By Samantha Highfill
March 29, 2013 at 07:19 PM EDT
Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

He earned our respect in The Last King of Scotland, he stole our hearts in Atonement, and he made us fans for life in X-Men: First Class. So what is James McAvoy, the blue-eyed Scotsman, up to now?

Other than starring in Welcome to the Punch, a British cat-and-mouse thriller that’s currently in theaters, McAvoy also stars in April 5th’s Trance. Danny Boyle’s latest directorial project, Trance follows McAvoy’s Simon, a less-than-trustworthy art auctioneer who suffers amnesia and then undergoes hypnotherapy to try and remember the whereabouts of a painting he helped to steal. The result is a mental thriller that will have you questioning just about everything within the world of the film.

So what do these two projects have in common? The adorable, heart-of-gold characters that we have come to expect from McAvoy are long gone. McAvoy’s good-guy reputation is no more … at least temporarily.

“I was drawn to Welcome to the Punch by the director. I just responded to the fact that there was a British filmmaker trying not to do gritty urban drama about gangsters that talk with slang all the time but somebody trying to make an aspirational British slick action movie. Also getting to play somebody who was slightly less likeable was good fun. And then Trance came along. That the character was so messed up, really really did appeal to me. Welcome to the Punch is an all-out action thriller whereas I think Trance is more of a psychological thriller with elements of a heist movie thrown in,” McAvoy said.

But his big year doesn’t stop there. Although they don’t yet have U.S. release dates, McAvoy has three other films that fans can look forward to. In Filth, McAvoy plays the ultimate bad guy, who’s described as a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, all-around bigot and then McAvoy joins Jessica Chastain on-screen for the two-part feature film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, which documents the downfall of a relationship from both his and her perspective. And if that’s not enough, McAvoy is currently starring in an overseas production of MacBeth as well as working on a BBC radio production of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. “I don’t know what the f*** I was thinking,” he said about his crazy year.

It might seem like a lot for the 33-year-old actor, but after taking some time off to raise his kid after the last X-Men, he was ready to get back into the biz. And now that he’sbusier than ever, he has a new strategy for approaching Hollywood: balancing blockbusters with smaller indie films. “I knew I had X-Men coming along some time in the future, so I knew I didn’t have to do big, big, big movies. I knew I could do smaller, more interesting movies for a little while,” McAvoy said.

NEXT: X-Men and Wanted 2

Speaking of X-Men, what can fans expect from next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past?

“I think it’s different because it’s melding two franchises, kind of the new blood and the old blood, which will be exciting in itself. I think that it does what X-Men movies always do really well, which is take a large amount of characters and it makes room for them all rather brilliantly. I think the other thing [fans] can expect is to be satisfied. I think some of the requests that fans have been making for years have been met. But also, there will be some surprises as well. I think they’re going to be nicely surprised by a couple of things.”

And although he can only tease that he will “possibly” share a scene with Patrick Stewart, who plays the older X, he can promise some groovy costumes. “It’s set in the 70’s. We’ll be wearing flares and sideburns and that will be well cool.”

After X-Men, McAvoy is looking forward to the idea of not knowing what’s next. He’d love to try his hand at directing, and he’d really like the chance to do some “proper sci fi.” Other than that, McAvoy is blissfully ignorant about his next project. And as far as a Wanted 2 is concerned, he’s on board with the idea. That is, if the idea actually exists.

“I had a blast making the first Wanted, and if the script was good, then yea definitely!  If it’s a really, really bad script, then of course I wouldn’t be so happy, but I’d do it. If it’s a good script and they want me to be in it, then fine. It’s just whether they’ve got a script that they feel passionate about. The amount of years that have gone between the last one and if the next one ever gets made suggests to me that they’re not finding it very easy to come up with a story that they’re passionate about, so we’ll have to wait and see,” McAvoy said.

For now, the clock is winding down on McAvoy’s current bad streak, and come next year, Professor X will put an end to it. According to McAvoy, has no plans to revive it, but he also doesn’t have any plans not to revive it. “I have a preference for trying to seek out something slightly different so maybe next year it will be something different again. Maybe I’ll be playing the in-between guy. I just want to keep playing different roles and stretching myself. And by playing a slightly less likable guy sometimes, that is definitely me exploring new territory, so it just appealed to what generally I’m looking for in a character, which is: Have I done it before? Will it teach me something new? Do I get to flex different muscles? And will it be an enjoyable part to explore?”

That being said, McAvoy is not walking away from his bad-boy streak empty-handed. Along the way, he’s managed to learn a thing or two, particularly when it comes to conducting a heist. “Keep calm, don’t panic, and carry on. Just do it with a smile on your face, and you’ll get away with anything.”

Read more:

James McAvoy’s eyelids are getting heavy in new ‘Trance’ clip — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

‘Welcome to the Punch’ trailer: Know your enemy, James McAvoy

‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’: Omar Sy joins cast

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