Michael Fassbender on Finding a Character: “If I can make them logical to myself, then I apply them, and that’s really it”
Michael Fassbender has been nominated for two Oscars, and it’s fair to speculate that those two nominations are just the first two of many. While Fassbender is a go-to actor for almost anything — he’s done blockbusters (the X-Men movies), dramas (Shame), quirky indies (Frank) and even Shakespeare (Macbeth) — for the first seven years of his career he struggled to find work. Speaking with The Guardian, Fassbender spoke about his parents’ concern about his action aspirations and why he reject the idea that he is an “intelligent actor.”
Fassbender reveals that his parents really pushed him to go to pursue higher education, but he refuses. “They wanted me to go to university, because they were of that generation when anybody who went to university had security and got a good job. They said, ‘Go to university first’, and I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to waste time and money, I need to do this now.’”
What changed their minds was when Fassbender developed and directed a stage production of Reservoir Dogs. He continues, “They saw me put on that play and they thought, ‘Shit, he’s serious.’ When they saw that I’d made up my mind, they knew that’s what I was going to do, and I have to say they supported me immediately after that.” Curiously, Fassbender would later work with Reservoir Dogs filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds.
Though Fassbender had some early success, including a role on the TV mini-series Band of Brothers, he barely worked in the following two years while living in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, though he was able to turn his career around he doesn’t see those two years as completely negative. He explains, “There are a lot of good actors who are still in that position at 40. Bundles of them. I was so fucking lucky. I thought, I’ll just keep knocking on the door – and when the opportunity comes, I’m going to take it.”
Although people refer to him as an “intelligent” actor, Fassbender rejects the label. He says, “I’m definitely not in the intelligent bracket. I mean, I was never academically smart. I don’t really consider myself intelligent. I just have a good – if I have, I don’t know – intuition. I’m a very intuitive person, and I guess I think very simply.”
Fassbender clarifies what he means by continuing, “Well, I just think, ‘Oh, the character might do something like that because he has an inferiority complex, so therefore he’s sadistic towards somebody else’, or whatever. That’s a very crude example, but I just keep things very simple. If I can make them logical to myself, then I apply them, and that’s really it. But there are a lot of very intelligent actors out there, I would say. I just think maybe what comes across as unintelligent is, we end up talking about ourselves an awful lot. And that’s sort of boring and unintelligent and uninteresting. That is the danger of the job, because it’s a lot of thinking about a character, and thinking about yourself, and so one can fall into that trap pretty quickly.”