Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender:
From teenage rock-star wannabe to Hollywood hot property 

Photography: John Russo
Words: Rüdiger Sturm

Michael Fassbender reflects on how perseverance, passion and just a little bit of the luck of the Irish helped in putting him on the path to Hollywood success 

As his interview with The Red Bulletin comes to a close, Michael Fassbender leans back in his chair at London’s Claridges Hotel and groans, “I’m starving!” He’s also shivering in an air-conditioning stream set to sub-arctic blast mode.

For many Hollywood stars, these deprivations would have been the beginning of the conversation, with assistants peremptorily dispatched to source a club sandwich or to have the hotel’s climate control globally reset.

Fassbender, though, is not that kind of star. Instead, he’s content to knuckle down and get the job done, fully engaged to the end.

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As an analogue, its perhaps an odd one, but in a small way it’s emblematic of the resilience and perseverance the 39-year-old has shown on his journey from smalltown Ireland to marquee billing in some of Hollywood’s most successful endeavours, from the X-Men franchise to the return of the iconic Alien series.

Now he’s about to embark on another major project, translating the Assassin’s Creed video game from digital phenomenon to live-action blockbuster. 

In cinemas January 6

© youtube // 20th Century Fox

THE RED BULLETIN: The character you play in Assassin’s Creed has a near-death experience. Do you know what that feels like?

MICHAEL FASSBENDER: Well, I had this weird dream where I was cycling up a mountain in the Irish countryside where I grew up, and then I flew off the edge of a cliff to certain death. That felt so familiar, like it had already happened to me.

But you haven’t faced actual life or death situations?

There were a couple of close calls. Once when I was riding my motorbike, I was sandwiched between two cars that were driving between 210 and 225kph. I could feel the rush of wind as one went by me. That was quite dangerous. Another time I was swimming in the ocean, the waves were pretty rough and I thought I was going to drown. Or when I was up in the mountains and the weather would change.

How did you react to those situations: wild panic or stiff upper lip stoicism?

This is it! A large part of me thinks when your card is drawn, it is drawn. There is nothing you can do about it. I am aware that I’m getting closer to middle age – hopefully it is middle age – and therefore death, but when you start to really think about it, you begin the process of dying. 

Michael Fassbender dons the hood as Callum Lynch in the first official look at the #AssassinsCreedMovie.

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You’re comfortable with risk, then? 

Of course. In the film there is a scene where my character takes a so-called ‘leap of faith’ and jumps down 38m. And I have done that [metaphorically] in many respects. Going into certain relationships or jumping from a cliff into water is a leap of faith. Or in work when we are going for something that seems daunting.

“Either you become a victim or you take responsibility and get engaged. Life is not fair all the time“

And if the risk doesn’t result in reward? How do you get back on the horse? 

I tell myself: ‘Life goes on – with or without you.’ You get re-engaged; you get back into life. I experienced many, many years of disappointment. Going to auditions, getting rejected, getting rejected, getting rejected. Either you become a victim or you take responsibility and get engaged. Life is not fair all the time. It’s not fair a lot of the time. I learned that lesson very young. 

When was the first time that reality became apparent to you?

In my teens. Certain kids get certain things and you can’t get those things. So you go to work early. I started working jobs when I was 12, 13 – in the summer, on the weekends. When I was washing pots in the kitchen of a five-star hotel at 15 or 16, I met a lot of adults who were working there. That’s an intense environment; you get to become part of that world. You embrace it and learn from it. You start to understand what life can throw your way and the various hardships it presents. And then I moved to London at 19. I didn’t have a lot of money, hardly anything. To survive in such an expensive city without any means is very hard. 

Salut #michaelfassbender #michaelfassy

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When was the first time that reality became apparent to you?

In my teens. Certain kids get certain things and you can’t get those things. So you go to work early. I started working jobs when I was 12, 13 – in the summer, on the weekends. When I was washing pots in the kitchen of a five-star hotel at 15 or 16, I met a lot of adults who were working there. That’s an intense environment; you get to become part of that world. You embrace it and learn from it. You start to understand what life can throw your way and the various hardships it presents. And then I moved to London at 19. I didn’t have a lot of money, hardly anything. To survive in such an expensive city without any means is very hard. 

