'Frank': Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal Talk "Liberating" Shoot, Perform Live With Mask (Video)
The members of the onscreen band in Frank reunited on Tuesday night at the New York City premiere of the Magnolia Pictures title, complete with a Fassbender-in-a-headmask performance of the film's final number, "I Love You All."
Frank casts Michael Fassbender as the mysterious, masked frontman of an offbeat rock band with a confusing name and very niche sound — a fictional character loosely inspired by Frank Sidebottom (the persona of cult musician and British comedy legend Chris Sievey), as well as outsider musicians such as Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart.
"What was difficult was singing and speaking, because everything inside this box reverberates," Fassbender told reporters on the red carpet before the screening at Landmark Sunshine Cinema, presented by Tommy Hilfiger and Dark Horse Wine. "In terms of the acting, it was quite liberating to hide behind a mask. It encourages a certain level of mischief — I wish I could do everything in the head, to be honest." He also joked, "The best part was that if I didn't want to go to work, I'd just send in my double! It was a dream job, really."
Fassbender's papier-mache persona featured tiny eye slots that prevented him from seeing anything directly in front of him, forcing him to peer out at his co-stars from the side. "The small gestures, vocal inflections — he's a fully present, live character," director Lenny Abrahamson told The Hollywood Reporter of Fassbender's acting. "Because you can't see his face, he draws attention in the frame. You really want to know what he's thinking. Frank becomes this intriguing masked character. People read emotions onto the face — when the scene is scary, it feels like he's worried; when it's warm, he feels happy. And that's kind of amazing. If you look at actors whom people say do so little — quite often, the actor does basically nothing, but they have a face onto which the audience can project their feelings, and Frank shows that."
Carla Azar said of being led by a frontman with an enormous head, onstage and off, "It was just fine. It seemed normal to me!"
Domhnall Gleeson, who plays the hopeful recruit who tries to expand the band's mainstream appeal via social media and a gig at SXSW, didn't know how to play the keyboard when he signed on for the role. He also wasn't put off by the film's absurd and quirky tone. "It's got an honesty about it. It's funny and strange, and it's a really weird soul that the film has, but it's all the more beautiful for it," he said — like Maggie Gyllenhaal was, at first.
The actress, who plays the band's aggressive purist, told THR at Sundance that she initially rejected the role. "I think I didn't get it when I first read it, and it's the only time I've ever turned down a role and gone back, saying, 'I think I made a mistake. I'd love to do it if you'll have me,' " she explained on Tuesday. "It just stuck with me, and I think it needed a minute to resonate, to get the humor. … She's like a teenager; she pretends she's in a French New Wave movie the whole time, even though she's in a muddy cabin!"
After the actors played live as a band during filming, Gyllenhaal told reporters that she played all of her instruments "as well as a chimpanzee might — I certainly got lucky!"
Azar, who attended the premiere with Jack White, said the film accurately portrayed a band's complicated dynamics: "The chemistry was real; there was nothing fake about it — that's the most important thing when you're making music." Said Scoot McNairy, the band performed the film's final number, "I Love You All" (complete with a masked Fassbender, see below) at the afterparty, held at The Westway and with Peter Sarsgaard, Guns N' Roses' Frank Ferrer, Ramones' Marky Ramone, Guster's Ryan Miller and MGMT's Benjamin Goldwasser in tow, among others. Onscreen, the song leaves Gleeson out, but he learned the keyboard chords solely for the night's performance.
Still, the music-related film isn't necessarily about the tunes. "Here's what people will take away. Don't expect your heroes to have the answers to all your problems — in the way that we look to celebrities and these figures in the entertainment industry and the arts, that they can fix our lives because they have some deep secret. They're just people, like everyone else," warned Abrahamson. "The other thing is, be prepared to accept who you are. There's an American philosophy where if you want something enough, you will have it; dream it and you can do it. Well, this movie says, maybe you can have some things and maybe other things. You're just better off leaving them alone."
Frank hits theaters Aug. 15.