Fassbender saddles up
Cowboy role in Slow West written for him
Michael Fassbender wears his role well in Slow West mostly because the cowboy part was tailored to fit by writer-director John Maclean.
They became friends after Maclean showcased Fassbender in two short films.
“And Michael said, ‘What do want to do next?’ ” Maclean said while in Toronto promoting the movie.
“I told him I wanted to do a feature, probably a western, and he was up for it.”
In the film, Fassbender plays a saddle tramp bounty hunter who agrees to lead a young Scottish lad (Kodi Smit-Mc Phee) across the Colorado frontier in a search of his childhood sweetheart.
The backdrop (New Zealand subbing for Colorado) is as unique as the low-key story driven by Fassbender’s portrayal of a range rider with a difference.
“I knew I was going to have Michael from the beginning, so it was easy to write the part especially for him,” Maclean said. “It was a collaboration from the start. That really helped the movie.”
Smit-McPhee turned out to be an available lucky break. The Australian teen had costarred in The Road, Let Me In and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. (And he was recently cast as Nightcrawler in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse).
So the Slow West writer-director figured SmitMc Phee would be an equal match for Fassbender who has earned acclaim for intense performances, including his Oscar-nominated role in 12 Years a Slave.
“Kodi was also very close to what I had imagined for the character,” said Maclean. “He’s classically otherworldly and seems out of place.”
Certainly, an American western by a Scottish filmmaker was another odd mix in the ingredient, but shooting the movie in New Zealand turned out to be more peculiar.
Timing and logistics were the practical reasons for the location; Fassbender was only available in November and December of 2013. The cast and crew ended up in New Zealand where the summerlike weather was more predictable than a Colorado fall and winter.
In the end, the New Zealand exteriors proved to be an appropriate feature for Maclean’s off-kilter “forest western.”
“It was a byproduct I didn’t realize until I was editing the movie,” said the filmmaker of the vistas.
Maclean also knew Slow West “would be equal parts western and something a little more mood-setting like Japanese and European films.”
Even Fassbender’s cowboy goes through a visual alteration as the film does thematically.
“The idea was to start off Michael’s character like a comic-book cowboy and then as we go along he sheds his hat and his waist coat and all his clichés,” he said.
Unorthodox is where Maclean lives creatively. He attended the Edinburgh College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London and then co-founded the cult pop groups The Beta Band followed by The Aliens, which broke up in 2008.
His transformation into filmmaking seemed like the best next step. He had been front and centre in the making of each group’s videos. “I was always into the visual aspect of things,” Maclean said. “Videos were sort of my training ground.”