Was that early awareness of the hard knock life a key to your success? 

Yeah, in a way, maybe. But you also have to keep faith. Or rather I’d say passion. That’s how I fell into acting. When I was 18, I directed a stage version of Reservoir Dogs with my friends – it was all out of love and naivety and passion. 

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“You start to understand what life can throw your way and the various hardships it presents“

When did that passion translate into pursuit of acting as a career? How did you know you had what it takes? 

My original plan was to play guitar in a heavy metal band. I practised two hours a day, every day when I came home from school.

“Where I’m at today wouldn’t have happened without a series of people who helped me along the way“

© Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

And then my friend came around with his guitar one day and he blew me out of the room. I was like: ‘He’s got what it takes, I don’t.’ But around that same time I did some acting classes. Most of the things I was participating in at school, including sports, I was average at. But with this, I had an affinity with it. I felt I could express myself. 

Did you feel it was something preordained? 

I do believe that our lives are kind of set from the womb. But I don’t live my life thinking that. I don’t sit back, thinking everything is taken care of. I do engage very much in what I am doing. And I work very hard in terms of my profession. I am not saying it is hard work, but I put the hours in!

You had to put in the hard yards as well. Your breakthrough role, in Hunger, came when you were 31.

It’s about being in the right place at the right time. Ninety-five per cent is luck – meeting the right people. As actors we are very dependant on others to help us get to where we are. Where I’m at today wouldn’t have happened without a series of people who helped me along the way. You have to be awake to these encounters, too. With Hunger I was very aware that I was getting an opportunity that might not come about again for maybe another seven years, 10 years, if at all. So I grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and went for it. I focused and worked hard. 

When did that passion translate into pursuit of acting as a career? How did you know you had what it takes? 

My original plan was to play guitar in a heavy metal band. I practised two hours a day, every day when I came home from school. And then my friend came around with his guitar one day and he blew me out of the room. I was like: ‘He’s got what it takes, I don’t.’ But around that same time I did some acting classes. Most of the things I was participating in at school, including sports, I was average at. But with this, I had an affinity with it. I felt I could express myself. 

Did you feel it was something preordained? 

I do believe that our lives are kind of set from the womb. But I don’t live my life thinking that. I don’t sit back, thinking everything is taken care of. I do engage very much in what I am doing. And I work very hard in terms of my profession. I am not saying it is hard work, but I put the hours in!

Watch this summary of Fassbender’s 7 best performances

© youtube // ScreenJunkies News

Now that the hard work has paid off, how do you keep your eye on the prize?

I just stick to the principles my parents gave me: if you are going to do a job, do it properly. Treat others as you would have yourself treated. Treat people with respect. Be honest. Keep things pretty simple, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

“Treat people with respect. Be honest. Keep things pretty simple, and don’t take yourself too seriously“

That’s why I always like to go back to Killarney and reconnect with my roots. Also, some of my childhood friends still live there. The last time I was there was only four days ago.

You’re also a keen motorcyclist. Is that another way of keeping things simple, of stripping things back? 

Unfortunately, I haven’t done any motorcycling for a year. But there is something cathartic, something cleansing about travelling on the road as opposed to jumping on an aeroplane. It’s like you are washing away all stress. I enjoy the grind of doing mile after mile and seeing a country properly. When you’re in a car, you’re closed off to the outside space, whereas on a motorcycle, you’re part of it. All the elements are there, the road, the wind; it’s much more of an experience. It’s a really good way to centre yourself. Also, it gives you a sense of persistence.

“We work in the dark to serve the light.” #AssassinsCreedMovie

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As well as being into bikes, you’re a big Formula One fan and narrated the F1 film 1: Life on the Limit. Are you a total speed freak?

I like speed. I find it relaxing. That’s why I also like to go on the German autobahn, where there is no limit.

What’s the fastest you have ever gone?

In a car, 260kph, and around 225kph on my motorcycle. But I must say I was a bit wobbly in the knees after I got off the bike. I’m half-German, half-Irish. You can see my German side in my discipline in terms of work, and the Irish side of me wants to be a bit crazy.

And what would you have said, if, God forbid, your card had been drawn on those rides?

OK, this is it.

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01 2017 The Red Bulletin

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