Michael Fassbender plays hunger strikers, sex addicts and now a creepy android in Prometheus. No wonder he’s bemused by his sudden superstardom
Words: Jonathan Pile
Michael Fassbender was in a film called Shame and he got his penis out. Twice. We all know it, you were all thinking it, so we thought it best just to get that out of the way.
Back to the task in hand: which is delving into how, in the space of a year, this 35-year-old German-born Irishman went from a recognisable face in low-budget art house films to the lead man in world-conquering blockbusters.
“It’s funny,” he tells us with a knowing laugh as we sit down together – almost exactly a year to the day after we first met for X-Men: First Class, in the same room of the same hotel. “I’ve become… ‘popular’ isn’t the word. More interesting, suddenly.”
And it’s this sudden surge in fame, various award nominations and a small film called Prometheus – director Sir Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe for the first time in more than three decades – that are far more pressing issues. And nudity? Yes, we get to that…
How have you dealt with your newfound stardom?
I don’t have a lot of friends, so it’s nice to have a lot of people sit down and want to talk to me [laughs]. No, it’s been a hectic year. I actually haven’t done any acting since July. It’s weird. I’m used to preparing a character, going to work and presenting it. This is a bit of a new deal. It’s just airports and hotels. That’s all I’ve really seen. In the past five months I’ve spent, collectively, three weeks at home. No one wants to hear it because I’ve got a very privileged life, but that can get to you after a while.
But it all becomes worth it when suddenly a big film such as Prometheus comes out. It’s been shrouded in secrecy, but what are you allowed to tell us about it?
I have a cheat sheet. I have all these points to cover that were given to me by 20th Century Fox. There are certain things I’m not allowed to say and they want to be sure.
What’s on it that you can reveal?
I don’t know. I’ve not looked at it to be honest [laughs].
The big question is whether it still stands as a prequel to the original Alien. There doesn’t seem to be a definite answer. Are you able to give us one?
What I will say is that the first Alien film had an intelligent, slow-burning, sinister element to it — there’s this feeling in this. Before I read the script, I thought the concept had already been exhausted. I’d seen so many of them — AVP: Alien Vs Predator, Alien here, Alien there. But I can tell you there’s no Predator. I came dressed one day as the Predator and was like, “What do you think?” I tried to get him in [laughs]. But it’s amazing. It’s really about strong characters again. And I love the fact that Noomi [Rapace] is a strong leading female, like Sigourney Weaver was.
And you play the ship’s android?
I do. Damon [Lindelof, the writer] said it months ago and when he did I was like, “Cool. At least it wasn’t me who let it slip.”
How method are you? Did you decide to stay in character as a robot throughout filming?
No, I bounce in and out. It allows me to see things I might not see if I were in character all the time. What I thought was interesting was him being programmed to react in a certain way. And part of that is him blending in with humans, so does an ego develop to facilitate that? He’s there to serve them, but he’s sort of disliked because they think he might be superior to him. Or just different. Because humans have that thing where they’re like, “Something’s different? Persecute!”
In the first Alien film, Ian Holm’s android was defective, but chronologically yours pre-dates his and is presumably less developed, so is there the possibility he could flip out at any time?
He’s less developed than Ian Holm [laughs]. That’s the way I’m going to describe him from now on. Ridley said, “He’s like the butler,” but there’s a vanity to him. And he always has the answers so there’s a swagger to him, too. In fact, I think he might be kind of creepy. I do creepy well.
It’s a good niche to have…
Yeah. If you’re looking for weird or creepy in a robotic style, call me.
What was it like working with Ridley Scott? Did he insist on ‘Sir Ridley’?
[Laughs] No. He’s a pretty straightforward, straight-shooting guy. I would feel weird calling him ‘Sir Ridley’ every day. He’s great – full of beans. He has four cameras running, he’s dashing around the set and everyone really wants to please him. And it’s not because of fear – it’s because they’re inspired by him. An example: he’ll come up to me and say, “You know, I thought your character might have this little prop here.” So rather than giving you a note, he’ll give you an object to think about.
What sort of object?
I have a basketball at one point in the film. It just leaves you thinking, “OK, so this guy spends a lot of time on his own [Fassbender’s character has spent time alone while the humans were in stasis] ,so how does he amuse himself?” And maybe there’s a childlike element to the character. And then you wonder where the item came from. It’s a very fun way of giving notes. He gives you the seeds of an idea and you go away and develop it. The idea of him being blond came about because he’s obsessed with Lawrence Of Arabia.
