30 Greatest Michael Fassbender Facts
14th Nov 2013 | 07:00
If you thought you heard Magneto going a bit Oirish towards the end of X-Men: First Class, don't worry, your hearing hadn't gone all wonky.
Michael Fassbender is actually half German and half Irish - though he has an Irish accent because he grew up in Killarney, south west Ireland.
"I suppose the German side wants to keep everything in control, and the Irish side wants to wreak havoc," he's joked in the past. Which probably accounts for that devilish Irish wobble in First Class…
Just because he grew up in Ireland doesn't mean that Fassbender's ignored his father tongue (his dad's German). In fact, Fassbender is able to watch German films without subtitles, and only needed lessons to help him brush up his rusty verbal skills for Inglourious Basterds.
When his dad saw the film, he commented that Michael didn't sound "that bad, actually". Bless.
(Don't) Get Your Ass To Mars
Fassbender was originally in the running to head up Len Wiseman's Total Recall reboot. He was up for the role of Quaid alongside Colin Farrell and Tom Hardy - the producers clearly had their eyes set on gruff European talent for the role.
Instead, fellow countryman Farrell bagged the role. Which Fassbender's probably not too upset about, considering how the film turned out…
The Name Has It
"You can imagine the combinations you can make with a word like 'Fassbender'," the actor has joked in the past, clearly taking his surname in good humour (well, he's had to grow up with it, after all).
In fact, his name has nothing to do with bending (or futuristic, beer-guzzling robots) - it's actually the German word for 'cooper', somebody who binds or repairs barrels…
Acting wasn't a priority for Fassbender in the beginning. Instead, he wanted to be a guitarist in a band.
"I wanted to be a lead guitarist," he recalls. "But I wasn't good enough. And it's always hard to find a drummer, especially in small towns. Or a bass player. So it was just me and this other guy Mike - the two Mikes - and we tried to put on a gig one time in this pub at lunchtime, playing Metallica. It didn't go off too well."
No worries, though - in 2003, Fassy fulfilled his music dream by appearing in the video for 'Blind Pilots' by Brit rockers The Cooper Temple Clause. Yes, that's him as a minotaur…
In 2012, Time Out named Fassbender one of the 100 Most Influential People of the year, in no small part thanks to the bumper year he'd had at the movies with Shame, Jane Eyre and Prometheus.
Meanwhile, The Guardian branded him 'the man to take on Brando's mantel' after director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) likened him to the star. "There is no one like Michael out there right now," says McQueen. "And there hasn't been, for me, since Marlon Brando."
High praise indeed, and it doesn't stop there…
Everybody Loves Him
Back-slapping and general up-talking is the lifeblood of movie junkets, but even outside of the promotional circuit, nobody seems to have a bad word to say about Fassy.
Ridley Scott has called him "one of the best three or four actors out there; he holds the screen", and David Cronenberg has branded him "so perky it drives you crazy". Meanwhile, McQueen commends the actor for his "fragility" and "femininity".
"There's … also a masculinity that can translate," adds McQueen. "You're not in awe of him. You're part of him. He pulls you in. And that's what you want from an actor. You want people to look at him and see themselves."
Need For Speed
Movies may be his life, but Fassbender's also got a passion for rubber burning. His grandfather introduced him to Formula 1 racing in 1989, and he's followed it ever since.
“I did go to Monaco to the Grand Prix recently and because of the position I’m in, I was allowed to stand beside Michael Schumacher in his car on the grid," Fassbender has said. "That was pretty amazing and something of a childhood dream. I’ve been a fan of motor racing for 20 years."
In fact, he loves it so much that he's even signed on to narrate awkwardly-titled F1 racing documentary, er, 1.
Man Who Fell To Earth
If you're going to play a robot, there are worse people you could base that robot on than David Bowie. Which is exactly what Fassbender did with Prometheus, the Alien prequel in which he played android David.
"We took inspiration from David Bowie and some of his looks as well," Fassbender says. "I liked the idea of having a feminine quality to him for sure."
He also watched Blade Runner, The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Servant and Lawrence Of Arabia, plus studied Olympic diver Greg Louganis in order to capture a lithe, fluid physicality.
Dramatic Weight Loss
In order to portray Bobby Sands, the Irish republican who went on hunger strike in 1981, in Hunger Fassbender went on a medically-monitored crash diet that saw his weight drop to horrifying lows.
"I lost about 14 kilos and weighed 59 kilos by the end," he says. "It was the only way we could do it and make it convincing."
He adds: "We live in this society where nowadays if I want something, I take it, I eat it - it's so easy and readily available. When you take all that away, you actually become more appreciative of the things around you. I don't want to do it again, but there is a level where it humbles you in a good way."
Perhaps one of the reasons directors love him is Fassbender's unwavering dedication to his craft.
He's been known to read a script 300 times before filming (though we can't imagine he read 300 that many times, that would just be silly). Fassy's pretty certain where his diligent work ethic comes from, too, attributing it to his German father, Josef.
