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Fassbender: the Hunger is gone but the thirst remains

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Fassbender: the Hunger is gone but the thirst remains

Post by Admin on Sun May 15, 2011 7:33 pm

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/film/article2432079.ece

Eric Gutierrez
September 3 2009 12:01AM

Michael Fassbender, star of Fish Tank, says his drive to act makes him at home in the art house as well as the multiplex

“It’s better to be human than cool,” says Michael Fassbender, squinting into the glare of the California morning sun and looking very cool indeed. It is mid-morning in the back yard of the house the 32-year-old actor shares with the American actress Leasi Andrews, his girlfriend of just under a year, and her three-year-old son. It all seems decidedly domestic for a hot young actor some have hailed as the Brando of Britain after a searing, revelatory performance as the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands in last year’s award-winning Hunger.

For that project Fassbender lost more than two stone, but gained a career push that put Killarney’s favourite son on the Hollywood hot list. The payoff has been several gruelling months of back-to-back shoots in Berlin, Scotland, London and New Orleans for three major new pictures.

“I like LA a lot,” Fassbender says, taking in the canyon view high above Bel Air. “It’s very creative, very friendly. Of course there’s a definite sort of trap you can fall into: ‘That guy has a faster car than me’, or ‘He has three and I have only one’.”

He pauses and smiles before uttering the ultimate LA heresy. “Of course, I don’t have a car here. A Harley Fat Boy would be pretty cool, though. I would love to sweep down the Pacific Coast Highway, but now wouldn’t be a good time to break a leg.” He chuckles at his own showbiz pun.

After establishing his acting chops in Hunger and his heart-throb potential as Stelios in the megaplex hit 300, Fassbender’s charisma is now being put to discomfiting effect in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, the story of a 15-year old girl negotiating ennui, rage and a dangerous attraction to her mother’s boyfriend, played by Fassbender. His portrayal skirts the edge of sympathetic and unsavoury, a riveting and disturbing depiction of human complexity and contradiction that once again won Fassbender ovations along the Croisette at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

“I try not to judge the people I portray,” he says. “To like them is the first and foremost thing in trying to understand them. Besides, it’s more exciting to me if you have a human being doing these things on screen, whether they are a killer or a nanny. Those elements of human nature are what an audience can relate to, even if it makes them queasy and uncomfortable.” Since 2006 and the international success of 300, this son of an Irish mother and a German father — he was born in Heidelberg and German is his first language — has found himself working with some of the most interesting film-makers around, such as Arnold, Steve McQueen (Hunger) and Quentin Tarintino (Inglourious Basterds).

And it’s not all arthouse — Fassbender has completed his share of popcorn epics, including the forthcoming Jonah Hex, a potential franchise based on a cult graphic novel, and the sword-and-sandals adventure Centurion. He recently returned from Comic-Con, the fantasy and science fiction convention held annually in San Diego, California, and a de rigueur publicity drop-in for potential summer blockbusters.

“I like doing both kinds of films,” he says. “It doesn’t always have to be social commentary. Besides, I like running around in a leather Speedo.”

However, Fassbender is not looking to make a name from his leading-man looks, then cash in on high concept fodder. Shortly after Fish Tank had its premiere at Cannes he withdrew from starring in a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights as Heathcliff, the prototype of the dark, brooding heart-throb, and claims not really to know what comes next professionally. Whether studio picture or small indie, the only conditions he lays out are to keep risking failure, work with good film-makers and good actors and to try not to repeat himself.

“I’ve been going on my gut pretty much from the beginning,” he says. “I’m not always going to get it right, but risk interests me. There is some embarrassing element to everything I do in life. I used to beat myself up a lot but if you’re really going to learn and expand then you’re going to be open to doing things that perhaps don’t work out the way you envisaged. I’m not going to hamper myself with fear.”

On the set of Fish Tank Fassbender, who admits to being rigorous to the point of compulsive in preparing for a role, was initially thrown off-balance by Arnold’s directing method, which includes casting mostly non-actors and withholding the script to avoid loading performances with too much foreknowledge. “I never got a full script,” he says, seemingly still incredulous. “At times it was scary because I work in such a different way, but she’s such a fantastic film-maker I just tried to let myself go and find things by being as loose and free as possible.”

Fassbender is pleased that the film and his performance are collecting kudos, but seems even more gratified by what he learnt from the on-set experience. In particular he singles out the 17-year-old nonactor Katie Jarvis in the pivotal role of Mia, who was cast after being discovered fighting with her boyfriend on a railway platform and has since expressed doubts that she will ever act again. “She’s like a laser when you’re acting with her,” Fassbender says of his co-star. “There’s no fluff in her performance at all, no filtering. She’s giving pure, raw intuition. There’s something quite liberating when you see that.” It was very different from working with Tarantino. “Quentin said my character [Lieutenant Archie Hicox] was like a young George Sanders,” he recalls. But Fassbender didn’t really know who Sanders — who in the Forties made an art of playing charming villains and sophisticated bounders — was. “What I learnt from Quentin is to watch a lot of old films, increase my pool of inspiration beyond the films I’ve seen from the past 20 years.”

Actually, Fassbender’s first film school was called Mum. Adele Fassbender passed on her appreciation of “that Seventies golden era of Al Pacino and Sydney Lumet”, but also early Brando and the work of the provocative German film-maker and near namesake Rainer Werner Fassbinder, her favourite director.

Where his mother influenced his film aesthetics, his father Josef instilled an impressive work ethic. “My dad drove home that if you’re going to do something do it properly,” he recalls, sitting up in his chair. “If I came home with 80 per cent in a test he’d ask: ‘What happened to the other 20?’ ”

Despite being invited at the age of 16 to join a professional theatre company, the aspiring actor didn’t segue smoothly on to the silver screen. “I’ve done a lot of normal jobs, I’ve experienced life,” he insists. “I worked unloading trucks, I did catering for my parents’ restaurant. I did bar work. I did market research — come to think of it, there’s nothing normal about market research. The point is, when you do get the opportunity to work on a film, it’s a privileged lifestyle and I feel lucky to be part of it.”

These days, Fassbender seems to be a low-key guy living in a land of excess, preferring the company of his best friend from Killarney and his girlfriend to the celebrity candy shop that could be his for the taking. It is not the promise of stardom that animates his conversation but talking about a forthcoming visit by his parents, and of how his girlfriend’s son teaches him more in a week than he learnt in three years of drama school, and how “everyone’s been so fantastic back home, flying the flag and supporting me”.

He has neither the interest nor the energy to hit the Hollywood scene or make the tabloids. Although he says he remains close to his American co-stars from the TV series Band of Brothers he has not yet called any of them up to say he is living in LA.

“Once you start to have choices things start to get complicated,” he says. “But it’s a good place to be and I won’t be pressured by people. It’s my career and my life and whatever choices are at stake I can’t turn around and blame anyone.”

Fish Tank is out on September 11

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