Last year Michael Fassbender, 35, the Irish-German actor who grew up in Co. Kerry from the age of two, became the most sought after screen actor in Hollywood, and it looks like the public is finally catching on.
This week Fassbender stars in Prometheus, director Ridley Scott’s prequel of sorts to 1979’s Alien. Fassbender is a revelation in the role, delivering an inspired and acidly funny performance that steals the film right out from under the lineup of big names and Oscar winners like Charlize Theron he shares screen time with.
For sci-fi fans (and for most movie goers) Prometheus is already the most anticipated film of the summer, and I’m delighted to report it’s entirely worth the wait. It’s an epic return to form for the director who brought us classics like Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma and Louise, and although Fassbender plays a human-like robot called David, he has created the most complex character in the film.
The thing that is most obvious watching his performance is how much fun Fassbender is having in the role. Being a machine has its perks, it turns out.
If you are capable of processing a dizzying amount of information while simultaneously spinning a basketball and cycling a bike, you can start to make your human counterparts look a bit thick. In the early scenes of Prometheus Fassbender looks like a big kid in a high tech toy box.
“It was definitely a lot of fun,” Fassbender tells the Irish Voice. “We started at the beginning with all of David’s scenes when I started on the film. He’s in control of the ship while the humans sleep through the long space journey and he has to entertain himself.”
There’s a hint of sadness in the character though, especially when he has to acknowledge the one thing he doesn’t possess that humans do -- a soul.
“To prepare for the role I watched Sean Young playing a replicant in Blade Runner and I saw a slight sadness there. There was a sort of quality to it I liked and that was definitely in the mix,” Fassbender said.
Prometheus begins with the crew from Earth reaching an alien planet that may hold a clue to the origins of life on Earth. The robot David, played by Fassbender, has been the only working crew member as the humans have been held in hibernation during the long voyage. David wakes them one by one as they approach their destination and they begin their descent to the strange planet.
“I like the idea that my character could be designed by a human, programmed by a human and created to exhibit human behavior,” says Fassbender.
“I wondered if he would start to develop personality traits himself? There was this big question mark written into the character that Ridley wanted, to the point where the other people on the ship begin to ask themselves, is he messing with me? Hopefully the audience will ask themselves too.”
But David, who in part seems to be modeled on pop star David Bowie circa his Station-To-Station era, isn’t just a glorified butler. He can also be deeply unnerving, and Fassbender is particularly good at switching between humor and genuine menace.
When the humans land on the new planet and start to pick up on clues that suggest they might have been as carefully designed as David is, the gulf between robot and human being starts to get alarmingly smaller. Fassbender allows his robot character a certain satisfaction in the idea that his makers may be no better than he is himself.
“If you’ve been designed by somebody it makes sense to enjoy seeing that they may have been designed by somebody. It’s one in the same thing,” he says.
But it’s an eerie thought, and Prometheus is at its best bringing us face to face with some of the biggest questions out there.
“Prometheus asks age old questions, like where did we come from, who’s our creator, if we could meet them what would we ask them?” explains Fassbender, explaining why he wanted to play his role in the film.
“It’s just so nice to be a part of film like that with all the elements and all the players.”
Fassbender’s success as an actor was critical at first, and then it became financial. That means that he doesn’t have to live in a one-bedroom apartment in a gritty part of London anymore, but he chooses to, because it reminds him of where he came from and who he is.
Some Irish movie stars get famous and instantly lose the run of themselves, but with his laser focus on his work and what’s most important to him Fassbender isn’t going to be one of them. It’s probably because he took his time getting famous and he remembers the pitfalls.
When he was a teenager Fassbender just wanted to be what many other Irish boys do -- a rock star. “I always wanted to be in a rock and roll band, that was always my dream. It plays into my vanity,” he says.
“So I don’t always try to plan too much ahead now to be honest because it never seems to work anyway, but I’ll just see what comes along.”
Asked if Bowie was an inspiration for his character he says yes. “I’m a massive Bowie fan, he’s a total original,” he says.
Meanwhile, Fassbender says he tries to get over to Ireland as often as possible, where his parents own and run the West End House Restaurant in Killarney.
“I go as much as I can. I didn’t get back until Christmas this year. Usually I try and get back three times a year or so,” he says.
“I’ve been dragging the old country with me wherever I am and I try and get back when I can. I haven’t been working as an actor since last July; Prometheus was the last job I took. I thought after that I’d take some time off.”
Fassbender has admitted he’s reluctant to lose himself to the one industry town of Los Angeles, or to project after project, hence the time off.
Instead he has focused on upcoming projects, which include his third collaboration with director Steve McQueen in Twelve Years A Slave, a story about a married man from New York who is tricked and sold into slavery that also stars Brad Pitt and newcomer Benedict Cumberbatch.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Irish writers this past year. Any time I came back I would grab two or three days with them and try to develop scripts from the ground up. It’s actually been very exciting and I’ve enjoyed that,” he says.
One project dear to Fassbender’s heart involves brining the Irish myth of Fionn mac Cumhail to the big screen.
“I have always loved that myth. I’ve always thought if there was any way I could make something like that happen and tell the story I was going to do it,” he says.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years, and now I’m in the position where that’s something feasible. So yeah, that’s something that’s happening. I’ll be playing a producing role in it too and working with Ronan Bennett (the award winning Irish novelist). I’m very excited about that.”
First though, movie fans should book their tickets to see the jaw-droppingly spectacular, scary and strangely though provoking Prometheus. The question Fassbender’s fans will want to know is, will he sign on for a sequel?
“I would love to come on board again with Noomi Rapace (who plays the young scientist Elizabeth Shaw) and Ridley,” he laughs.
When the film opens on June 8 you’ll understand why that’s very good news.
Prometheus - Official Trailer