Michael Fassbender portrays Erik Lehnsherr, who becomes Magneto, the man has the power to control magnetism.
Fassbender isn’t your typical Co. Cork surname, but there’s no question that actor Michael Fassbender is an Irishman. Acclaimed for his starring roles in independent movies like Jane Eyre and Hunger, this week he hits the big leagues playing an unforgettable villain in X-Men: First Class. He talks to CAHIR O’DOHERTY about the new blockbuster and his firm decision to play it in his Irish accent.
Imagine the best James Bond film you’ve ever seen crossed with a full on superhero movie and you’re getting close to what X-Men: First Class serves up when it hits theaters on Friday, June 3.
This is a film well worth getting into line for because within minutes of its opening, you’ll forget you’re watching a superhero movie at all. Thanks to the acting talent of Irish actor Michael Fassbender (with terrific support from Atonement’s James McAvoy) X-Men: First Class is a thinking persons action film. Which is to say, it’s badass.
There aren’t many actors out there who could convince you they have the ability to raise a nuclear submarine out of the sea through the power of their own thought, but Fassbender, 34, makes it look easy.
That’s because he’s blessed with a once in a generation acting talent. He’s an Irish Marlon Brando in the making, and in 2011 the biggest film studios in Hollywood have finally caught on.
Playing a younger version of Magneto, the biggest anti-hero of the X-Men universe, Fassbender has invested his performance with so much depth and emotion that he’s deliberately blurred the line between fantasy action hero and flesh and blood man.
Better yet, he’s kept his Irish accent. Irish moviegoers will be delighted to hear Fassbender speaking in his refined southern Irish accent all the way through the new film.
This particular X-Man knows how to bend metal like putty, but he sounds like he knows how to pour a decent pint of Guinness besides (Fassbender actually worked in a bar in the leaner years).
“When I started filming I tried to take the edge of my accent, but it was something the director Matthew Vaughn actually liked,” Fassbender tells the Irish Voice.
“He said the reason that Sean Connery was the best James Bond was that he had this weird sort of quirk to his accent and it wasn’t straight English. I think that’s why he wanted me to maintain an element of my own Irish accent.
“I was like great, I can make Magneto Irish! He was in hiding in Cork or Kerry for a couple of years after the war. That’s where we sort of went with it.”
Obviously Fassbender isn’t your typical Cork surname, but there’s no question the actor is an Irishman. First of all there’s his everyday speaking voice, which is unmistakably southern Irish.
Then there are his Irish good manners – Fassbender, born in Germany to a mother from Northern Ireland and a German father, and raised in Killarney, Co. Kerry -- is one of the most sought after male actor in the world right now, but he isn’t too proud to make you coffee or be a gracious host.
Already that charm, coupled with his once in a generation acting talent and leading man good looks, has enslaved audiences and critics and the list is growing longer (a recent profile in Vogue magazine lead to a near proposal from the completely besotted journalist).
If Fassbender laughs with embarrassment at all the fuss surrounding him these days it’s because, when it comes right down to it, he’s the kind of actor who can disappear inside a role for weeks on end. He’s usually startled to discover that his work can have the same effect on others that it does on himself.
Blessed with the kind of looks that can play anything from a charismatic leading man to a terrifying psychopath, Fassbender has been incredibly nimble in selecting roles. But his performance as Northern Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands in director Steve McQueen’s Hunger was a career turning point, and a high water mark in his development as an actor.
It can be hard, at first, to reconcile his performance in McQueen’s masterpiece with the gaudy world of action heroes, which is why it was such a smart move to cast him in X-Men: First Class.
“You feel like a bit of an idiot. I mean, I put Magneto’s helmet on and I thought I’m a grown man, for God’s sake. Then you just realize you have to commit to it,” he says.
“It might look awful and it might be the wrong idea but I go for it 100%. And full credit to James McAvoy, he’s a great actor to partner up with in terms of availability and sensitivity. I knew I had a good ally there.”
Fassbender freely admits he wasn’t very interested in Magneto’s mutant superhero talents. He was, he says, more intrigued by the complex, damaged individual that Magneto is.
“I just liked the idea of blurring the line between villain and hero as much as possible. I wanted to show Magneto as a man with a huge pool of sorrow, there’s massive emotional hurt in him,” says Fassbender.
“That’s way more interesting than just some guy, some baddie, who breezes though an action film. It adds a whole new dimension to the idea of a villain.”
Fassbender isn’t kidding. That whole new dimension brings added creepiness to an already troubling character (he could have been a good man, he still is some times, and yet he can kill people like he’s swatting flies -- go figure).
“It was very clear to me what Magneto’s opinions were in terms of how much humanity can be trusted (not at all),” says Fassbender.
“And listen, I love people, I believe we all need each other, that’s the essential thing for me in life. In the world it gets lost nowadays when people are all about the I -- how can I become successful, how can I get ahead?
“We’re obsessed about the individual as opposed to working together. And it does seem to be a human trait that when we see something we’re afraid of we try to destroy it rather than understand it.”
There’s a gently made parallel in the film between the way the X-Men mutants are treated by human society and the way minorities, for example, are treated by the wider culture -- they’re grudgingly tolerated for their particular skills, but when push comes to shove they’re first to go.
“I agreed with everything Magneto said,” says Fassbender, commenting on his character’s distaste for the human society that he knows will discard him the moment he is no longer useful.
But his methods (violence, murder), well, that’s a different situation. The crux of the film is the relationship between Charles (Professor X) and Eric (Magneto). And in a film where there are poignant moments and sinister ones and it’s a bit of a relief that the director has introduced some kitschy ones as well.
Meanwhile, Fassbender is looking for a quick trip back to Ireland (he’s based in London at the moment filming Prometheus, the prequel to the Alien movies co-starring Charlize Theron).
“I didn’t catch President Obama’s visit to Ireland but Liam Cunningham (the Irish actor currently seen in the Irish made drama Camelot on the Starz network) sent me a text asking if I was coming over for it,” says Fassbender.
“But I’ve been going flat out for 18 months now with one 10-day break. Usually I get back around three times a year, usually around Easter time because my dad and I share a birthday in April. I actually really wanted to get home this week but it just wasn’t possible but I will be going in the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait!”