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How many actors do you know of who could convincingly portray — in one calendar year — a mid-19th century literary icon, a mid-20th century super-villain, an early-20th century psychologist, and a 21st century sex addict? Let me answer for you: not many. That, however, is precisely what Michael Fassbender, a 34-year-old German-born/Irish-bred actor, has done in 2011, in Cary Fukunaga‘s spring period piece Jane Eyre (released on March 11), Matthew Vaughn‘s summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class (released on May 26), David Cronenberg‘s historical drama A Dangerous Method (due out on November 23), and Steve McQueen‘s gritty character study Shame (due out on December 2), respectively. With a year like that, it’s no wonder that people are speculating that Fassbender — whom I interviewed in New York earlier this month — could wind up with a best actor Oscar nod for either one of his fall films.
As we discuss in the video at the top of this post…
Fassbender first began acting professionally a little over a decade ago, following years of work in amateur productions and study with various teachers throughout Europe. His first two auditions were for parts in Michael Bay‘s action flick Pearl Harbor (2000) and the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg‘s HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001); he lost the former to Ben Affleck, but bagged the latter (in London), and soon thereafter, at the age of 24, made the big jump across the pond to Hollywood. And then… nothing. He recalls that, despite his best efforts, he “didn’t get any work” for three months, and ultimately decided to head back to Europe until he had a solid reason to come back to America again. It turned out to be a wise move.
Around 2007, Gary Davy, a casting director, suggested to Fassbender that he meet up with a guy named Steve McQueen, whose parents apparently either forgot the sixties or wanted to play something of a joke on him, and who had co-written and hoped to direct a film about Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army who was imprisoned in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and led a 1981 hunger strike that garnered media attention around the world. Fassbender and McQueen came away from that meeting very impressed with each other — Fassbender recalls thinking, “This guy is different” — and McQueen offered him the part. Fassbender dove into it, body and soul, and wound up shedding roughly 40 pounds, after which he looked practically skeletal.
Fassbender’s performance was not seen by the masses, but it was seen widely within the industry, and probably factored into Quentin Tarantino‘s decision to cast him as a British Army officer in Inglourious Basterds (2009), which introduced him to his widest audience yet. Then came Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank (2010), Jimmy Hayward‘s Jonah Hex (2010), and several other medium-profile pics, which collectively paved the way for the actor’s incredible 2011.
Jane Eyre was greeted with strong reviews (Roger Ebert cheered Fassbender’s “threatening charm”); X-Men: First Class did boffo business (it topped the box-office on its opening weekend with $55 milion in ticket sales); and A Dangerous Method and Shame, both of which premiered to great acclaim at September’s Venice Film Festival (Fassbender was named best actor for the latter).
The two fall films both happen to explore sexual deviance — Fassbender, as Jung, spanks Keira Knightley, who plays his sex-hungry patient, in Method, and, as “an unfortunate character who’s trying to find intimacy, trying to find a connection, and, yet, is terrified of intimacy,” compulsively spanks his “monkey,” if you will, in Shame. While very little graphic content is present in Method, it is pervasive throughout Shame (including scenes of full frontal nudity on the part of Fassbender and co-star Carey Mulligan), which led many — including yours truly — to wonder if it would ever been seen outside of the festival circuit, or if it would be relegated to a fate not unlike that of Hunger. As it turns out, Fox Searchlight decided to take a chance on it, despite the fact that it was likely destined to receive the dreaded NC-17 rating from the MPAA (it did last week), and studio reps tell me that it may well end up as something of a landmark film, since most art-house theaters that have been offered the film have welcomed it with open arms.
What — aside from possibly the first Oscar nod of his career — is next for Fassbender?
At a New York Film Festival Q&A, he said, “When I was seventeen and I started off doing this, my dream was to meet a director, and to have a relationship with a director, like [Martin] Scorsese/[Robert] De Niro… that would be the ultimate, to have a collaboration like that, and to be on a wavelength that powerful with somebody, and that’s what I was so lucky to find with Steve [McQueen].” When we met for our interview, he added about McQueen, “He’s just a great guy and we’ve become really close, on and off set. You know, we have a very quick way of working — very quick short-hand — and we’re on the same wave-length, and it’s just fun.”
Therefore, it was not all that surprising — but still very exciting — to hear this week that Fassbender will reunite with McQueen — and his Shame co-star Mulligan and Basterds co-star Brad Pitt — for his next film, Twelve Years a Slave.
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