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Michael Fassbender : The Charmer

Posted January 2011 | By Jo Ellison

Michael Fassbender is the latest in a long lineage of irresistible Irish heart-throbs. Jo Ellison is enthralled.

Michael Fassbender is strolling down Broadway Market, by London Fields. It’s a perfect day in late autumn: a chill wind blows, the sun is bouncing off the tarmacadam, and the leaves are a Patone wheel of browns. He’s wearing Evisu jeans, a navy tee, Adidas trainers and a nut-coloured biker jacket. He wears them well. Shoulders back, with an easy gait and a Marlboro on the go, the 33-year-old actor looks as cocksure and carefree as one of the local barrow boys.

I am scuttling along two steps behind. I do not look carefree; I am dry-mouthed, over-excited, and completely neurotic. I’ve done, undone and done my hair three time. I’ve tortured my eye make-up to the point where it looks painfully conjunctival. I dressed up, but feel all wrong. I am first-date nervous.

Fassbender enters The Dove, a small pub towards the south end of the market, and is already scanning the bar when I introduce myself. We have met in the past-across a table, at an awards ceremony, about two years ago-but I doubt, somehow, that I burnt as singular an impression on him as he did on me. He focuses his steely blue eyes on mine and grins. “Helloooo, Jo,” he exclaims in a powerfully gentle Irish vernacular while pulling me into the type of embrace usually saved for long-lost relatives or air-crash survivors. “It’s great to see you.”

A long-held maxim counsels journalists never to meet their idols. I have always assumed this is because such encounters will be bathetically disappointing. I now realise they simply leave you at risk of complete coronary failure. Thankfully, Fassbender hasn’t heard my heart thunder-clapping, and is busy ordering us drinks and voicing his woes about the theft of his motorbike, which as stolen outside a restaurant earlier in the week and which isn’t insured because: “I didn’t have a secondary lock on it. And when I asked the police if I could see the CCTV footage from one of the four cameras trained on to that particular spot they said I had to get permission from everyone else captured on the CCTV footage, which is impossible.” He lights another cigarette and assists me to do the same. He has a strong, manly jaw line and surprisingly delicate hands; maybe pianists’ fingers are a Teutonic trait (his father is German and his mother Irish). You can be sure of one thing: his talent for talking is pure Celt. “There’s a notion that the cameras are there to protect the citizen, but actually they’re only there to facilitate the state in prosecution of the citizen,” he continues. A dog wanders past. Fassbender indulges it in a minute of friendly petting before standing up. “I’m done with this,” he announces of a half-finished orange juice and lemonade. “Shall we wander up the road and see what we fancy for lunch?” His hair is backlit in a sandy halo as he sets off up the street. I follow his silhouette-as devotedly as the aforementioned dog.

But who, you ask, is Michael Fassbender? Indeed. Thus far, the oeuvres that have defined his career have consisted either of highly cerebral, highly acclaimed, highly difficult arthouse films like Hunger (for which he starved himself to 50 kilos to play political prisoner Bobby Sands), Angel and Fist Tank, or highly gory, highly popularist and often hilarious efforts like Inglourious Basterds, Eden Lake, or Centurion (in which he ran around the New Forest dressed in little other than a Roman loin cloth).

In fact, a great many of his roles have required the removal of his clothing for sustained periods of time. But even though he packs as perfect a pectoral as any other young Adonis, it’s his acting skills that dazzle. On-screen, Fassbender is charismatic, brilliantly generous and utterly compelling; you can’t wrest your eyes from his face. But don’t take my word for it. Ask a film-maker. “He’s like a musician,” says Steve McQueen, who directed him in the Bafta-winning Hunger and with whom he is now working on a new project. “He can insinuate something in a performance in a way that is unrecognisable, but also familial. That’s what makes him so mesmerising. He’s very hypnotic, but there’s a bit of roughness there. It’s very human. You know-it smells.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best actors in the world,” adds director Matthew Vaughn, listing Robert de Niro, Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage among them. “And I can guarantee that Michael Fassbender is about to join them in rank and stature.”

This year Fassbender will star in no fewer than four films: he plays Jung opposite Viggo Mortensen’s Freud and Keira Knightly in David Cronenberg’s psychoanalytical drama A Dangerous Method; he co-stars in Steven Soderbergh’s Dublin crime caper Haywire (with Ewan McGregor); corset lovers will swoon over his performance as Mr. Rochester, opposite Mia Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre, in a sinister re-telling of the Bronte classic, directed by Cary Fukunaga. And right now, he’s donning the latex as Ian McKellen’s former alter-ego Magneto in Vaughn’s re-booted X-Men: First Class, filming at Pinewood, and due out this summer. The film’s nightmarishly complicated production has seen this meeting rescheduled numerously, and meant he missed out on a plum role in Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy. Suffice to say, having seemingly come from nowhere, he’s suddenly coming dangerously close to overexposure.

