The family feud that haunts Atonement star James McAvoy
By POLLY GRAHAM
Last updated at 15:53 01 March 2008
It was now past 2am, but Atonement's leading man and his actress wife Anne-Marie Duff were determined not to miss Prince's post-Oscars soiree.
Despite his tiredness, McAvoy was elated. He had earlier presented an award in front of Hollywood's finest at the 80th Academy Awards ceremony.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the poverty-stricken area of Drumchapel in Glasgow, the actor's father, James McAvoy Snr, was hard at work atop a roof.
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James McAvoy hasn't spoken to his father James in 21 years
Tired from his morning's labours, roofer McAvoy Snr was further drained by a late night of his own.
He had tried - but failed because of the eight-hour time delay with Los Angeles - to stay up to watch his son's big Oscar moment.
But the small television screen in his cramped Glasgow flat is perhaps as close as McAvoy Snr will ever get to his son.
Poignantly, he hasn't spoken to James for 21 years.
The 29-year-old actor is notorious for being fiercely private, rarely talking about his family circumstances or relationship with Anne-Marie.
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Pretty in purple: Atonement missed out on all but one Oscar, for original score, but its star James McAvoy enjoyed his night in Hollywood with wife Anne-Marie Duff. Co-star Keira Knightley didn't attend the ceremony
Perhaps it's little wonder he is less than forthcoming about his background.
For the Mail has discovered that behind the diminutive actor's seemingly effortless rise to fame lies a heartbreaking story of a broken family, a violent half-brother and a hard childhood on one of Glasgow's most notorious council estates.
Today, his lonely father can only marvel from afar at his son's success.
"It has been hard on me not being in his life, but I'm just glad that he seems happy," says James Snr, ruefully.
"I hope one day he'll get in touch. I was amazed he'd done so well."
Hearing McAvoy's clipped upper-crust English vowels as Robbie Turner in Atonement, many fans will be unaware the actor hails from such humble Scottish beginnings.
McAvoy and Knightley at this year's Baftas
McAvoy spent his turbulent early life in a terrace council house on the graffiti-decorated 1950s Drumchapel housing estate, where he was raised by his maternal grandparents James and Mary Johnstone.
Butcher James and wife Mary, whom McAvoy still regularly visits, were his role models when they took him in aged seven, following his mother Elizabeth's split from his father.
Psychiatric nurse Elizabeth, or Liz as the family prefer, suffered from "poor health" so felt her son James, and daughter Joy, then five, would be better off at her parents' home a few streets away.
Roofer Mr McAvoy, 50, explains: "We were a very happy family and for a long time there were no problems.
"James was a real daddy's boy - we would go swimming and play football together. We didn't have a lot of money, but we got by."
But childhood sweethearts James and Liz "grew apart" and, by their late 30s, had divorced.
"Our son took it hard," says McAvoy Snr.
"He just wasn't the carefree little boy he'd been before."
At first, father and son continued their relationship, with James Snr taking his son swimming or to watch Celtic football team.
But when a year later James Snr moved in with a new lover, Mary McKinnon, the eight-year-old McAvoy refused to have anything to do with his father.
"I think James still had hopes of me and his mum sorting things out," claims McAvoy Snr.
"He started refusing to see me because he didn't like Mary. In the end I took a step back rather than upset him."
The young McAvoy demonstrated his steely nature when a few years later he was larking around in the playground of the St Thomas Aquinas secondary school in Drumchapel and spotted his father working on the school roof.
"James just looked away without saying a word," recalls his father sadly.
It does, however, seem odd that he was so determined to wipe out of his life the man he once idolised just because of the appearance of a new lover.
Surely there must be more to the split than the reticent James Snr would have us believe.
McAvoy Jnr has himself hinted there is another side to the story.
"I can't really be bothered with it," he told one interviewer of his father's attempts to get back in touch.
"I know what happened and I know what didn't happen."
This single-mindedness is apparent in his sudden rise to fame.
Three years ago, his most prominent role was in Channel 4's late-night cult drama Shameless.
Now, after the success of Atonement, his latest project is blockbuster action thriller Wanted, in which the unlikely heartthrob has "one epic snog" with Angelina Jolie.
To understand the extent of his transformation, perhaps we should look at McAvoy's 18-year-old half-brother Donald, currently languishing in Polmont Young Offenders' Institution near Falkirk.
Donald - James Snr's son from his now-ended relationship with his lover Mary - has never met James the actor.
But no one could blame the star for distancing himself from his violent, alcoholic brother.
