MICHAEL FASSBENDER : Living in a Fish Tank
Posted December, 2009 | By Daniel Schweiger
Whether he’s a particularly eager Spartan in 300, or a haplessly overconfident British commando who joins the Inglourious Basterds, you could say there’s an unavoidable, dashing quality that goes with Michael Fassbender. That is until you trade that swagger for his devastating portrayal of Bobby Sands in Hunger, and discover an equally magnetic, and far more “real” side to Fassbender’s talents. Though he already had impressive credits in American and English television with such shows as “Band of Brothers,” “Murphy’s Law” and “Hex,” it was this devastating film in which he played IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands that truly put Fassbender on two divergent acting paths.
With parents that hail from Germany and Northern Ireland, Fassbender moved from Heidelberg to spend most of his youth in Killarney. Now counting Los Angeles as his new hometown, the multi-national and lingual Fassbender is continuing to see his charismatic star rise. His handsome aura is being put to darker use in Fish Tank, a film whose title is a metaphor for the drab surroundings of Mia, a teenager whose dreams of hip-hop dancing stardom are continually squashed by economic blight, not to mention her layabout mother.
Sure, this might sound like the piffle that fills any American teen dance flick that might be playing next to Basterds. But transpose the setting to England’s “consul estates” (i.e. projects), and give Mia’s mom a smoldering boyfriend in the form of Fassbender’s Connor, and you’ve got a terrific, devastating slice of English kitchen sink drama — seemingly filmed as the drama’s happening by director Andrea Arnold (Wasp), and starring real-life estate survivor Katie Jarvis as Mia. At first trying just to get along with the troubled teenager, something far more inappropriate develops between them, with profound ramifications for a girl who fancies herself older than her years, and the man who can’t help but exploit her inherent naiveté.
Played with absolute, gripping believability in every respect, Fish Tank’s story reflects An Education’s, but without the glitzy-romantic niceties. And as the man who will reveal what lies outside of a girlwoman’s numbing existence, Fassbender doesn’t go for the easy clichés of this typical character. Instead he shows the yearning of a seducer to be something better, even if he can’t help his devilish self. And in the process, Michael Fassbender reveals another side to the roguish charisma that’s taking him to the top of both the high roads of commercial and art cinema.
Venice: You’ve ranged from films that are near-documentaries like Fish Tank and Hunger to such “comic book” movies as 300 and Inglourious Basterds. How difficult is it to perform in a movie where you’re trying to be as truthful as possible, to those where it’s very obvious that you’re watching stylized performances?
Michael Fassbender: I don’t change too much in my approach to any character I play. Something like 300 might be more fantastical, since you know there’s a comic book element to it. Another difference with something like Inglourious Basterds and Fish Tank is the budget, and the number of people you’re working with. But the nuts and bolts of my process as an actor are pretty much the same actually, even you’ll amp up a few things if you’re in a stylized film. But it is real when you’re filming something like Fish Tank, because the location is an actual consul estate. You’re in a two bedroom flat with an intimate crew, and you’re in there working quickly.
Would you describe your character of Connor in Fish Tank as a bad person?
No. With Andrea Arnold’s films, there is no “bad” or “good.” There are elements of both traits to everyone in her stories. Connor’s an escapist, and is someone who’s not very good with responsibility. He runs away from his problems as opposed to facing them head-on. Essentially, that’s his main weakness. But he’s also good natured, humored and well intentioned. His big mistake is overstepping his position with Mia by taking advantage of somebody who’s vulnerable and looking for a father figure. Mia’s also becoming sexually active, so it’s a particular time in the forming of this girl into a woman. Yet Connor does bring a lot of positivity to Mia’s life. He gives her a confidence, and self-belief that her mother isn’t able to give her. He also shows Mia that she can break out of this bleak environment, especially when it seems unimaginable that she can create a life for herself. It’s a situation that kids all over the world in these working-class estates find themselves, where it seems they’re never going to leave the four blocks they grew up in. And that’s because a lot of these kids don’t have the self-belief. No one ever told them that they actually have a unique talent, and are special in their own right. So they kind of get stuck there like Mia.
Did you ever hang out with working class kids like Mia when you were growing up?
I grew up in Ireland during the early ’80s, where there were rich people as well as farmers and laborers. So it wasn’t a “class” system like you’d find in the U.K. Everyone’s kind of mixed-up in the same school. I also received far more emotional nourishment from my parents than Mia’s character did. We didn’t have a lot of money, but it wasn’t like we were in her sort of scenario.