If Fassbender is comfortable with his apparent overnight fame, it’s because it’s been a long, long time in the making. Having dropped out of drama college as a 20-year-old, he spent the best part of a decade struggling to get the small breaks before landing his golden ticket. “The wilderness years…” he mulls over a chicken sandwich in a local cafe’ whose coffee machine specialises in an appalling screech that near-obliterates cogent conversation, but whose geography virtually necessitates my sitting on Fassbender’s lap-which is fine by me. “Well…I was working. I mean, God, there are people in the wilderness who are really in the wilderness,” he explains. But the actor’s life was “very sporadic: you know-a guess spot in Holby City. Six episodes on something here or there. Working behind a bar. A lot of thinking should I go home. And I made a balls of soooo many auditions.”

This is not false modesty. McQureen barely remembers Fassbender’s first audition to play the hunger-strike Bobby Sands. “He didn’t make a deep impression on me.” It was only on meeting him for a second time that he saw his true potential. “He’s a beautiful person. It’s difficult sometimes, when you’re introducing yourself to someone. Your first impression can always be wrong. And once the barriers were down I thought, this guy’s amazing.”

Unquestionably, his harrowing performance as the IRA prisoner changed everything. The film went on to win 33 international awards, including Camera d’Or at Cannes, and established Fassbender as a leading man. “It was everything,” he says of the film. “The film industry was going to go through a breakdown and there were going to be less jobs for less people…Hunger changed my life…”

But even if his fortunes have changed, Fassbender is under no illusions about his sudden currency. “Talent is a very small per cent of success-there are massively talented people out there who will never be seen on screen or on stage. People always go on about talent, but you’ve got to have the chance; meet the person who will work with you, and the script that just suits you. Timing is massive.”

Neither does he allude to any mystery regarding his methodology. “I read an interview with Roy Keane,” he says, conjuring Ireland’s colourfully controversial former football captain. “He said: ‘I may not be able to dribble like Giggs, or pass the ball like Beckham. So I just have to work harder than anybody else.’ That might be him giving a humble description of himself, but it’s a pretty good work ethic to apply to everything,” says Fassbender, getting up to grab an outside table int he sunshine. “I bring a very pragmatic, practical process to acting,” he continues. “The boring stuff. It’s about graft. It’s as simple as that. When I get a script I’ll just read it, read it, read it – 200 times – over and over, until I’m sick of it. And then you can have fun with it.”

He may argue that his process is boring and prosaic, but Mia Wasikowska paints a different picture. “To work with someone like Michael is to have an ally and friend,” she says. “From the beginning I felt fiercely supported by him. He brings with him a worldliness that informs his performances, a depth of emotion that is both raw and beautiful, and an infectiously cheeky energy that would lift the whole crew.” She also talks of his “honest curiosity”, a trait writ large through all his conversations, and his sense of humour. “I had the most incredible fun working with him.” The feeling’s mutual: “She’s phenomenal,” he says of the 21-year-old actress. “She taught me so much.”

Fun is a big factor in Fassbender’s life. I can only assume it was what directed his decision to take part in Centurion-a sword-and-sandal slashathon set in ancient England (typical dialogue: “I suggest you get down off that horse and give me your message before I have you flogged!”) -or 300 (“Xerxes dispatches his monsters from half the world away. They’re clumsy beasts, and the piled Persian dead are slippery”). Fassbender laughs. He blames the cause of this particular professional peccadillo on Dominic West-an actor alongside whom Fassbender starred three times. “I was working with Dominic [in South Africa]. Both of us love riding horses, and we used to go off on these trails around the vineyards; it was amazing. I said to my agent after that: ‘I’ll do anything with horses!'” Besides: “It’s fun doing the things that you do when you’re 10, to do something that’s a bit more physically involved, and flush out your brain.”

Just as he loves horses, so, too, does love motorbikes. And racing cars. And go-karting. “It’s a horrible weakness-a materialistic failing of mine,” he admits. “I used to go to the cinema all the time. Now I go go-karting, and test-drive motorbikes. I love cars. I would love to have a collection. I’d love a 1956 Porsche 550 Spider. To me that’s like a Van Gogh.” I wonder whether I could share my life with a man who might liken a Porsche to a Van Gogh, and decide I probably could. But it seems not everyone’s so understanding. “Whenever you’re taking to the female population about a Ferrari, they’re like: ‘that’s just like the extension of a dick.’ And you’re like: ‘no, it’s a beautiful piece of art.'”

