Michael Fassbender – we’ve seen a lot of him (in more ways than one) in what seems like a few short years, but this actor has been working hard as a professional for more than two decades now. He is currently firmly ensconced at the apex of his career, with the highly-anticipated Macbeth poised for imminent release, with no signs of wobble or worry. Is this mostly because he is an actor that is smart with his craft (he works at it religiously) or because he is smart with his choices, and ostensibly infallible when he experiences a rare flop (Jonah Hex anyone?)
Fassbender was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1977 to his Northern Irish mother and German father. The family moved to County Kerry when he was a todler, which is where the actor developed his distinctive burr. It was this interesting mix of heritage that co-incidentally proved his calling card when director Quentin Tarantino was assembling the cast for Inglourious Basterds and which, upon its release in 2009, truly heralded the arrival of Michael Fassbender on the international scene.
Embarking on training at London’s famously intense Drama Centre at 19, Fassbender dropped out two thirds of the way through his course when he secured an agent and a touring job in a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. A slightly fallow period followed but in 2001 he hit gold with a small, but recurring, role in TV heavyweight Band of Brothers. From here on in he could abandon the bar work and postal delivery somewhat as he hit a solid patch of work (obligatory Holby City and Poirot appearances included). Then came 300. Some forget his appearance amongst the ripped but be-nappied Spartans in this stylized film, but it is Michael Fassbender that makes that impressive and iconic jump with the sword.
A short while later and we come to the enduring and most celebrated professional relationship of Michael Fassbender’s career – that with director Steve McQueen. He was the director to give Fassbender his most significant role to date in his career as the lead in Hunger in 2008, and room to perform to his (now quite usual) exceptional level. The character was that of IRA activist Bobby Sands, who led his fellow inmates in a hunger strike in a Northern Irish prison in 1981. Fassbender’s physical transformation was quite astounding, losing more than two stone from his already-slim frame on a highly restrictive diet (allegedly revolving mainly around seeds) – and it proved a fittingly literal display of his dedication to the part, for which he went on to receive the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor (a feat he would repeat again in 2011 with Steve McQueen’s Shame) and critical acclaim at Cannes.
Here is where we return to Quentin Tarantino and Michael Fassbender’s role in Inglourious Basterds as the frightfully gung-ho Lt. Archie Cox; an opportunity to display both his fluent German and a flawless English accent (which seems to have fallen rather by the wayside recently if his interpretation of ‘Magneeeto’ is anything to go by). As the breakout star of the film, Fassbender then began a great run of roles, from gritty Indie flick Fish Tank to a gruff and rather Oirish Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre and working with David Cronenberg for A Dangerous Method. He and Steve McQueen then reunited to work on Shame, an unflinching, access-all-areas portrayal of sex addiction, which made for serious Oscar buzz around the actor after such a powerful and raw performance. Although it was not to be that year, Fassbender would get his first Academy Award nomination (for Best Supporting Actor) the next time he worked with McQueen two years later, on 2013’s 12 Years A Slave as sadistic and self-loathing slave master Edwin Epps.
Alongside his casting in the new blockbuster X-Men prequel franchise from 2011, Fassbender has continued his unstoppable artistic assault on Hollywood, displaying his knack for mixing blockbusters with far smaller off-beat films – he did Prometheus for Ridley Scott, where he stole the show as the fascinating android David (and will return again in 2017’s Alien: Paradise Lost), and is soon to be seen in the highly anticipated Steve Jobs biopic, but he also captured hearts and minds through a giant papier-mâché head in Frank last year and trundled around the American frontier in Slow West earlier this year. He has completed work on several other productions slated for release over the coming year, including the new untitled Terrence Malick project, The Light Between Oceans and British outlaw film Trespass Against Us.
So just what is it about Fassbender that keeps him so current and castable? He is talented, no question, and handsome enough to play lead roles – but with edge enough to bring versatility to complicated characters, which seems in no small part down to his rather shark-like grin. He also chooses projects on which he can deliver time and again due to a ferocious work ethic and no shortage of nous when it comes to selecting quality productions, big or small. This golden touch has led Michael Fassbender up a steep trajectory of success so far in his career, and these plaudits show no sign of ceasing anytime in the near future.