What was it like to enter that workingclass world in Fish Tank?
I was living in London for the last 13 years, where you can have a really wealthy neighborhood, and then find the worst kind of consul estates 500 yards down the road. So those kind of places were never too far away. England also has a real mix of ethnicities and religions, as opposed to the kind of defined “areas” you might have in a place like New York City. All walks of life were around me.
This is Katie Jarvis’ first film as an actress, and she does an amazing job as Mia. When you’re working with someone who’s untrained like her, do you ever try to give them advice?
I tried not to give her advice, because that’s the director’s job, and it would be very presumptuous of me to step in there and pass on what I know. And to be honest, I don’t know if I’m equipped to do that. I can only give opinions, because I think acting is first and foremost an intuitive profession. I did go to drama school, which gives you a structure that you can depend on, even when your intuition lets you down. But Katie has intuition in bagloads. When I was working with her as a professional, there was no advice I could give her, because she’s brilliant. Katie acts from such an honest, truthful place that the only thing I could do was to keep up with her. The only advice I could truly give her was how to maintain herself in the business, and how to pace a working day. When you’re doing a play, it’s like running a marathon. But when you’re making a movie, it’s like sprinting. You’ve got to find your moments when you’re on camera, and how to occupy the moments when you’re off of it. But in terms of what she does in front of the camera, there’s nothing I could tell Katie that she’s not doing already.
Do you think acting will help Katie get out of the projects?
Yes. I think that’s given her tremendous impetus to continue. Katie comes from a working-class background. And like Mia, I think she’ll be able to outstep that and have an opportunity to work in the arts and film.
If you’ve ever been involved with a woman with children, how did you bring that experience to Connor?
No, I haven’t, though the girl I’m seeing now has two kids.
Do you think making Fish Tank has taught you how to approach a relationship like that now?
I don’t know! Well [laughs], I don’t think anything can teach you about parenting and kids. You just have to try to listen to them, and allow them to grow. You have to protect them, and help them make the right decisions. But I’m reluctant to do that, because I don’t know if I’ve done that the right way.
You were perfectly cast for Basterds, since your family had emigrated from Germany to Ireland. What’s so funny about your character is that he’s a satire of the stiff upper-lipped “can do” English heroes of so many WWII films. Yet Archie fails in his mission for all of his hubris at knowing the German culture. It’s a very funny performance from that viewpoint.
I think I knew how to play that from the audition. There are probably two types of British commandos, and everyone was coming in to Quentin (Tarantino) reading the part like Michael Caine in The Ipcress File and Get Carter. But that’s not what Quentin wanted. I felt he was looking for that kind of “Give it a shot old boy” stiff upper lipped character. Everything’s stacked up against Archie. Yet he’s got a bravado that’s very humorous, and admirable. That’s what I concentrated on at my audition. I had to find humor within the character without making a cliché out of him. So I tried to explore that ludicrous realm in Archie, but to have it steeped in reality at the same time.
Since Archie has an exceptional knowledge of German films, did you also find yourself digging into classics?
I did, especially because I hadn’t seen anything from that era at all. G.W. Pabst was Archie’s specialty, so Quentin advised me on films I should watch like Diary of a Lost Girl and Pandora’s Box. And I was just blown away with how sophisticated the films were in their subject matter. In Lost Girl, you’ve got a girl who ends up getting put in an orphanage, and then ends up becoming a prostitute. That’s risqué stuff, and discovering films like that made me realize how arrogant I was in thinking that we’re making more emotionally and socially sophisticated films now. But this was back in the late 1920s before censorship came in. And I was really blown away by these silent films. They were a revelation to me.
Tell us about the character you’ll be playing in another big comic book western called Jonah Hex.
I play a guy called Burke. He’s an Irish quarryman who’s got Polynesian tattoos that go up to his chin. Then he ends up in the United States as the right-hand man to John Malkovich and his gang of train robbers and opportunists. Now this twisted man who already loves to kill and steal is given a platform to truly explore this side of his personality, especially when it comes to stabbing people, in particular prostitutes. Burke’s a fairly nasty individual!
So from doing kitchen-sink realism to huge comic book films, I think you pretty much have the whole Hollywood gamut covered.
Hopefully! So far it’s touch wood! It’s exactly how I’d like to keep my career going, since my ideal scenario is to bounce from one type of film to the other.
Source | VeniceMag.com