Truth is, Fassbender is a bit of an unreconstructed bloke-the product of a childhood spent mucking around in rivers, running up mountains, and keeping out of trouble on the grounds of the hotel at which his parents worked, in the west of Ireland. The family moved (he has an older sister) to Killarney from Germany when he was two and his parents now run a guesthouse and restaurant in the area. He was a quiet child, who became a ‘very loud’ teenage. It’s easy to imagine him clowning about doing sketches for his classmates at the all-boys secondary he attended, or staging an adaptation of Reservoir Dogs for an unsuspecting public at age 17. “We put it on at a Killarney nightclub. And it was a total success: 120 people on the first night; 140 the second. I played Mr. Pink,” he laughs. Of course.

And, like all the best Irishmen, he’s a terrific charmer. Fassbender flirts. Constantly. He switches on that Taser grin and fells women, men, dogs, photographers, lampposts for sport. He cites his most autobiographical to date as that of the sexually amoral Connor, a man whose seductive power wreaks havoc on the all-female household at the centre of Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. “At one point I thought I was going to be sleeping with all the family,” he says of the script. “I was like, please, no, not the 11-year-old.” In fact, I think Fassbender’s moral compass is considerably more intact, but he sill radiates that same powerfully thrilling charisma. “As with all handsome leading-male types, there’s a kind of magnetism there,” agrees McQueen. “He’s extraordinary. Girls like him. Boys like him. It’s kind of weird. But at the same time…”

We pay up. Or rather Fassbender pays up. He has a driver waiting to take him to town. Can he offer me a lift? We wander across London Fields towards his flat, where he needs to pick up a couple of bits. The sun has thrown a beautiful golden light across the park, saturating it in glorious, magical Technicolor. We stop, and leans towards me coaxing a cigarette lighter into actions. It takes several attempts, each bringing with it an imperceptibly tiny shift in intimacy as I lean in closer, closer, closer to catch the flame. It’s a palpably heart-skippety romantic moment, but just as I am about to forget myself completely, I hear a couple of female voices alongside us. Two girls appear: one is blonde and is transporting a dog somwhere the other side of the park; the other is small, sullen and bears an uncanny resemblance to Zoe Kravitz. He greets them with the same warmth he did me, and the dog, and the coffee-shop barista. The blonde peels off and I am introduced to the other; she has sloe eyes, smooth skin an American accent and is working on X-Men. She is Zoe Kravitz. I size her up. I’ve got about nine inches and 15 years on her. We fall into step across the park. I’m pretty certain I see Fassbender take her hand, and there is a sweet furtiveness to their behaviour, but there is no mention of her being his girlfriend. When we walk into his flat, a one-bedroom pad in an anonymous apartment block adjacent to the park, she apologizes for the mess.

As well she might. The place is a pig-sty. Dirty clothes are strewn all over the floor; the dregs of last night’s drink still sit in glasses on the table; skeins of tobacco are collecting on the table and two electric guitars sit ominously near the front door. I pick my way around boxes of Adidas trainers, which sit atop each other like a monolith in the middle of the floor. “He’s gotten so much stuff from them,” says Zoe in a flatly conspiratorial voice, as Fassbender attends to some business in the bathroom. “I’m trying to stop him from wearing the whole label, like, head-to-toe…”

Fassbender reappears, and we pile into the car to make our way through the hellish traffic into town. I ride upfront, feeling as conspicuously gooseberryish as it is possibly to feel. Meanwhile, Fassbender chatters on, debating the merits of the new Bugatti or BMW motorbike he wants to test-drive, and searching for accompanying images on his iPhone. Zoe throws in an occasional opinion. “You can’t buy the red one. That just looks so tacky.” Slowly, the conversation turns to film. Has anybody seen The Social Network? I loved it. Fassbender found it boring. He’s a difficult audience. In too many films “I know what’s going to happen after the first 10 minutes.” The Social Network was evidently one of those. We talk about hundreds of actors currently crowding the lot at Pinewood, where Captain America, X-Men and Pirates of the Caribbean are in production. Has he seen Johnny Depp wandering about in his tricorne? No, but Zoe’s good pals with Depp’s co-star Penelope Cruz. We talk about various actors, what we think of their work. We are mostly in agreement.

We finally arrive on Bond Street, and I take my cue to leave. Fassbender leaps out of the car and gives me another of those hugs. I wonder how long I can nestle against his chest without him finding it strange. And then he’s bounding back to the car. At the last moment, he looks me in the eye. “Give us a call maybe, sometime,” he grins over the exhaust fumes. “We’ll go for a drink.”

And then, like that, he disappears.

Source | Vogue UK

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