Michael Fassbender

The breakthrough star of Hunger talks about taking on Hollywood...

Text by John-Paul Pry

With Steve McQueen’s uncompromising film about the last days of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands released this week on DVD, we took some time out with the film’s audaciously talented breakthrough star, Michael Fassbender...

How did you prepare for the role of Bobby Sands?
I went out to Ireland six weeks before we started shooting and started meeting people who were in prison with him. That’s a lot of pressure. In the end, I had to try and forget them all and just do my thing, I never was setting out to be Bobby Sands. I just wanted to get an essence of the man and serve the story.

Do you feel you have a responsibility as an actor to hold up some kind of mirror to society?
I think that when you get a film right everyone in the audience should see themselves in the characters. Everyone has a responsibility in this life and that’s what Hunger is about. Personally, I like the orderly character in the film, because he’s on the other side of the fence politically, but he has respect for Bobby when he’s dying, and he tries to make his exit from the world a gentle as possible. There’s also the riot police guy who is in bits after beating this prisoner with a baton. He has to disassociate emotionally to do that, so where does that leave him ten years down the line – the loneliest man in the world.

Considering the subject matter, you must have been nervous…
There was an element of that, because the one thing you don’t want to do is upset people. The waters run deep in Northern Ireland, which is why it was important to us to do the premiere in Belfast. We all felt quite nervous, but the reaction was great. It’s essentially a very human story and it’s not a political platform. There are people suffering on both sides of the fence in the film… from the prison guards to the prisoners.

It has real resonance in the era of the suicide bomber…
Its relevant in the sense that you can use your own body against whatever system you are fighting. It’s interesting how powerful a tool it can be to waste away – it’s totally disarming because how do you combat it? It’s terrible too, your organs liquefy and your body literally starts eating itself.

Do you feel Hunger is a real zenith for you?
I think it’s probably some of the best work I’ll, do and I ‘m glad I have one like that in the bank – you can go through your whole career and not have an opportunity to work with someone like Steve McQueen or opposite an actor like Liam Cunningham. I can remember turning to my dad at Cannes and saying, ‘Enjoy this because this is as good as it gets on every level.’

What do you enjoy about exploring intense psychological profiles?
I don’t know really, I enjoy plucking away at different psyches – at what makes different people tick, and through that process you learn a lot about yourself. I enjoy playing people living in real circumstances that have real flaws, and I think sometimes when you play people going through daunting journeys it can touch people in profound ways.

What’s your role in Joel Schumacher’s forthcoming Creek all about?
It’s about the Nazis and the occult. Hitler was using way out there stuff, opening up skulls and measuring the brain, it got really decadent and strange in the later years. My character in Creek is basically channelling all of this evil, and he unleashes hell on an American family,

And you play a WW2 British Lieutenant in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards – does it feel strange to be working with such big directors?
(Laughs) It feels great! Tarantino is amazing to work with. He creates a very fun atmosphere on set – there’s always music playing in between setting up shots, and there are some real characters around. It feels like a dream position to be in. I feel very lucky.

Do you think it will all go to your head?
MF: (Laughs) I hate celebrity culture… it’s like we are suffering from some sort of virus in the West. I threw away my television and I don’t feel as polluted by it all anymore. The pressure there is to be successful in our society is weird… We are all made to feel like we need all this shit that we really don’t need. I think that produces a lot of anxiety.

It’s a scary world, as your role in Eden Lake showed only to clearly…
Yeah, well it’s every man’s nightmare to be emasculated so quickly by a bunch of kids. London must be absolutely terrifying for old people. It’s a major problem really, because when you or I see a gang of hoodies coming we cross the road, and that just raises contempt – sometimes I think we’re losing a whole generation.

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