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On the day before the Golden Globes in LA, and with a powerful friendly handshake, Michael Fassbender arrives in his own dark jeans, sweater and sports jacket to a THR cover shoot. It is part of the actor’s talent and enigma that no one assumes to know what the Irish-German actor is going to be like. One member of his team cautions he is “running on fumes” after staying out until 2:30 a.m. the night before, first going to CAA’s pre-Globes party and then dancing at an undisclosed location. But he is upbeat, pleasant and affectionate (he gladly gives out hugs). Mercurial, he wears a wide grin you rarely see on the big screen. Confides one member of Fassbender’s inner circle, who says the actor sometimes can be caught doing his own rendition of Warren G‘s “Regulate:” “I always tell Michael that if James Bond and Peter Sellers got together, he’d be their love child.’ His response, ‘I’m leaning a little more towards Sellers these days.'”
In just two short years, the 34-year-old has established himself as one of the most versatile, admired and in-demand actors in Hollywood. The Hollywood Reporter‘s senior film reporter Pamela McClintock caught Fassbender as he stands poised on the cusp of superstardom (he’s next up in Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus) and takes a deeper look at what keeps the indefatigable leading man perpetually looking for new challenges.
Some of the revelations from the hot actor in THR‘s cover story:
FASSBENDER’S CURE TO OVERWORK: SKYDIVING
After shooting and promoting six movies in 20 months, and receiving a Venice Film Festival best actor award and a Golden Globe nomination, Fassbender slipped away to the Hawaiian island of Oahu in January. Following that relentless schedule and his first real introduction to fame in 2011, Hollywood’s new “It” actor could have collapsed stone-cold. Instead, the motorcycle enthusiast (he currently rides a BMW 1200 GS Adventure) did what any amateur adrenaline junkie might do on vacation: He jumped out of a plane high over the island. “It was the most amazing rush,” recalls Fassbender. “I was strapped to the instructor, who was behind me. For 50 seconds, you’re free-falling, and your brain is saying, What are you doing? Once the canopy opens, he unhooks certain things and you drop down a bit. It’s a crazy feeling to jump out of an airplane and land on the ground.”
ON GOING NUDE, MEETING SEX ADDICTS AND USING YOUTUBE TO HONE HIS CRAFT
Fassbender says what attracted him to the role of Brandon, a sex addict in the Fox Searchlight indie drama Shame– produced by See Saw Films and Alliance–was the chance to explore the desperate search for connection; playing a young Jung in A Dangerous Method allowed him to morph into a historical character. “I was a bit worried that I’d perhaps bitten off more than I could chew,” he says. “But I’m always interested in trying to investigate different personalities. I want to keep myself guessing and keep the fear element alive, so that I don’t get too comfortable.” Jeremy Thomas, a producer on Dangerous Method, says Fassbender who was director David Cronenberg‘s first choice to play Jung read the script over and over again, even during production, something Thomas has never seen an actor do. “It’s one of his secret weapons,” he says. Fassbender says he’s grown deft at using YouTube to study accents (his own is Irish) or to watch a grainy interview with an elderly Jung. For Shame, he met with recovering sex addicts: “One man had the same intimacy issues that Brandon had, so it was very helpful to me, and I was very grateful that he opened up.” Additionally, he says there was no time to feel too self-conscious when shooting Shame, says Fassbender. It helped that director Steve McQueen kept the set intimate. “We moved very fast. We shot it in 25 days, so I kind of had to get over it and get on with it,” he says.
HOW THE ACTOR’S FATHER REACTED TO HIS FULL FRONTAL NUDITY
In the Fox Searchlight movie, Fassbender bares it all, figuratively and literally. While George Clooney, upon beating Fassbender for best actor in a drama at the Golden Globes, made a crack about Shame (“I would like to thank Michael Fassbender for taking over the frontal nudity responsibility I had”), and his, um, generous endowments haven’t gone unnoticed by the audience, Fassbender says he has only seen the movie once in whole at the Venice Film Festival with his dad. There, Fassbender jokes that his father was “very proud” when his full frontal scene came on screen. And while the actor was comfortable to chat about being in the buff for the film, any talk of an Oscar nom left him slightly fidgety. “It would just be a bonus, but of course I would take my mom down the red carpet,” he says.