"If I came home with 85% in a test, he'd always ask what happened to the other 15%."
"I always approach film as a fan," Fassy's said.
Unlike some actors who value stage work more than their dabblings at the cineplexes, Fassbender's a movie man through and through.
"In drama school, they don't think of movies as a pure form like theatre, and it's films that I love most," he's said of his time studying at London's Drama Centre. "There's an intimacy in movies - I wanted to have the same impact on others that movies had on me."
It's not hard to see why Fassbender loves the movie so much when he has people like Quentin Tarantino as his celluloid heroes. Michael worked with Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds, where the auteur's passion for pictures proved infectious.
"You know the man eats, breathes, lives film," Fassbender says. "You could bring up the most obscure movie, like some fuckin' Swedish film from 1963 or whatever, and he'll know it. It's quite staggering, actually, he is encyclopedia of knowledge."
And how about acting heroes? "For me, Daniel Day-Lewis is in a league of his own. I think that he's amazing. And he's always been a benchmark of excellence." Yep, doesn't get much better than that.
Though he's wearied recently over incessant chatter about his full-frontal moment in Shame, Fassbender stands by the work. "It was important to go all out, not take shortcuts there, and to be sort of naked in every respect," he says. "Otherwise, I don't think the film would have worked."
He was also all up for addressing the gender imbalance when it comes to on-screen flesh-bearing.
"To be honest with you, I think it's the idea of male frontal nudity," he says of just why his pant-less promenade has garnered so much attention. "It just baffles me: women can parade around naked all the time, but the guy conveniently has his pants on.
"I remember my mum always complaining about that to me, saying, 'This is such bullshit, it's always the women who are naked' ... So I did this one for you, Mum!"
Before he dropped his trews for Shame and went all-out nasty in 12 Years A Slave, Fassbender made audiences sit up with his affecting turn as bastard Connor in Brit flick Fish Tank.
Fassbender remains pragmatic about leaving characters on set when he's finished shooting, though. "It washes away," he says. "I think it's important to go to places that are uncomfortable. For the benefit of others, maybe.
"You're facing all these ugly things, and knowing well this is an ugly thing and it's there somewhere in all of us. And so you're representing the ugliness.
"Connor does cross the line in Fish Tank, but on the flip-side he is the catalyst for [the heroine] to become her own person... And so it's again playing with that ambiguity."
Where Fassbender's concerned, the scarier the better - at least when it comes to taking risks in the acting biz.
"The problem is, we feel a lot of pressure about looking silly or appearing weak, whatever that means, or being a failure," he says. "You have to keep in your head: what's the worst that can happen? I'm trying to tell a story - what's the worst that can happen? You fall flat on your face, then hopefully you get back up again and go for it again and try something else.
"We're all going to die one day. I'm stealing that off Steve [McQueen]; it's what he'd say when he ordered me to take my clothes off. 'WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE ONE DAY!'" Too right.
He's not above admitting that his Haywire co-star, Gina Carano, could easily kick his ass off-screen. "In real life, Gina would beat the shit out of me in any circumstance. I mean, have you seen her on YouTube?" he laughs.
Not that Carano went easy on him during filming. During their showstopping hotel brawl, Carano was actually meant to miss Fassbender when she threw the vase. Instead, she got so caught up in the moment that she smashed the vase over Fassbender's head. What were we just saying about risks?
Like all the best people in the world, Fassbender counts himself as a Star Wars fan. Not only that, but when he was a kid, he had his very own Ewok village.
"Star Wars was really the only sci-fi sort of fascination I had as a youngster," he says. "I collected and I've still got the AT-AT and the Millennium Falcon and the Ewok village."
Going by his ability to describe the Ewok village pretty clearly, it seems he's still playing with it. "It's three trees or four, perhaps, joined together with a platform bit, it's kind of cool: you go into the trunk of one and come out of another, there are some winding trap things..."
Fassbender once staged his own stage version of Reservoir Dogs. He was 18 when he directed and starred (as Mr Pink) in the play, which he staged in his hometown of Killarney.
"It was pure naïveté and enthusiasm but a good lesson to learn by doing," he recalls. "I basically didn't know what I was getting myself into and there were plenty of hitches."
Oh, and did we mention he staged the show in order to raise money for charity? "We also had problems finding a charity that would take our money - nobody wanted to be associated with Reservoir Dogs. It's funny that nobody wanted our money…"
Years later, when he met with Tarantino to discuss playing a character in Inglourious Basterds, Fassbender was actually interested in tackling Nazi baddie Colonel Hans Landa (a role eventually taken by Christoph Waltz).
"I had sort of done 27 hours of prep on that, and then I arrived and Quentin said, 'Okay, let’s take a look at Hicox.' And I thought, shit. 'What about Landa?' And he said, 'Oh, I cast my Landa on Tuesday.'
"So I just did a cold reading of Hicox and although they had said to prepare Hicox as well, I didn’t have time to mediate between the two. But they seemed to like it."
Enough to give Fassbender the role when Simon Pegg, who was originally set to play Hicox, pulled out because of a conflict in his schedules.
