An Actor Study: Michael Fassbender

Among Michael Fassbender’s earliest credits is a small role he had in the series Band Of Brothers, and not doubt, for some North Americans, that was their first sighting of Fassbender.  I have not seen the series, though I may very well end up doing so now that I know Fassbender had a role.  For most North American audiences the film 300 was likely their first glimpse at Fassbender, and I, having seen the film myself, was too wrapped up in the horrible screen writing to take notice of Fassbender’s performance.  The first time I really remember watching Fassbender was in a relatively low-budget horror film produced in England called Eden Lake, but I was a little too caught up in the Hobbesian undertones of the film, and was quite smitten with the beauty and the performance of Kelly Reilly to really notice Fassbender.  So when did I finally take notice of Fassbender?  I think for me, as for most people, it was in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, where the German born actor stole several scenes and was, in my eyes, as deserving of an Oscar nod for best supporting actor as was Christoph Waltz, co-star of the same film and the eventual Oscar winner that year.

Michael Fassbender, in Inglorious Basterds

Though German born, he has Irish and German parentage and spent much of his youth growing up in Ireland, though one could never really pinpoint where he was from by his accent, for his elocution is on a par with actors like Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.    Since his scene-stealing performance in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Fassbender has been inundated with work, in both mainstream and independent films alike.   Last summer he starred in the blockbuster X-Men: First Class where he took over for Ian McKellen and played a younger version of Magneto, which McKellen had played in the original X-men trilogy.  Fassbender, as he was in Inglorious Basterds, was allowed to showcase his German and added depth to a dark character that could have easily been played over the top.  But the character seemed grounded and gave a little depth to the film that would have been sorely lacking had somebody else been cast instead of Fassbender (though fan boys panned the film, it still grossed $353 million).  Fassbender also starred in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, where he played a young Carl Jung, and while some would argue that the film was driven more by Keira Knightley’s performance, Fassbender was solid in this film as well.  Fassbender, now adept to big blockbusters, and apparently prequels, also signed up for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, where he played an android whose programming made him sinister and human at the same time.  Fassbender’s performance in this film was easily the best of the production, but it seems that, though successful, the blockbuster films don’t challenge Fassbender the way he is challenged in some of the independent films he’s done, most notably in Hunger and Shame,  both of which were directed by the talented Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the actor).

Michael Fassbender, in Hunger.


In Hunger, Fassbender plays Irish republican and IRA volunteer Bobby Sands, who, in a Northern Irish prison helps to organize a “no wash” protest with the hopes of gaining political prisoner status.  The protest does not work and so Fassbender’s character organizes a hunger strike instead.  Fassbender’s performance is stirring, not only because of the dramatic weight loss he undergoes, a weight loss akin to the one which Christian Bale underwent for the film The Machinist, but there is also a scene in which he calls in his priest to tell him about the hunger strike and the two men launch into a theological debate.  The scene is long enough to allow Fassbender to smoke three cigarettes without making a single cut and both Fassbender and Liam Cunningham, with whom he shares the scene, are brilliant.  After finding a degree of fame, Fassbender remained loyal to the independent film director and signed on to do the film Shame, which saw Fassbender literally strip himself of everything for McQueen again, as he did in Hunger, this time playing Irish-born New Yorker who sexual addiction prevents him from forming any semblance of a real relationship with anybody around him, while his suicidal sister invites herself to bunk up with her brother as she has no place to stay.  There is, unspoken in the film, and sexual history between brother and sister, and though it is unclear if it was a mutual incestuous relationship, or a shared sexual abuse, Fassbender and Carey Mulligan dance on a tightrope and though they fail to discuss whatever past they shared, Mulligan’s character offers some solace to both of them when she states: “We are not bad people.  We just come from a bad place.”  The film is an unrelenting masterpiece that challenges the way in which we look at addiction and at the relationships in which we engage with others.

Michael Fassbender, in Shame.

Fassbender has also made appearances Jane Erye, Jonah Hex, and is in the middle of filming Twelve Years a Slave, another McQueen film and will be in the lead role of Ridley Scott’s next film, The Counselor.  With such a great list of performances already under his belt, and more exciting films lined up for the near future, it seems that Fassbender has finally arrived.  He is unquestionably one of the best young talents in film today and his work, most especially in Hunger and Shame, are among the best performances of this generation and highly recommended to any film lover.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

Speak Your Mind