Last year was a stellar year for cinema, both British and worldwide. With blockbusters such as X-Men – First Class to classic period dramas like Jane Eyre.
There was even room to fit in some Freudian connotations with David Cronenbourg’s follow-up to A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises – A Dangerous Method, while everyone went crazy for Steve McQueen’s study of sex addiction: Shame.
There is something that all of these movies have in common, but what might that be you ask?
Well the answer is, they all star German born, Irish actor and ex-UAL Drama Centre student Michael Fassbender.
2011 has seen a meteoric rise to fame for the 34-year-old thespian who is now considered one of the most daring actors on the scene who, even as a student, understood the hard graft and perseverance that leads to success.
Already considered one of the best upcoming actors following his role as Provisional Irish Republican Army prisoner Bobby Sands in Turner Prize winner, McQueen’s 2008 directorial debut, Hunger, Fassbender has gone from strength to strength and is considered one of Hollywood’s hottest properties.
Born in Hiedelberg, Germany, his parents emigrated to Killarney, County Kerry when he was two years old.
It was there that Fassbender first picked up the acting bug, while attending St. Brendan’s, his secondary school in Killarney.
Fassbender saw a posted notice for a comedy and drama class with teacher Donie Courtney and that was enough to fuel his curiosity in the art form that had already intrigued him from an early age through his mother Adele: “Early Scorsese, Sidney Lumet; she was a big fan of Al Pacino and De Niro, and they were the beginnings of my inspiration,” Fassbender told The Telegraph.
After much direction, he took the class, which led to a stage production of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which Fassbender directed and starred as the petty and twisted Mr Pink, a role made famous by Steve Buscemi in 1992.
From there Fassbender moved to London to attend the Drama Centre where, like many students today, he had to work all hours of the day to put support himself while he learnt his trade: “I’d do an 11-hour shift on a Saturday and an 11-to-4 on a Sunday and by the end of it I was knackered. And they had me on emergency tax as well, so at the end of the week I was seeing something like £15. It was a real struggle for the first three years and to be honest, I don’t know how I did it,” Fassbender told the Radio Times.
However, his time at The Drama Centre was not to be and he dropped out in the final year after becoming disillusioned with the institutions emphasis on the purity of language.
After much time out of work – and numerous menial jobs – Fassbender found himself back in acting when he was given the role of Sgt. Burton Christenson in the multi-award winning mini series Band of Brothers.
Despite the series’ success, Fassbender struggled for a number of years to get regular work, although he never lost his passion and determination for acting: “My self-belief system was always pretty good. It wasn’t ‘I’m amazing, it’s a travesty I’m not getting more opportunities.’ It was just that I felt I was good enough to be working and that keeps you focused.”
It wasn’t until McQueen cast him as Bobby Sands in Hunger that Fassbender was really raised to prominence in the movie world.
The film won 30 awards, including the Best Actor gong for Fassbender at The British Independent Film Awards.
Chronicling the events of the 1981 protests in the Maze prison in Northern Ireland that lead to Bobby Sands’ hunger strike and death at the age of 27, the film depicts the terrible conditions the inmates faced, including beatings by wardens and the horrific living conditions.
“Steve managed to tell a human story. It avoids politics, it’s about what human beings are capable of doing to each other,” he was quoted saying in The Telegraph.”
It was then that Fassbender became aware of how important a filmmaker McQueen is and it is no surprise that the two have collaborated again for McQueen’s second feature film – Shame.
When describing McQueen Fassbender told The Telegraph: “Genius. I know that word gets thrown around an awful lot, but he is. He expects the very best of you, and he’s got such a great bullshit radar. When you work with Steve there’s definitely no safety net; it’s scary, it’s challenging and it’s totally rewarding.”
Following Hunger Fassbender was cast in hits such Quentinn Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterdsand the highly acclaimed British film Fish Tank.
Although Fassbender played important parts in these films, it was not until last year that he emerged as a real leading actor.
Hardly taking time off the big screen Fassbender starred as key roles in Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method and Shame – not bad for a year’s work.
First it was the latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s seminal piece of literature, Jane Eyre, where he played Edward Rochester alongside Mia Wasikowska’s Jane, followed by the blockbuster hit X-Men: First Class where he played a young Magneto. Fassbender completed his year with two of the most highly anticipated and well-received films of 2011 – A Dangerous Method and Shame.
David Cronenbourg’s A Dangerous Method tells the story of the relationship between psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Sabina Spielrein – Fassbender playing Jung and receiving the nod for British Actor of the Year at the 2011 London Critics Circle Film Awards alongside his performance in Shame.
It is for Shame that he has been most praised; playing sex addict Brandon, Shame is a dark exploration of Brandon’s addiction and his salvaging relationship with his sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan.
Fassbender received rave reviews for his performance with The Observer stating: “Michael Fassbender is gripping and intense in Steve McQueen’s chilling story of a New York sex addict”, while The Telegraph declared: “Shame confirms Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender as a fearsome double act.”
Shame was originally thought to be too explicit to show at cinemas and their were plans to cut out some of the more provocative scenes, however McQueen stuck to his guns, believing that the nudity was a part of the message the film was trying to portray – something Fassbender agreed with when he spoke to the Radio Times.
“The sex scenes aren’t exploitative or gratuitous; they are there for a reason, they are there to show this guy’s inner life. He’s at war with himself and he doesn’t like himself so consequently he begins to do very damaging things to himself and yet he is trying to find some level of real intimacy, but he just can’t deal with it.”
Again, Fassbender gave praise to McQueen for his role in guiding him through a very tough and emotionally challenging performance: “I knew that I wanted him to go to places that were ugly and sort of display that ugliness within the character but I had the confidence, from the way he was written, that an audience would feel for him. And if it had been a different director, I would have been a lot more wary because some of the scenes are pretty graphic, but I totally trusted Steve.”
Although Fassbender’s rise to stardom could have meant a move to Los Angeles he feels much more at home in his adopted city of London as he told the Radio Times: “I love London, I love its diversity, the wonderful mix of people. I love the fact that I can afford to take the Tube without worrying about it. I keep an eye on the money I make because it’s important for me to make sure that I don’t go back to counting every 50p. If you can survive in London, you can survive anywhere.”
Whether he uproots and decides to join the beautiful people in LA in the future remains to be seen, but for now, Fassbender is set for another busy year in 2012.
Not only is he in the upcoming and highly anticipated Ridley Scott science-fiction blockbuster, Prometheus, due for release later this year but also saw Haywire – Steven Soderbergh’s latest action thriller starring Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas and Channing Tatum – hit cinema’s last month.
Not bad for the once “sort of stupid” kid from Killarney. Fassbender is the perfect example of someone who believed that he had the talent to succeed and went for it.
He may not have come away with the Best Actor gong at the recent BAFTAs, but be sure, at the rate he’s going, he won’t have long to wait.