In the last couple years, M. Night Shyamalan has scaled his game down, following the sci-fi action movie with the found-footage horror movie The Visit, and most recently his new Dissociative Identity Disorder-centered thriller Split. What’s interesting about the making of the latest feature, however, is that it almost didn’t happen — and might not have happened had it not been for a random encounter between the director and star James McAvoy at San Diego Comic-Con 2015.
The actor was at the convention promoting both X-Men: Apocalypse and Victor Frankenstein (notably sporting a shaved head) and Shyamalan was there for the pending release of The Visit. Given that there are thousands of people roaming the streets of San Diego in late July, it was quite coincidental that the two men wound up meeting, and to hear the filmmaker tell it, it was a moment that basically allowed Split to happen. The encounter was one subject I talked about with Shyamalan last year following the Split premiere at AFI Fest, and he legitimately sees the run-in as a sign from the universe.
This is when you start to believe in a higher entity kind of thing, you know? You write something like that and that guy shows up, and again, we don’t have the money, we don’t have the thing, I’m shooting at a certain time, and the right person just has to be there and available… He doesn’t walk past me at Comic-Con, that’s the end of that. I made him look exactly the way he looked when he walked by me. You have to be a little bit of a signs guy to buy that – that he’s standing there, and I go, ‘Huh.’ That’s incredible.
Indeed, while James McAvoy has had hair for most of the roles in his career, M. Night Shyamalan had the Scottish actor keep the shaved look while portraying Kevin Wendell Crumb — a man who has 23 distinct personalities, and winds up kidnapping three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula) for a mysterious ritual. What’s impressive, though, is that you never think about Professor Charles Xavier, simply because Kevin is so captivating himself. Frankly, we should all actually be thankful that M. Night Shyamalan and McAvoy randomly met, because the star gives an absolutely incredible performance in Split, one that easily ranks as one of the best of his career.