Interview: Michael Fassbender Brings Pain, Anger, and Vulnerability to X-Men: First Class

By  · Published on May 28th, 2011

Interview: Michael Fassbender Brings Pain, Anger, and Vulnerability to X-Men: First Class

Erik Lensherr/Magneto mustn’t be the easiest of characters to jump into. Can you imagine being on set trying to look serious while throwing your hands around to make it seem as if you’re controlling metal? And, at the same time, while sporting a big cape and a purple helmet? Playing drama seriously ‐ especially when wearing a potentially goofy outfit and doing unworldly things ‐ can’t be easy. But, as Michael Fassbender says below, you just have to jump in and take chances.

While many keep citing Fassbender’s take on Magneto in X-Men: First Class as being very Bond-esque, that doesn’t totally fit with how he describes the role. Yes, there’s a coolness factor to him, something that apparently sticks out even more when he’s hunting down Nazis in the film, but it was important for Fassbender to subtlety find a tragic anger to the future villain.

Recently, I had the chance to speak briefly with Fassbender (whose résumé would already make some veteran actors jealous) about working on a control freak’s set, trying not to look goofy, and finding humanity in potential bastards.

I recently talked to Matthew Vaughn, and he comes off very confident. What type of atmosphere does he create on set?

Yeah, there’s a very strong personality in Matthew, and that was needed for sure when you’re dealing with something that has such a huge fan base, a lot of pressure involved, and when there’s a lot of money involved. I clicked with Matthew pretty much immediately, really. He’s got a very honest way of speaking, which I like. Also, what’s great about Matthew is that he really cares about characters. He said to me that during his apprentice years a director had told him, “You just have to worry about the characters and put the camera in the right place,” and that’s what we really focused on in this film: the characters, their relationships with one another, and how to deal with that. The mythology in the X-Men is complicated and complex.

He referred to himself as a “control freak.” Can you talk about working in an environment that’s a little more calculated versus a film like, say, Fish Tank, that was a more organic process?

It all depends on the captain of the ship, you know. If the person is comfortable in working in the way they work, then you have confidence in the person. It’s all about trusting the person that’s steering the ship. Although Andrea [Arnold] and Matthew are a very stark contrasts in personalities, both of them work in their way, and in an effective way. You just got to go with it.

I’d imagine you’d need to have a lot of confidence in your director on a film like this, especially when it comes to the tone. Did you ever find yourself on set thinking, “This could look ridiculous,” but you had enough trust in Matthew to make it work?

Yeah, you sort of have to go for it. There were choices I was making that were pretty bold choices. It’s a collaboration. I wanted to show a vulnerability in the character. I didn’t just want him to be fawning through the film always very cool-like. You want to have somebody that’s layered. In terms of taking on the idea of how one manipulates metal, physically [Laughs], you just got to go for it. As I’ve been saying, you got to release that 10-year-old boy inside of yourself and enjoy it. You got to have fun and hopefully the audience will have fun with you.

There’s always been sort of an internal pain and anger to Eric. Can you talk about tackling that aspect and playing it more beneath the surface?

You know, he is a very emotionally damaged person, as you said. I was trying to find certain scenes where I could show that vulnerability, and I thought the best place to do that was with Charles [Xavier]. He actually, for the first time, manages to let some barriers and defenses down to open up. There’s a specific scene in the film, where through Charles Xavier, Magneto is born. Up until then, Eric has a very crude way of dealing with his powers. He hasn’t really harnessed the full potential of them, and it’s Charles Xavier who does that for him. Under his tutelage, Eric finds the true depths to his power.

With Fish Tank, Jane Eyre, and now with this, I’d say you’ve done a few roles that require finding humanity in characters that some could label as real bastards. Is that an idea or challenge that you find appealing?

Yeah, I like to make the audience do a little bit of work in the theater, rather than being spoon-fed. I like the sort of ambivalent characters that when the audience leaves the theater, they have to find the moral compass within themselves, what they believe in, and figure out what they think of these characters. It’s just sort of questioning our behavior, and that’s what it’s all about for me: Trying to understand and ask questions about how we relate to each other and how we behave.

X-Men: First Class opens in theaters on June 3rd.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.