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Q&A: Michael Fassbender

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Q&A: Michael Fassbender

Post by Admin on Sun Dec 04, 2011 1:26 am

http://www.toronto.com/article/705997--q-a-michael-fassbender

Q&A: Michael Fassbender

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

Actor Michael Fassbender says the movie Shame handles the topic of sex in modern day society in ways few others would dare. "Nobody really wants to deal with it. And to then see an audience be brave enough and honest enough to deal with it, and to take it on and embrace it, that’s what’s really nice," he says.

Dec 01, 2011

Michael Fassbender is used to letting it all hang out, as he surely does in Shame, a film in which frequent sex masks a troubled mind.

Explicit nudity and sexual activity has brought the film an NC-17 rating in the U.S., which the censors there consider a mark of porn, if not shame (the film gets a more reasonable 18A in Ontario, one step below “Restricted”).

Shame is the actor’s second collaboration with British director Steve McQueen, after they both came to prominence with Hunger, a 2008 film about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Fassbender stripped down to his block and tackle for Hunger, too, as well as losing a potentially dangerous amount of weight (he dropped 38 lbs., getting down to an emaciated 132.)

“Yes, but I don’t think it was ever really on display like I insisted on for this one!” says Fassbender, 34, laughing during an interview at TIFF in September.

“Yes, you’ve got to get naked. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

Not embarrassing enough to keep him from taking on the challenging role of Brandon Sullivan, an upwardly mobile New Yorker whose mind is always directed toward the carnal. His sex addiction is so intense, he could have benefitted from psychological counselling with Carl Jung, the famed shrink Fassbender plays in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Mind, which was also at TIFF (it opens in Toronto in January).

The red face and hard work brings rewards. Fassbender, who was born in Germany and raised in Ireland, won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival in September, where Shame premiered.

Shortly after, he flew to Toronto for the North American premiere at TIFF, pausing to speak to the Star about a busy year that has also included major roles in Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class and the upcoming Haywire. Before all this, Fassbender won raves for his performance as an undercover soldier in Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 hit.

Q. What do you make of Brandon?

A. I like him. I think he’s the result of sort of modern-day society and living, perhaps. But I like him, essentially. I think he’s somebody that’s trying to deal with himself and deal with his illness.

Q. You believe it's an illness. There's some debate about sexual addiction being real or not.

A. Well, it is real because it’s happening. I think the definition for addiction, loosely and roughly, is when you have a pattern that repeats itself and you can’t break that pattern, even though relationships are being damaged around you and it’s affecting your workplace. This is definitely what’s going on in Brandon’s life.

Q. I understand that you spoke to experts and to actual sex addicts to prepare for this role.

A. Yes. And from talking to people, it’s what’s going on in their lives, so it is real. It’s real for them. I think we have a tendency to laugh things off that, perhaps, because it frightens us or we haven’t come to a place where we’re comfortable enough to recognize it or deal with it.

So I think people dismiss it and say, “Oh, well, that’s just for the celebrities of the world. That’s just spoiled people feeling sorry for themselves.” But, for me, it’s real. It’s out there. It’s happening. And thankfully, I think the (movie) audience is intelligent and honest and wants to be challenged. People coming out of the film are recognizing things within Brandon — maybe not to the same extremes that he goes through but definitely elements in him that I think we see in ourselves.

Q. Have you ever known a Brandon?

A. Yes, for sure. And I probably knew many that I didn’t know that’s what was going on in their lives. But, yes, there are people that I know that live pretty excessively and without, perhaps, much emotional nourishment.

Q. Have you found that men and women react differently to the movie?

A. Yes, I suppose a lot of guys are, “Oh my God, that’s me!” and a lot of women are like, “You guys aren’t like that, are you?” I don’t know! I don’t know, really. What is really impressive and what I’m really happy about is that when Steve came to me and talked to me about this idea to begin with, for us, it was like “This is so relevant” and this is what Steve calls “the elephant in the room.” Nobody really wants to deal with it. And to then see an audience be brave enough and honest enough to deal with it, and to take it on and embrace it, that’s what’s really nice.

Q. Which “elephant” are you talking about? Sex itself or the fear of many people to talk openly about it?

A. I think we’re talking about sex in modern-day society and how we deal with it. And, of course, I think you mentioned it there, it’s not only about sex, it’s about people. It’s relationships. It’s like how we set about trying to connect with one another. Or disconnect. This idea of technology is so prevalent in this world we live in: this idea of communication. . . . You have your computer there and you can be on Facebook and you can talk to somebody in Australia in a matter of seconds — it’s a link-up, it’s all sort of available — but I don’t know . . . That sort of intimate connection with one another is, perhaps, getting lost or being sort of mutated in one way or another.

Q. People these days aren’t making human connections of any kind because they’re so tied into technology. You’ll be talking to somebody and they’ll be texting.

A. Yes, and it’s also that so much information is coming our way, on the phone or through Twitter or whatever. We don’t have time. I mean, how many times will you be sitting there in a bar or restaurant waiting for someone — or maybe you’re just there on your own — and somebody gets their phone out and starts texting. Then I get my phone out, and it’s like whatever happened to just sitting there and being there and sort of being there with yourself and being comfortable with that?

Q. Your character of Carl Jung in A Dangerous Mind is almost a complement to Brandon, since he’s also dealing with temptation and a guilty mind.

A. Yes. I think the difference is that Jung likes himself quite a lot and Brandon doesn’t like himself. That’s why he’s going around abusing himself.

Q. You’ve had an amazing career since Hunger broke through. How much of it do you attribute to luck and how much to conscious effort?

A. And then you have to work very hard to make sure that you’re doing justice to the audience. You have to make sure that every scene you’re in and everything you say is there for a reason and is not there for convenience sake, or that a script is sort of being fluffed out or filled out, or that something’s in there conveniently placed to explain something in a later scene. You have to make sure it’s all there for a reason.

Essentially, you know, it’s about respecting the audience and you have to do this even for a movie like X-Men. There is an intelligent audience out there and it’s more interesting to make people think: you know, is Magneto a good guy or a bad guy? Let the audience have that dilemma and not spoon-feed them all the time.

Q. Would you like to continue working with Steve McQueen?

A. Oh, yes, without a doubt! I’ve always said to him, “Where and when? Just call me up. If it’s for a day, it’s a day. If it’s for three or four months, it’s three or four months, five months, whatever!” Steve changed my life.
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