FASSENDER REVEALS NEW X-MEN DETAILS?
The actor says he’s confident that Fox will make a follow up to Matthew Vaughn‘s critically acclaimed origins pic X-Men: First Class, in which he played a young Magneto. “I’m very proud that were able to pare it down and make it about relationships and the characters. The action sequences were there to support those relationships, as opposed to the other way around.
THE ACTOR ONCE LIVED WITH REJECTION, A HOLE IN HIS WINDOW
The son of two restaurant owners, Fassbender moved to London at 19 and attended the Drama Centre. “It took me a while to come to grips with how expensive London was. My parents helped me out, but we never had a lot of money,” he says. “So it was very sticky the first three or four years between paying drama school fees and surviving. The first place I lived was a studio I shared with a Brazilian girl. We weren’t seeing each other or anything, but I remember there was a big hole in the window and it was so cold in the winter.” Fassbender’s first acting role of note was in HBO’s Band of Brothers, which aired in 2001. He was confident it would lead to other offers. It didn’t. “I came to Los Angeles and did auditions for television. I made a terrible mess of most of them and I was quite intimidated,” he recalls. “I felt very embarrassed and went back to London. I got British television jobs intermittently between the ages of 23 and 27, but it was very patchy.” Between roles including a Guinness commercial (in which his character swims from Ireland to New York) and a one-off, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, he took odd jobs to survive, unloading trucks or bartending. He even did market research. “I had to call people who had filed complaints about the Royal Mail and see if they were happy with how their grievances were dealt with. Most of the time they weren’t,” he says. All along, he says, “My goal was for acting to become my main income. I would say to myself, ‘I’m good enough.’ That became my mantra.”
SODERBERGH CAST FASSBENDER IN HAYWIRE DESPITE STUDIO’S INITIAL REJECTION
When director Steven Soderbergh told Relativity Media he wanted to cast Fassbender in Haywire, Relativity, which financed the action pic, balked. That was more than two years ago and the Irish-German actor still was relatively unknown in wider Hollywood circles. “I thought, ‘You should just be hoping he says yes,’ ” recalls Soderbergh. As for himself, the director already felt he was late to the Fassbender party. “I’d seen him in Hunger and Inglourious Basterds, and my reaction was, ‘This guy’s a movie star.’ It was blatantly obvious to me,” he says. Fassbender is only onscreen for about 10 minutes of Haywire — which opened in early January — but his performance is a highlight of the film. Soderbergh shot the scenes in Dublin and quickly learned three things: Fassbender is a consummate professional, a cinephile and a social butterfly. “He’s a blast. We’re out one night and it’s 3:30 a.m., and we’re in someone’s kitchen and Michael is singing. I’m like, ‘Dude, I gotta go,’ ” remembers Soderbergh. “The phrase Michael uses most often is, ‘So where are we going now?’ He’s the Duracell movie star.”
MARTIN SCORSESE, TOM ROTHMAN ARE AMONG HOLLYWOOD’S MANY FANS
Fassbender’s next film will test his box office mettle, as he plays the character of David in Ridley Scott‘s return to the world of Alien, the highly-anticipated science-fiction opus Prometheus. But other than taking a role in McQueen’s next film, Twelve Years a Slave, Fassbender confides he’s been talking to Martin Scorsese (about what, he won’t say) and also is working with writers to develop his own scripts. Says McQueen: “He’s a game changer. He’s got a vulnerability and sensuality that is very powerful. He’s got an extraordinary femininity, while still being very much a man’s man. That’s what propels him to greater roles.” Listening to Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman-CEO Tom Rothman, you can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes: “Michael is a Heisman Trophy triple threat a magnetic movie star, a supremely talented actor and a great guy.”