Meet Your Next Obsession…Michael Fassbender
Posted March 04, 2011 | By Chris Nashawaty
He’s the tortured Rochester in Jane Eyre, the young Magneto in X-Men First Class, and soon to be everywhere.
You may have noticed that right now we’re being overrun by a new wave of strapping young Hollywood leading men. They’re easy on the eyes, full of nonthreatening A-list potential, and sometimes hard to tell apart. Michael Fassbender is not one of those guys. Lean and ruggedly handsome, the 33-year-old German-born, Irish-raised actor comes across on screen and off as a rakish throwback to a long-lost generation of bad-boy actors like Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton-macho men who seem to know their way around the barroom and the bedroom. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also this: He knows how to make an entrance.
On a wintry afternoon, Fassbender walks into a midtown Manhattan cafe looking as if he just dismounted a Harley. He’s wearing a brown leather motorcycle jacket over a gray T-shirt and jeans, and his face has a few days of reddish stubble. As he approaches a table in the back, a waitress stops what she’s doing and whispers, “Is he famous? Because he looks famous.”
The short answer is: No, not yet. But that could change any day now. On March 11, Fassbender can be seen as the smoldering Mr. Rochester in a new adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s literary classic Jane Eyre. After that, he’ll play Magneto in the superhero prequel X-men First Class (out June 3), costar with Ewan McGregor in Steven Soderbergh’s political thriller Haywire, and match egos and ids with Viggo Mortensen’s Sigmund Freud as Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. In addition, he is currently shooting British director Steven McQueen’s gritty indie Shame, and will then star in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the eagerly awaited, big-budget quasi-prequel to Alien. “Michael’s not that well-known to the public yet,” says Cronenberg, “but within Hollywood everybody wants him. He’s a hot property because everyone thinks he’s quivering on the brink of major stardom.”
Fassbender takes a seat and flashes a smile at the blushing waitress, ordering steak and eggs and a glass of cabernet. He apologizes for appearing so exhausted-a result of his grueling back-to-back film schedule. “My eyes look like two piss holes in the snow,” he says. Inevitably, the conversation circles around to the question he’s been hearing a lot lately. Is he ready for what’s about to happen? The fame, the celebrity; the swooning waitress? Fassbender laughs, “No, I feel kind of tripped out.”
Fassbender says this in a top-o’-the-morning Irish lilt. He sounds like he should be wearing green. And when his brunch arrives, he points to his home fries and says, “Help yourself to me spuds!” The actor is the first to admit he’s been on a wild ride since his harrowing skin-and-bones performance as IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in McQueen’s 2008 art-house drama Hunger, a role for which he shed more than 30 pounds and transformed into a walking ghost. That role, combined with charismatic turns in Inglourious Basterds and the critically acclaimed indie Fish Tank, had Hollywood wondering if he was the next Christian Bale.
A decade ago, Fassbender was a drama school dropout living in London, tending bar when he wasn’t acting on stage. He went to L.A. and made the rounds. Soon he found himself up for the lead in 2001’s Pearl Harbor and a part on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. “When I got Band of Brothers, I was like, ‘Yo, man, this is it! Spielberg, baby! This is the big leagues!'” But his Band of Brothers role wound up being a lot smaller than he expected. “You really can’t see me in that thing,” he says. “Afterwards, I came back to London with my tail between my legs.” Looking back, though, Fassbender says that initial failure was a blessing in disguise. “I wouldn’t change anything,” he says. “The fame thing, the honey traps, I don’t know that I would have handled it well at 23. I would have gone apes—.”
Fassbender spent the next several years hustling for parts on British TV shows and doing the occasional supporting role in films like 300, unsure if he’d ever get another shot. Then he auditioned for Hunger. As an Irishman, he was terrified by the responsibility of playing a national icon like Sands. “When Michael came in the first time, I didn’t think much,” admits McQueen. “But the second time, I think he was pissed off and I thought, ‘All right, this is the guy.’ The great thing about Michael is that he’s not afraid to look stupid and fail. He actually embraces fear.”
Fassbender is often asked about his shocking weight loss for the film. “I can understand why people are interested in it,” he says. “But it wasn’t that bad at all, really.” That’s hard to believe considering McQueen stopped production for 10 weeks so the six-foot actor could drop from 160 pounds to 127 on a diet of nuts, blueberries, and sardines. “We saw Christian Bale do it in The Machinist,” says Cronenberg, a fan of Hunger. “It requires incredible discipline, and it’s dangerous to do. Michael came very close to body shutdown.” It’s no wonder fellow performers sing his praises. “He’s a new breed of actor,” says Josh Brolin, who lobbied to get Fassbender in last summer’s Jonah Hex. “He’s serious, but he has that glint of mischief. He makes other actors work hard, and it also contrasts the ones who don’t work hard.”
If Hunger served notice, it was Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds that put Fassbender’s dreamy Irish mug in front of mainstream moviegoers for the first time. He played Lieut. Archie Hicox, a debonair British officer who teams up with Brad Pitt’s ruthless band of merry murderers to kill the Nazi high command. But when Fassbender flew to Berlin to audition, he thought he was reading for Hans Landa – the role that wound up winning Christoph Waltz a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. “I got there and Quentin was like, ‘I cast my Landa on Tuesday.’ I thought I blew it. But Quentin writes dialog so well, you just can’t mess it up.”
Fassbender seems genuinely tickled by the strange twists that fate has thrown his way. “Timing is everything,” he says. And although he won’t come right out and say it, you get the sense he knows this is his time to jump at all the opportunities he wouldn’t have dared dream about just a couple years ago-like getting his name above the title in a potential blockbuster such as X-Men. “Look, I like the way things are now,” he says. “I can walk around and people don’t recognize me. But I’m in a certain place in my career where a movie like X-Men is sort of the next step. I want to have more control over my career and X-Men opens me up to a wider audience. Plus, if I can be honest with you, a big movie like that scares the piss out of me. And if you’re not getting scared, then you’re not succeeding.”
He exhales after saying this, as if he’s realized that he’s starting to sound a little actorly. He drains the last of his glass of wine and grins. “Maybe I should be more worried that after all these movies people will be Fassbendered out.”
Source | Entertainment Weekly Magazine