Comic-Con Over Cannes
He'd take Comic-Con over the Cannes Film Festival any day of the week. Fassy first attended Comic-Con in 2010 to chat about, um, Jonah Hex. Despite that film's shortcomings, he fully embraced the geekdom.
"I loved it, because these are the guys who are diehard fans - so passionate about film and whatever sort of genre it comes from, comic books essentially.
But you get the feeling that they’re all well-read and well-versed in all sorts of things.
"And it’s a rush when you go into an auditorium and there are 600 to 800 of these die-hard fans all together and enthusiastic. It’s really cool to give something back to them if you can and they’re all so gracious as well. And Cannes is just this glamorous fanfare. Again, a fantastic experience, but there’s more exclusivity to it."
His first feature film was 300, which was notable not only for its stunning (and bloody) visuals, but also for its proliferation of six-packs, making it perhaps the most homoerotic fight flick ever made.
Fassbender underwent a gruelling training regime to get in shape for the film, training for 10 weeks, five days a week, four hours a day. "But that's fun," he told The Times in 2011. "You get the best people training you and you get paid to look good and feel strong."
Filming a torture scene for hoodie horror Eden Lake required Fassbender to sit in freezing mud for three days - not that he complained.
"He’s a very committed actor," says director James Watkins. "Michael’s so passionate and incredibly generous. There was one torture scene that required him to sit for three days in the mud. I mean, we had to go and shoot it from all the angles and it took ages.
"But even when he was off camera he was performing and giving the kids (some of whom had no acting experience) the intensity they could feed from. He’s a lovely man and very unselfish."
He's been long-linked to Bond, but he's not sitting around waiting for Daniel Craig to retire.
"I really don’t plan anything ever because it never seems to work," Fassbender says. "I’m just [like] – let’s just get this film out and see how this one does. And, you know, Daniel [Craig] is doing a great job. We’ll see what happens. I’m very flattered that people are sort of making that link, but – I don’t know. We’ll see."
Fingers crossed he's next in line for the double-O.
Remember what we said about being fearless? Fassbender was adamant that he wanted to tackle one of the most outrageous stunts in historical epic Centurion. The stunt involved jumping from a high gorge into dark, rushing water.
"He's up for anything, you know?" said director Neil Marshall. "Whether it's jumping into an icy, cold river or getting on a horse and riding at high speed. I'm sure if I'd said yes he would have jumped off the cliff into the river, but somebody had to hold him back and say, 'No, no, no, let's not get carried away here!'"
In the end, the stunt was performed by professional stunt workers instead…
Fassbender was one of the best things about the otherwise woeful Jonah Hex, mostly because he was as diligent as ever in creating his character, the psychotic right-hand man to John Malkovich.
Drawing on other movie villains before him, Fassbender based his character on sociopaths like Alex in A Clockwork Orange and Batman baddie The Riddler.
"I thought I’m going to … do Clockwork Orange meets Frank Gorshin,1970s Riddler with a Carrey accent," Fassbender recalls.
"Then the guys at prosthetics created this kind of tattoo thing that started at my face and went all the way down my torso and arms. It’s like the people around you that are doing these things, do the work for you. It began a really fun sort of character."
Michael was so dedicated to playing Erik Lensherr aka Magneto in X-Men: First Class that he actually studied Ian McKellen's portrayal of the character in the previous X-Men films in order to give a realistic continuity.
"You want to respect what someone else has done, especially because the fan base really liked what Ian has done with it," he says.
"But while I could have gone and studied him as a young man and brought that to the performance, I don't think Matthew [Vaughn, director] is very interested in that. So I'm just going my own way and working with whatever is in the comic books and the script."
Could Fassbender be the man to break the so-called videogame movie curse? That's what everybody's hoping for with his movie adaptation of Assassin's Creed, in which Fass will play Desmond Miles, who goes back in time to collect mystical artefacts.
"That’s definitely happening," he said in October 2013. "We’re just developing the script at the moment. I’d heard of it but had never played the game. I don’t have a video game player … that’s not what they’re called. [Laughs]
"I met up with the guys from Ubisoft and they told me the story behind it, and I thought it was very interesting - the idea of reliving memories." The film's due in 2015.
Fassbender was famously (and outrageously) snubbed by the Academy Awards for his performance in Shame ('Did Fassbender's Big Part Cost Him A Nom?' asked the Los Angeles Times), but he's not that fussed.
With renewed Oscar buzz building around his role as an evil plantation owner in 12 Years A Slave, Fassy's concentrating on the work instead of the awards. "There's nothing I can really do. Sit at home and think about winning a statue? Or being nominated for a statue? This is the film. This is what it is."
Flavour Of The Month
So Fassy's hot stuff at the moment, but he's level-headed about the whole fame business.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he says about his future in the film industry. "I'm flavour of the month at the moment, but somebody else is going to roll around the corner in three months' time. I just want to keep working. I can't stop!"
Hopefully he won't stop for a long, long time.