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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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