Michael Fassbender on Macbeth the “Massive Insight” He Found in How He Was Going to Play Him

Michael Fassbender in Macbeth

Pretty much every actor one day dreams to play Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s greatest characters. It already was adapted for film over a dozen times before Michael Fassbender took on the role in the latest adaptation opposite Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth with director Justin Kurzel. Speaking with NPR, Fassbender talked about how Macbeth’s condition is similar to PTSD, how the character compares to his 12 Years a Slave character, and how aware Macbeth is of the morality of his actions.

Fassbender views Macbeth’s tortured visions as Shakespeare’s take on PTSD. He explains, “Shakespeare has it in the text that Lady Macbeth says please don’t be alarmed. You know, we’ve seen these fits of hallucinations before. So we know that before we meet him in the play, he’s already somebody who is mentally unstable and suffering from some form of unpredictable behavior. And we took that to be post-traumatic stress disorder. So that was – for me, it was a massive insight into how I was going to play him. You know, what’s pretty amazing is that Shakespeare had that insight back then when it’s only even today that we have a name for it.”

He compares Macbeth to Epps, the slaveowner he played in 12 Years a Slave. He points to both characters as villains whom he wants the audience to be able to relate to. He says, “I think with somebody like Epps, you don’t distance the characters that are so unsavory. You try and make them tangible for audiences because then it becomes everybody’s problem, as opposed to, well, that guy was a total pantomime villain. And if you’re playing him like a psychopath, then he’s so far removed from anything that they could sort of identify with, that it’s very easy for the audience to dismiss him as opposed to deal with him as a human being.”

Fassbender also compares Macbeth’s actions to those of an alcoholic who is aware of the damage that he is doing to his body. He says, “We discussed, you know, what was he like pre to that killing of Duncan? And he’s sort of riddled with responsibility and overwhelmed by the concept of killing the king. But through the killing of Duncan, he finds clarity and peace because he is so familiar with brutality and killing. I looked at it like an alcoholic sitting down with a bottle of whiskey. Three or four glasses in, he feels in a familiar place. And even though that place is killing him, it’s something that he feels comfortable in because it’s something that he knows.

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