Holiday Movie Guide

Taking the Reins

TFK chats with James McAvoy, star of the 3-D animated Arthur Christmas, available now on DVD

November 20, 2012
Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation

Arthur, Santa's youngest son, enjoys his job in the "Letters to Santa" department.

How does Santa deliver so many presents in just one night? All of jolly old Saint Nick’s secrets will be revealed in the Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation 3-D film Arthur Christmas, now available on DVD. These days, Santa has traded in his reindeer and sleigh for a more modern, high-tech aircraft. Supporting Santa on his Christmas Eve mission is his eldest son, Steve, who is next in line for the Santa suit, and a team of quick-footed elves. But when one gift is accidentally left behind, Santa’s youngest son, Arthur, must save the day the old-fashioned way.

For the films 2011 theatrical release, TFK spoke to actor James McAvoy, who plays the clumsy but well-meaning Arthur. Read on to find out how he got into Arthur’s head. (Click here to read a Q&A with Arthur Christmas director Sarah Smith. Scroll down to watch a video on how technology from NASA is used in the movie.)

TFK:

You’ve had two starring voice roles this year, first in Gnomeo & Juliet and now in Arthur Christmas. Do you feel like a pro?

JAMES MCAVOY:

I’m getting there. I’m feeling a little bit more confident in what I’m doing. It’s a very easy gig for an actor, if I’m being honest, and a very enjoyable and a very creative one. All the hard work is being done by a crew of hundreds animating away, trying to get it just right for years and years and years. Then I’ve come in maybe 10 times in the course of two years. I have a good time, play a little bit, express myself and then get sent home.

Actor James McAvoy, who supplies the voice of Arthur, gets to work in the recording booth.

© 2011 Sony Pictures Animation Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Actor James McAvoy, who supplies the voice of Arthur, gets to work in the recording booth.

TFK:

You play Arthur, Santa's youngest son. How would you describe him?

MCAVOY:

I liken him to Prince Harry in that Prince Harry’s not going to be the king [of England], and Arthur isn’t going to be Santa. So there’s a lot of pressure off there, which allows Arthur to really investigate what he loves, which is Christmas. He loves being the custodian of the Christmas Spirit and being the real spine of Christmas. But Harry’s way cooler than Arthur ever will be.

TFK:

Arthur is so passionate about Christmas, and at the same time, he's so awkward and naive and clumsy. Sarah Smith, the director, says you’re the complete opposite. So, how did you get into Arthur's head?

MCAVOY:

I screamed and shouted quite a lot, and just tried to connect with that childish love of Christmas. Arthur is a man-child, really. He’s still like a kid. It was just really important to connect with that constantly. Also, Sarah kept telling me, “Be nicer. Be happier. Be sweeter.” I wasn’t trying to darken him up, but I think I was trying to make him a bit edgier at some point. Sarah kept telling me to smile while I was acting, which was something I was quite surprised by. But it’s true that you can hear a smile; you can hear a frown.

TFK:

What did you think when you saw a picture of your character for the first time?

MCAVOY:

I saw a picture of him right when they offered me the job. I thought he was incredibly cute, and I thought his hair was just amazing. One of the things I love about the film is just the quality of his hair. It looks incredible! They must have spent millions of dollars just animating his hair. But Sarah’s got a point—I’m nothing like him. So I did start to think, right, how am I going to inhabit this tall, lanky, gangly figure? It’s good to have that visual reference to be able to create from.

TFK:

There are so many fun, wacky characters in the movie. I love Grandsanta, Arthur’s grandfather, because he’s so grouchy. Which character is your favorite?

MCAVOY:

Grandsanta is my favorite character in the world. I also like the elf who realizes that a kid has been naughty [after scanning him with the “nice or naughty” reader], and therefore should not receive any Christmas presents. The elf is so mortified by this that he scans himself to get a “nice” reading so he can give the kid some presents. But the elf only reads 86% in terms of “niceness.” So, what has that elf been up to that is so naughty? What does an elf do to be bad?

Arthur chats with Grandsanta about the old days, when Grandsanta used to deliver presents with a sleigh and reindeer.

Aardman Animations for Sony Pictures Animation
Arthur chats with Grandsanta about the old days, when Grandsanta delivered presents with a sleigh and reindeer.

TFK:

If you were Santa and running the operation, would you prefer to do it the high-tech way or the old-fashioned way with the sleigh?

MCAVOY:

It’s got to be the old-fashioned way. You’ve got the wind in your hair, flying through the sky at 50,000 miles an hour, reindeer, a big old bag in the back of the sleigh. It’s fantastic.

TFK:

What do you think makes Arthur Christmas stand out from other Christmas movies?

MCAVOY:

I think it has a [biting] sense of humor. It’s also got those things that all good Christmas movies need to have: a central problem, which is a problem with Christmas. Something is wrong with Christmas, and it needs to be fixed. The problem here is that Christmas is in danger of losing its integrity. Christmas spirit has been forgotten in the North Pole. It takes somebody like Arthur, a true believer, to make the Christmas family step up.

TFK:

This movie has the potential to become a Christmas classic. Did you have a favorite holiday movie when you were growing up?

MCAVOY:

When I was a kid, I loved the movie Santa Claus, with Dudley Moore. I absolutely loved it when I was a kid. I saw it in the cinema with my grandmother, and we rented it and then we bought it when it came out on video. I watched it a million times. I also liked the Polar Express. That was more recent; I was an adult then. But I’d say those two.

 


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