also in buoyancy and entertainment," he says.

"I also needed someone who could match them in intelligence, and really own the screen against these three superstars. Sarah was chosen to fight that fight and boy, did she deliver."

Jackson's character Elijah Price - Mr Glass - last featured in Unbreakable. Now in a wheelchair due to his brittle bone disease, there's something of the underdog about Jackson's character, who has a brilliant mind.

"You always like characters that are underestimated," Jackson says.

The film flashes back to a trauma suffered by each of the main characters in their lives. Given they're now all viewed as "extraordinary people", have they turned that trauma into something to grow from?

"You hope that's a message that resonates, that life tries you in a lot of different ways and you are tested in a lot of different ways and some people rise to the challenge and some people don't," says Jackson.

"But to understand that there are experiences that make you stronger, and ask you to tap into a resource that you haven't tapped into and if you open yourself to that possibility there is a chance that you can succeed, overcome and become extraordinary because of it".

  • Glass is in cinemas now

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