James McAvoy: Dominance of Rich-Kid Actors in the U.K. Is "Damaging for Society"

20th Century Fox
James McAvoy in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

After the critical success of a number of "posh" private school educated actors, the 'X-Men' star feels that an acting career is becoming a purely elite thing.

James McAvoy has waded into the ongoing debate in the U.K. on the current success and dominance of privately educated actors, telling the Herald of Scotland that if the current trend continues it would be "damaging for society."

The Scottish actor, who paid his way through drama school by working in a bakery, was at pains not to criticize the success of privately educated actors, but he was worried that it wasn't representative of Britain as it is today.

"Whenever we talk about this, we have to be very very clear. There's a lot of posh actors that have been to boarding school and all that who are feeling very embattled, sort of cornered," he said, adding: "[N]obody has got anything against an actor who is posh and is doing really well."

But McAvoy was concerned that people from all walks of life are not getting the same opportunities to work in the arts, and his chief worry was about how this will become a bigger problem five or ten years from now. 

If the trends are allowed to continue, McAvoy said, "That's a frightening world to live in, because as soon as you get one tiny pocket of society creating all the arts, or culture starts to become representative not of everybody but of one tiny part, and that's not fair to begin with, but it's also damaging for society."

Private schools such as Eton and Harrow are some of the oldest and most elite in the U.K. They often produce future leaders and captains of industry, but in recent years they have begun to churn out stellar acting talent. 

The Eton-educated Eddie Redmayne (a classmate of Prince William) and Harrow-educated Benedict Cumberbatch, who are both in the running for the best actor Oscar, are perhaps the most telling examples of the dominance of "posh" actors. But there's also Dominic West (Eton, classmate of Prime Minister David Cameron), Damian Lewis (Eton), Tom Hiddleston (Eton), Henry Cavil (Stowe), Jamie Campbell Bower (Bedales), Tom Hardy (Reed), Matthew Goode (Exeter) and Dan Stevens (Tonbridge), among others.

And it's not just the guys. A whole generation of British actresses are seemingly disproportionately from so-called posh schools, including Rosamund Pike (Badminton), Alice Eve (Bedales), Juno Temple (Bedales), Carey Mulligan (Woldingham), Kate Beckinsale (Godolphin and Latymer), Imogen Poots (Latymer), Emilia Clarke (St Edward's), Emily Blunt (Hurtwood House) and Rebecca Hall (Roedean).

The class debate in British acting circles has been raging for some time now, and recently veteran actress Julie Walters (Billy Elliot, Mamma Mia!) spoke out about how working-class actors can't afford to go to drama school and said the situation was "shocking." David Morrissey (Walking Dead) also weighed in, saying only people with rich parents could hope to make acting a career.

On the flip side, Michael Gambon has welcomed the current flowering of "posh" actors, quipping to the Radio Times, “[t]he more Old Etonians the better, I think!” Gambon added: “[T]he two or three who are playing at the moment are geniuses, aren’t they? The more geniuses you get, the better. It’s to do with being actors and wanting to do it; it’s nothing to do with where they come from.”


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