"If anybody wants to talk about their own family, fine," he says. "It's not that I think it's wrong it's just that I think it's dangerous."

On the phone from Germany, where he's just finished a day's work on The Last Station, a film based on a novel about the life of Leo Tolstoy, McAvoy is apologizing for the effects of having just had a swig of beer. He's trying to recollect what compelled him a small, slight action-movie virgin with an antipathy for guns to take an aggressively physical role opposite genre veteran Angelina Jolie. "I think inside all actors," he says, "there's a kid who secretly yearns to jump off buildings and say 'Yippeekayay, motherfucker!' I also thought that the fact that they were willing to cast someone like me showed a willingness to step outside the usual action-movie realm." Movie-industry pundits are translating that statement into: "I want to be like Matt Damon and do a hugely successful thinking-man's action franchise like Bourne." But by the time those parallels are drawn, McAvoy will have monkey-swung from completing the Tolstoy movie, as part of an ensemble cast that includes Paul Giamatti and Helen Mirren, to, no doubt, portraying somebody who bears little resemblance to a vengeful action hero or a Russian bibliographer. About the only certainty is that McAvoy wants to enjoy himself. "Hugh Grant is fucking great and he's funny," he says. "I like romantic comedies. I've been in one and I fucking loved it. I got to show off and I got to be a dick. It's always fun to play dicks. That's why I loved Last King I got to be such a wanker."

McAvoy in the trailer for Wanted

"Someone like James, I would guess, would strive to play the opposite of what he's been made to believe he is as a unit of currency," Abbott says. "I've watched James being pursued by people who want to pin him down, and whether he knows it or not, he's just slid like a bar of soap right out of their hands."