How big a fan of the Alien films were you before Prometheus?
My parents didn’t allow me to watch 18-rated films in my early teens, but sometimes they’d show me certain ones that they thought had some sort of value. Alien was one of them and I remember being scared. I also remember being totally convinced it was real. It’s very intelligent and the characters seem real so it allows you to just accept the fantasy.
And you preferred Alien over Aliens or the other sequels?
Yes. Although Blade Runner is my favourite Ridley Scott film. I love it.
It’s difficult to avoid how big the past year has been for you – how aware of it were you as it was happening?
I’d been working a lot and suddenly everything came out back-to-back. My friends were saying, “Jesus, we can’t go anywhere without seeing you.” So I’m thinking, “I’d better back off here – familiarity breeds contempt.” And I try not to read things about myself, but occasionally you can’t help it. People who’ve never met you can have really strong opinions about you. And not everyone likes me. It’s kind of scary.
But you received great reviews and award nominations for Shame…
It was my uppercut. It was kind of like I was just jabbing, jabbing, jabbing, then right cross, left hook and an uppercut [laughs]. Obviously I’m looking to improve and there’s something in all of my performances that I don’t like, but I think I have a solid body of work for the year.
Go on then, what would you change in your performance in Shame?
It’s not anything specific, but moment to moment, when you’re watching things you think, “I believe that, but I don’t really believe that,” – it’s just like you make a piece of wood and you look at it and you think there are certain things you could have done better. I’ll never stop, I hope, I presume, I imagine — it’s a constant learning process.
Have you found, when you’re at an awards show for example, that people such as George Clooney will come up to speak to you when perhaps they wouldn’t before?
Actually, George did come over to me, like you say, and said, “How are you finding all of this?” He’s been through it. He’s really supportive and nourishing. And very generous with his time and encouragement. And I had that with Brad Pitt on Inglourious Basterds, too. Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino – it was a big deal, I was nervous, and inside I’m going, “Holy sh*t!” But it was my first scene and Brad starts laughing when I do my character and says, “That’s far out. That’s excellent,” which put me at ease. And then he went back to Los Angeles and was talking to people in the industry over there about me.
Are you tempted to move to LA?
No. I came to London for drama school and that’ll be 16 years this September.
Can you still go out for a quiet pint? You were apparently spotted at a Django Django gig recently…
Yeah, yeah, I was there. I still want to live my life as I’ve lived it. I try to carry on as is, so it’s still pretty much the same thing. But I’m putting a lot of time into development, working with writers, trying to develop stories. I’ve got this production company, DMC, that I’m trying to make sure is more than just a pipe dream.
You’ve not taken up any glamorous new hobbies?
No… well actually, I tried jet-skiing in Mexico on holiday and I turned the thing upside down. The guy with me wasn’t happy – we had to swim back to shore. I like go-karting, though. That’s what I’ll do if I get free time on my hands. In terms of a hobby, that’s my favourite thing to do.
So you’re basically a frustrated F1 driver, then?
Definitely, yeah. My parents… I’m upset with them that they didn’t put me in a go-kart at an early age. [Laughs] No, I love it, though – speed is something I enjoy. Just driving, the control of it, riding the edge of that. I’d like to do more of it if possible.
How did you feel about George Clooney’s gag at the Golden Globes, when he said you could play golf naked, without a club?
It was just funny. Earlier that day, we’d been hanging out playing ping pong. It’s like, “I’m playing ping pong with George Clooney.” It’s those moments where you do sort of pinch yourself – “Is this really happening?” But he gave me a little precursor to it.
Presumably, you patted him on the back afterwards and said, “Thanks for that”?
No, I think I kicked him up the backside.
Do you find it odd to have new female fans after Shame, when you played such a damaged character?
I always liked Brandon – I felt for him. But I knew I had to go to some ugly places with him and he was going to look ugly. My nakedness is the easiest part of the film. But yeah, I certainly didn’t think, “Hey, this is going to be titilation city here.”
Are people not paying attention?
I don’t know. I don’t know where that comes from. But you know what? It’s OK with me [laughs].
Prometheus is at cinemas nationwide from 1 June