Michael Fassbender: A Charm That Knows No Shame

The Irish-German actor is now on everyone's A-list, with a healthy dose of charisma and limitless range, from brainy films to major blockbusters. But it may be the current film "Shame" that consecrates him at the first top of hi

Michael Fassbender at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 (Tabercil)
Michael Fassbender at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 (Tabercil)
Antoine Duplan

PARIS – He is a tall, handsome, energetic man, but if it weren't for his crystal blue eyes, he might go perfectly unnoticed walking down the street. This is undoubtedly the trademark of great actors, chameleons who can blend in with the colors of the walls between roles. On the silver screen, it's a different story: Michael Fassbender attracts the spotlight and fills the screen, in blockbuster and brainy films alike. There's no doubt: this lad has the stuff of a superstar.

Seated before a nice cup of tea in the bar of a chic hotel in the Place des Vosges on a Parisian morning, Michael Fassbender turns out to be a smiling, polite, direct, and extremely attractive interviewee from under his flat cap. At 34, he already boasts a bustling 10-year career.

Fassbender was first seen in Band of Brothers, the Steven Spielberg-produced television mini-series on World War II, working hard since then to establish himself on the big screen. Today, he is reaping the fruits of his labor, collecting major roles in A-list films.

At the Venice Film Festival, where he garnered the best actor prize for his role as a sex addict in the movie Shame, director Darren Aronofsky praised Fassbender's extraordinary charisma. Cary Fukunaga, who directed him in Jane Eyre said: "It's been a while since I have seen such ferocity in an actor."

British filmmaker Steve McQueen, who cast Fassbender in Hunger, confessed that: "Beyond his height, strength and daring, there is a fragility in Michael. He tells us something about ourselves. That is very rare."

Every role Michael Fassbender takes on, he embodies with a striking intensity. In Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, he had only one scene. But it is impossible to forget the British spy trapped in a Nazi nest, who, despite speaking flawless German, betrays himself by the tiniest false step.

Likewise, it takes a steely cool to pull off lines about being "seized by anguish," in such a manifesto of English Romanticism as Jane Eyre, without sounding ridiculous.

Fassbender has dabbled in all genres, from epic westerns to science fiction (the upcoming, highly anticipated prequel to the Alien saga, Prometheus). He knows what starring in a flop feels like (Blood Creek and Jonah Hex, two films he prefers never to watch). He has portrayed an impressive range of characters: an indomitable Spartan (300), a Roman soldier (Centurion), Bobby Sands, the Irish hunger striker (Hunger), a shady boyfriend abusing his girlfriend's daughter (Fish Tank), the mutant Magneto (X-Men: First Class), Carl Jung (A Dangerous Method), Brandon the sex-addict (Shame) ... Always with the same sensibility, the same strength.

Fears exposed

He does not know where his power to transcend roles comes from. "Probably from the material itself," he ventures. "Magneto is a very intense character. You can draw many things from comic books; the stories are full of danger, there are many elements I can use. I'm interested in characters who are faced with a conflict - even in comic books. Conflict leads to tragedy, a struggle between darkness and light."

He confesses that every role provokes some measure of fear. "I'm scared the director won't like what I do, I'm scared I won't be able to find the right tone for the character." In Shame, the usual trepidation was amplified by the prospect of appearing naked in highly compromising situations.

He quickly overcame his apprehension. "Why would undressing be a problem? We all have a body. I guess there is nothing to be uneasy about. There is so much violence in movies, and these days it somehow seems more legitimate to focus on that, than on our relation to sex, to our own bodies."

Michael Fassbender worships Steve McQueen, using the word "genius' to describe the director. "He has taught me so much. He has taught me to be more open, not to be afraid anymore, to crystallize my roles. Steve thinks that the viewer should be able to identify with the characters on the screen."

The director never gives direct instructions. "He merely awakens something in you. He wants us to surprise each other. It's like walking into a room without light and trying to find your bearings by bumping into the furniture. It's a collective exercise that involves not only the actors, but the whole team. Everyone is very dedicated... "

When he was a teenager, Fassbender wanted to be a guitar hero -- and sees many correlations between being an actor and a musician. "The main part of my work has to do with the script. It's like a musical score to me. I read it and reread it, 300 times or more. Then when I'm in front of the camera, I know when I've got the right rhythm. Acting is like dancing with the camera and with the other actors. This applies to all films, from X-Men to A Dangerous Method."

The child of a German father and an Irish mother, Fassbender was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and grew up in Killarney, Ireland. He did not not migrate to Los Angeles when he hit it big in Hollywood, remaining loyal to London, where he enjoys walking through the city, taking in the changing seasons.

His "slightly schizophrenic" dual ancestry, as he calls it jokingly, is perhaps an interesting combination for someone on the road to conquering show business. "From my German culture, I have inherited a discipline that helps me in my work. From the Irish side, I've got the whole tradition of music, art, tales. We in Ireland have what we call the Shanachie who, before radio and television existed, used to tell stories."

Fassbender may just be the Shanachie the film industry had been looking for.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Tabercil

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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