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Farewell, Mr. Rochester. Hello, Magneto.

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Farewell, Mr. Rochester. Hello, Magneto. Empty Farewell, Mr. Rochester. Hello, Magneto.

Post by Admin on Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:30 pm

Published: April 29, 2011

Michael Muller/20th Century Fox

Michael Fassbender as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class." More

TWO men of radically different physical appearance — one dark and scruffy, the other blond and clean cut — are waiting at the tiny bakery in East London where the actor Michael Fassbender has arranged to meet. It is genuinely impossible to tell which one is him.

He can look like anybody (or everybody). In his most recent film, “Jane Eyre,” Mr. Fassbender played an anguished, sideburned Mr. Rochester, a smoldering hunk of 19th-century passion. In “Hunger” he shrunk into the mere essence of a man, delicate bones covered by gossamer flesh, as Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army hunger striker. His English film critic turned officer in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” bore almost no resemblance to the working-class charmer who is not all he seems in the low-budget British film “Fish Tank.”

At it turns out, he is the blond one (the reporter guessed wrong), his golden highlights courtesy of “Prometheus,” the Ridley Scott science-fiction extravaganza he is filming outside London. Since playing a fleeting part in “Band of Brothers,” the 2001 World War II mini-series, Mr. Fassbender, now 34, has moved steadily from background person to ensemble actor to leading man and bona fide pinup, seen this year on the cover of W magazine alongside Mia Wasikowska, his co-star in “Jane Eyre.”

“It’s a bit weird when you look at yourself in these sorts of magazines,” he said. “But all these projects that have come up” — and here he is talking about his range of movies too — “have been so interesting, and I really couldn’t say no to any of them.” It is impossible to get the amiable Mr. Fassbender, who is wry, funny and reluctant to talk too much about himself, to say a bad word about anyone he has worked with, or any movie he has worked on, the escapist as well as the serious. “I always approach film as a fan,” he said.

In “X-Men: First Class,” which opens on June 3, he plays Erik, a mutant who can generate and control magnetic fields. A prequel to the earlier films in the series, the movie shows the first meeting of the mutants, including Erik, who later becomes Magneto, and Charles, a k a Professor X, played by James McAvoy. (After that, at least judging from the trailer, they save the world from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis and become implacable enemies).

To prepare for the part Mr. Fassbender steeped himself in the Marvel comic books on which the films are based. His character, Erik/Magneto, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has spent the postwar years hunting down and taking revenge on extant Nazis, is angry and restless, Malcolm X to Charles’s Martin Luther King, he said.

“The thing about this guy is that he doesn’t trust anyone,” he said. “He thinks humans are a race not to be trusted. He believes that anyone who’s not with him is against him.”

Erik’s restless preference for action over compromise suits Mr. Fassbender, said Matthew Vaughn, the movie’s director.

“He thinks like a boxer, trains like a boxer,” Mr. Vaughn said in a telephone interview. “Erik needs to be strong and vulnerable at the same time, which is a hard thing to pull off. But Michael does it in spades. He totally inhabits his character, so that when he’s doing bad things, you don’t mind.”

He also radiates serious attitude, said Mr. McAvoy, his co-star. “I think Matthew wanted the character to be a little bit of a Bond type, really stylish, really cool, and Michael does that,” Mr. McAvoy said. “He brings in a sense of menace, an underlying sense of danger, to the role.”

Mr. Fassbender’s father is German; his mother is from Northern Ireland. He was born in Germany (no relation to the director Rainer Werner Fassbinder) and brought up in Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, where his parents ran a restaurant. He speaks with the happy Irish lilt of his childhood. An early film fanatic and Tarantino devotee, he played Mr. Pink in a two-performance-only production of “Reservoir Dogs” that he organized with some friends in a local pub when they were teenagers.

“It was a great success: 120 people on the first night, and 140 on the second night,” he said.

He went to drama school at Drama Center London and, while doing ushering duty at a performance by older students, managed to draw the attention of an agent, who signed him on the spot. He did a commercial for SAS Airlines, played the lead in Sean O’Casey’s “Silver Tassie,” left school, toured for three months with the Oxford Stage Company’s production of “Three Sisters,” took a night job unloading boxes in a warehouse and then went to work in a bar.

He had a small part in “Band of Brothers” (“There were 40 guys running around in green, and 10 characters that stand out over the episodes in one’s memory,” he said, “and I wasn’t one of them”) and began getting intermittent television parts. He quit his bar job. In 2007 he played a tempestuous but not particularly talented painter in the period drama “Angel.”

“Hunger” (2008) won a passel of nominations and prizes and drew great reviews. A. O. Scott wrote in The New York Times that “Sands, played by Michael Fassbender, is charismatic and full of impish life, and his choice of martyrdom is at once an act of rational, strategic calculation and a measure of his single-minded, overpowering zeal.”

The part called for the character to waste away from fierce political agitator to furious prison inmate, to, in the end, a near-ghost of a man, kept alive by, and ultimately willing to die for, the strength of his convictions.

Much has been written about his punishing physical regime: how he moved to Venice Beach, Calif., for 10 weeks to devote himself to whittling his body down, how he went from 166 pounds to 125 pounds through exercise and a 900-calorie-a-day diet (later reduced to 600 calories).

The film’s director, Steve McQueen, said that Mr. Fassbender’s performance went far beyond what he did to his body.

“A lot of people can starve themselves,” Mr. McQueen said by telephone. “But the purpose of the film was to transcend the body. The question was: What would he do with those kind of restrictions, in that kind of situation, and how can he transcend that kind of environment?”

He added: “Michael goes beyond illustration. He gets very close to the audience. Sometimes an actor can become a mirror and reflect the audience, allow them to identify and sympathize and relate to him. There are not a lot of actors like that around these days. They all want to become movie stars and forget about the art, but Michael is a true artist in acting.”

Mr. Fassbender does not want to behave in an actorly manner. “I don’t like to put anyone else through my process,” he said. And he does not want to become a movie star. “I don’t think I’m particularly interesting,” he continued. “I don’t want people to know what I get up to. I feel like a bit of a jerk sometimes, talking about myself.”

But he is unfailingly patient with people who think otherwise. Last year he gave a long telephone interview to the Fassinating Fassbender fan site. “On the fifth ring, at 1 p.m. G.M.T., Michael picked up the phone like he would any other call,” the interviewer wrote. “That’s how cool he is.” In the interview Mr. Fassbender apologized for not participating more in fan discussions on the site, explaining that as he is “not one for e-mail and all that,” he hoped “none of you feel disheartened that I haven’t popped in” to the Web site.

After “Prometheus” Mr. Fassbender has several projects lined up, including an appearance as Carl Jung to Viggo Mortensen’s Freud in David Cronenberg’s “Dangerous Method,” which has already finished shooting. After that he is not so sure. For now, though, he was headed out to meet his girlfriend, who, he said, had just flown in from the United States. (He did not elaborate, but he has been spotted with Zoë Kravitz, who plays the mutant Angel Salvadore in “X-Men.”) He bought her a cupcake.

“What I find really interesting is to try and mix it up, to push myself and try different things,” he said before taking his leave. “I don’t want to stay in my comfort zone. I want to take risks and keep myself scared.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 1, 2011, on page MT2 of the New York edition with the headline: Farewell, Mr. Rochester. Hello, Magneto..

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