“As an actor you’ve got to have the courage to make a fool of yourself.”
You’re notoriously private. With such interest in your personal life, how do you navigate that? It’s just a choice – I want to keep my work and my private life separate. It’s easier for an audience member to suspend belief [without] knowledge of me – to take the journey with the character that I’m presenting.
You subsisted mainly on sardines, nuts and berries to get to 58kg in 10 weeks to play Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands in 2008’s Hunger. Once ﬁlming wrapped, what was your ﬁrst food gorge? Japanese food. I got really cold in the restaurant when I ate that meal.
I started to shiver. I guess my body wasn’t used to having to work like that to digest food. For the ﬁrst two to three weeks [on the restricted diet], I couldn’t sleep because your body’s going, “Eat something, for god’s sake!” Then it adjusts and realises this is the way it’s going to be. So reintroducing food is a shock to the system.
Can you still eat sardines? Yes! It was a ritual, the most special part of the day. It’d be about 7 o’clock when I had my tin of sardines and I didn’t want to be disturbed. I began to appreciate little things more.
You and Hunger director Steve McQueen worked together again on 2011’s Shame, in which you went full frontal. To amp you up before those scenes, he would yell, “We’re all going to die one day!” Has that become a motto? Absolutely. That line still rings in my head a lot of the time. As an actor, you’ve got to [have] the courage to make a fool of yourself and not be afraid of having egg on your face.
“As a former bartender, I can still sling a cocktail. A vodka martini is my go-to”
You grew up in an Irish town of just 12,000, which was worlds away from Hollywood. I had an extremely lucky, very idyllic childhood. I’ve got a very close relationship with my parents and my sister, and lots of friends from those days. As I get older, I have a yearning more and more to go back to the countryside and that rhythm of life.
Your mum is Irish but your father is German. Do you have personality traits you can attribute to each nationality? For such a small island, Ireland has always been very rich in storytelling, whether through poetry or writing or music. So I deﬁnitely think that had an effect on me. I guess the German side is a very strict way about preparing and my approach to work.
In your early days of auditioning, you worked in bartending. Can you still sling a cocktail? I sure can. A vodka martini is my go-to. I did a lot of things – a bit of labouring, but I wasn’t very good at that [laughs]. Market research was probably the worst job I had. Bartending, I enjoyed the most.
Considering you once played Steve Jobs, what’s your relationship with technology like? I’ve always been a little bit of a technophobe. I get impatient and I’m just not naturally attuned to it. But playing Steve Jobs? It really just gave me extra awe of him, his vision and his tenacity. He was a genius.
In the upcoming X-Men: Dark Phoenix we see your character Magneto torn between good and evil. Is it more fun to play the villain
or the hero? I try to understand him and his motivations as opposed to making judgements. I sort of approach all characters like that, whether they’re fantastical or rooted in reality.
Given your history of playing tormented characters, is choosing the toughest roles really just intentional? I know. It’s time to do some comedy. I’m in talks for Nacho Libre 2 [laughs]. I love Jack Black. It’s strange. When I play characters that have this sort of conﬂict it raises a lot of questions, and I guess I enjoy that. Is it ever hard to shake oﬀ? I’ve become pretty good at leaving the work on set. I’ve always jumped from one job to the next, so it gets taken over by the next character. Maybe it’s all sort of stored somewhere so when I’m in an old people’s home all these characters will come out, and I’ll be that “weird guy” walking around the hallways, you know?
Your wife Alicia Vikander played Lara Croft in last year’s version of Tomb Raider. So: Magneto versus Croft. Who wins? Ooh, that’s a good one. Tricky. I know from training with Alicia, she’s probably got the edge on me. She’s pretty formidable in terms of her endurance and intensity. And she’s an ex-ballerina, so [she’s] got that extra threshold of pain. But obviously if there’s any metal in the area she’s a goner. I could sit there and eat burgers all day long – it wouldn’t make a difference… ﬂick of the wrist and it’s all over!
X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas from Thursday, June 6.