Temptation and guilt are common themes in Michael Fassbender’s latest body of work, writes Jake Coyle
Feeding off sex and guilt.
IT may be three years since he played the hunger- striking Irish national Bobby Sands, but it’s still a relief to see Michael Fassbender eat.
So strong is the memory of Fassbender’s performance in Hunger, for which he lost more than 22kg, that the sight of him wolfing down a plate of bacon and eggs during a recent interview seems like breaking character.
But the 34- year- old actor has been having his fill lately. He stars in two of this season’s most notable releases: as the sexaddicted Brandon in Shame, by Steve Mcqueen ( who directed him in Hunger), and in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous
Method as psychologist Carl Jung. That caps a year in which he also starred as Magneto in the blockbuster X- Men: First Class and as Edward Rochester in
Jane Eyre. He recently shot Ridley Scott’s sci- fi thriller Prometheus, which is planned for release next year. Foremost, perhaps, is his performance in
Shame, which won him best actor at the Venice Film Festival. It’s a shattering performance of a self- abusive New York bachelor who avoids intimacy with the compulsive pursuit of carnality.
‘‘ I really wanted to keep him as close to me as possible,’’ Fassbender says of the character. ‘‘ I didn’t want to hide behind any masks. When I read the script, I was like, ’ A lot of this is relevant. I recognise certain things in here’. And so I wanted to make him just an ordinary guy on the street.’’ The part curiously dovetails with
A Dangerous Method. Cronenberg’s film focuses on the relationship between Jung and his mentor, Sigmund Freud ( Viggo Mortensen), whose prism for understanding the mind was more sexual than Jung’s broader perspective. In the movie, Jung, like Brandon, is racked by sexual temptation and guilt.
‘‘ They’re linked,’’ Fassbender says of Brandon and Jung. ‘‘ They probably could have helped each other out a little bit.’’
That the body should play such a central role in both characters isn’t a coincidence for Fassbender, who takes pains to find the physicality in a part.
‘‘ Sometimes I can express much more of an intention with my body and body language than a page of dialogue,’’ he says.
‘‘ You just think: What sort of animal is this guy? How does he move? Is he light on his feet or is there a lot of weight? What are the clothes that you wear?’’ – Fassbender pauses and then laughs – ‘‘ or lack of?’’
When the artist- turned- filmmaker Mcqueen first met Fassbender, he thought he was ‘‘ a bit cocky’’. But on their second meeting, the two hit it off and have made a close partnership since.
Fassbender will again work with Mcqueen on his third film, 12 Years a Slave, about a New Yorker who was captured in 1841 and enslaved in Louisiana.
Asked to explain their collaboration, Mcqueen replies, ‘‘ It’s love, I suppose. I don’t mean it in a corny way, but in a real way. You don’t know why, you’re just happy it exists and you want it to continue. He is a great actor mainly because of his vulnerability. There’s a femininity to him which actually can translate in a way that we, the audience, can identify with him.’’
Fassbender was born in Germany but raised in Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland. His parents ran a restaurant, but Fassbender found acting after attending local ‘‘ comedy- drama’’ classes.
He formed his own theatre company and put on a production of Quentin Tarantino’s
Reservoir Dogs ( he played Mr Pink). He later worked with Tarantino, playing a British lieutenant in Inglourious Basterds.
Fassbender thought he had arrived in Hollywood when he landed a small role in Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ Band of
Brothers. He moved to Los Angeles but felt ‘‘ overwhelmed’’ and went back to London to ‘‘ reassess the situation’’.
The 2006 action hit 300 was the passport he needed for Hollywood.
‘‘ I went back there and found a new agent and had a better sort of idea how I wanted to approach it, what I wanted to get from it,’’ he says.
After that, it was Hunger that really propelled Fassbender. And these days Hollywood’s appetite for him seems insatiable.