The Year of Michael Fassbender

The British actor is having a moment

Michael Fassbender may not have officially been called a movie star when 2011 began, but by year’s end he’s more than earned the title.

In the space of one year and three dynamic, can’t-look-away performances, Fassbender has shown off his magnetic (literally, as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class”), intellectual (as Karl Jung in “A Dangerous Method”) and down-and-dirty (as a tortured sexual compulsive in “Shame”) sides, effectively declaring himself a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.

“I don’t think we see often an actor like him, not often at all, because he is a very visceral male character,” says filmmaker Steve McQueen, who directed Fassbender in both “Shame” and his debut film “Hunger.” “He is a guy; he is a man. But at the same time, he has an extraordinary femininity in him, extraordinary sort of tenderness, extraordinary sort of openness, and I think that is the appeal. Often with actors they want to be men, they want to be sort of the macho type. They never show their heart, and never show their vulnerability. I think that’s pretty amazing that he can be so open and vulnerable, and still sort of wear it with pride.”

PopcornBiz got the inside scoop for Fassbender himself as he looked back on his breakthrough performances.

On doing his homework on sexual addiction:

“I had the opportunity to meet people that were suffering from the condition, and that was a huge insight, I’m very grateful for that and the sort of honesty and bravery it took for these people to come forward like that. And especially for this one guy in particular, because this idea of the intimacy problems that [my character] Brandon has – that’s really the sort of crux of his problem – and this guy that I met, that was exactly his problem as well, so it made me get something tenable and it made me sort of understand the condition.”

On his method for getting into a character’s head:

“A very big part of my preparation is just that I re-read the script. I might read it 300 or 350 times, so I’m spending a lot of time with him and I’m getting to know him. And then, through the day, I’m like, ‘Oh, what would Brandon do in this scenario?’ You’re gathering little pieces of information every day and you’re putting it together, and you’re sitting down with it and thinking ‘Is this logical? If it is logical, you give it a try. And then Steve was there to steer me in the right direction with that. But, it’s just about trying to understand him and relate to him, as opposed to this judgment thing. That would be a mistake.”

On his collaborations with director McQueen:

“I think it’s a hard thing to put your finger on. It’s a chemistry that I’m very, very grateful for, and feel so blessed that I’ve come across it. It is something that, for me for sure, I was always looking for – a collaborator. ‘Hunger’ was a big break for me, and it was Steve’s first movie, so together we were experiencing a lot. I could see, on Steve’s face, the passion and wanting to get it right – and I wanted to get it right, too. We just formed a language very quickly. When we started ‘Shame, ‘it was like we had just walked off the set of ‘Hunger’ and onto that. We picked it up immediately. It was amazing.”

On preparing for the significant amount of nudity and sexuality in “Shame”:

I keep things very simple. There’s this idea of ‘Oh my god, and then you’re naked. What’s that going to do for your career?’ I’m not a politician. My job is to facilitate characters. I’m a storyteller, and that’s one facet of telling that story. End of story.”

On working with director David Cronenberg on “A Dangerous Method”:

“It was different than what I expected, because you see his films and they can be quite violent, yes? They are dark. He’s kind of the opposite. He has a very sweet and loving sort of energy, very generous and very humorous. We joked around a lot on set, which is always fun and can lend to the piece, especially when you’re dealing with something that is very much set in a particular time… The great directors that I have had a chance to work with, they all have to be great manipulators. And they do their manipulation in the weeks leading up. It’s a dinner here, when you’re trying on costumes, or picking the props – the little things they do by dropping a phrase here, asking you questions over time. And then once we got on set, there’s very little dialogue. It’s just sort of ‘Get on with it.’”

On playing Carl Jung to Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud:

“You’ve got these heavyweights, Jung and Freud, it’s like ‘Whoa – okay: this is an amazing world to be entering into.’ But, then he shows them as very human, with faults, and you go ‘Wow, they did really petty and stupid things. These two guys have massive egos.’ Anybody that went against Jung or Freud in their camps were swiftly discarded. You’ve got that to play with: two egos. I always found the script very funny. Viggo and I tried to find the comedy in it, as much as possible. That was fun. I’ve always been a massive fan of him. He’s an impressive human being. He writes poetry. He takes photographs. He’s very artistically rich. I just tried to watch him and learn as much as I could.”

On the rumors he might star in a remake of “Robocop”:

“I’m always open, I’ll take a look at the script and sit down with the director and have a conversation. It’s not like ‘I’ve got to play Robocop before I retire’ [Laughs] I don’t have that about anything. I don’t desire to play ‘The Dane’ one day, Hamlet. I don’t think like that. I wait to see what comes up. I’m always open to it if I react to the script. It would be kind of fun. It’ll be good to have a helmet I could hide behind. That sounds kind of appealing.”

On taking in his big breakout year:

“I do I feel like I am pretty blessed that I am allowed to work with the people that I am working with. I think that’s, for me, this position is like the highest that I could have hoped to achieve when I started out. And that is it, really: I am trying to enjoy the rest of it. It does make me a little scared about what is next. Because I don’t want to spend too much time thinking about things I have done, or sort of lingering in the past. I can find that sort of depressing. So my main thing is ‘What am I going to do next?’ And hopefully I’ll do a good job on the next one.”


"Shame" opens in limited release today

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