Just a fortnight ago, Donald was sent to Polmont for stabbing a man eight times and, in a separate incident, threatening a 14-year-old with a hammer.
James Snr, who lives in a dingy first-floor flat, sighs: "I am standing by one son who's a maniac, but can't stand by my other son, who has done so well."
According to Mr McAvoy, Donald's problem stems from his penchant for alcohol: "He's a polite boy who doesn't cause trouble until he has been drinking."
Of course, James Jnr mixes in very different circles.
Despite failing to gain an Oscar nomination for Atonement, the actor was the toast of the post-ceremony parties.
He likes to eschew what he sees as "celebrity bulls**t", but in a rare moment of abandon, he and Anne-Marie threw themselves in to the occasion.
Generally, James is at pains to insist he is as down-to-earth as the next person.
He said at the ceremony: "I hate getting dressed up like this. I don't like being flashy.
"I drive a Nissan Micra."
A ten-year-old Micra, worth less than £1,000, it is worth adding.
Then there's the fact he and Anne-Marie live in a small flat in an unfashionable part of North London, bought for £178,000 two years ago.
Bemused locals regularly see him strolling down the road to the nearby budget supermarket.
At the Bafta ceremony last month, he was even spotted openly pocketing the place mats featuring scenes from that year's nominated films - something most image-conscious celebrities would rather die than admit to.
He and Anne-Marie enjoy an intense relationship and can rarely be lured out of their second-floor flat, preferring to read or do sudoku puzzles together.
By his own admission, McAvoy's life is "mundane, and I love it that way".
So what is holding him back from enjoying the trappings of his fame?
Psychologically, is he afraid he can never escape his upbringing?
Tellingly, he said recently: "I'm always worried that somebody is going to find me out and say: 'Ach, you're not as good as you thought you were. You are just a wee boy from Drumchapel.'"
Behind his outwardly chirpy character, which makes him a favourite on film sets, it seems memories of "the Drum" will always haunt him.
Indeed, it was a fluke that McAvoy, who once considered becoming a priest, fell into acting after director David Hayman visited his school.
On the spur of the moment, James asked to do work experience on his next film, but ended up with a part.
After winning a place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, he progressed to small TV roles in shows such as The Bill.
Even while filming his breakthrough part in Shameless, he appeared to be in turmoil - and in danger of going off the rails.
"I was struggling to find out the truth about myself," he said, with his trademark intensity.
"I just got a bit slobbish. I drank a lot."
It was at this time his relationship with Anne-Marie began, and it is her he credits with setting him on his path to Hollywood stardom.
Anne-Marie - who, at 37, is nine years his senior - is an equally acclaimed actress, although mainly in less high-profile TV and theatre.
As soon as their relationship became public, the pair vowed never to talk about the other in interviews.
Yet when he accepted his Bafta, he dedicated it not only to his mother and grandparents, but also to "Anne-Marie, because she taught me to respect life".
They are so punctilious about their privacy that James went to extraordinary lengths to keep the details of their wedding secret.
In October 2006, he revealed that he and Anne-Marie had wed three weeks earlier "at a place people go to marry quietly".
In fact, it wasn't until a month later, at the idyllic 19th-century Drumtochty Castle in Aberdeenshire, that the pair were wed.
The secluded castle and grounds were hired at a cost of £20,000 for the entire weekend, so the couple could ensure total privacy.
They said their vows in front of 100 friends and family - although his father and brother were, of course, absent - in a touching civil ceremony.
Later, guests got stuck into a free bar and at midnight James led a rousing final group dance to The Proclaimers' single I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles).
Local DJ Joe Macindoe, in charge of the evening's music, recalls: "James told me he didn't invite all his film co-stars because he didn't want the day to be about being famous."
James and Anne-Marie's devotion to each other can be in no doubt.
But when he recently failed to wear his wedding ring to an event, the internet was awash with fans hoping it spelled the end of his marriage.
They were left disappointed when he explained he had damaged the ring in a motorbike accident and it was being repaired.
Similarly, the chemistry was said to be so electric between him and Angelina Jolie during filming of Wanted that his publicist was forced to issue a denial that the pair were anything more than colleagues.
Throughout all this, Anne-Marie remains confident that they will overcome the difficulties fame brings.
How could she not, when he replied to the question of how he knew she was The One with this glowing endorsement: "The world seemed less scary and I started to like myself a little bit more."
Perhaps with Anne-Marie's help, he is finally shaking off the weight of his past from those slight shoulders.
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