A hunger for the big screen

THE WORDS “cat” and “cream” immediately spring to mind, when a beaming Michael Fassbender comes loping into the Dorchester Hotel in London this week.

The morning after one of the first screenings of the latest X-Men, in which Michael Fassbender plays the lead Eric Lensherr, the six-foot Kerryman is ebullient about the progression of his career since his breakout role as Bobby Sands in Hunger in 2008.

“I trusted myself from the start and I just believed,” he says. “I kept knocking at the door and at some point there was a crack and I got my toe in. Once I got my toe in, I got the rest of my foot in and the next thing, I was in the room.”

Although only 34, Fassbender’s ‘overnight success’ has been 15 years in the making, since he left Killarney at 19 to go to London to study drama. His accent is pure Kerry and he is self-effacing. He refers often to Donie Courtney, his speech and drama teacher at St Brendan’s in Killarney who was such a pivotal influence on the direction his life took.

Since Hunger, Fassbender has worked with top directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott and Steven Soderbergh and he will begin working with David Cronenberg on a movie about Carl Jung. He’s also due to reunite with Hunger director Steve McQueen.

“Steve McQueen is closest to my heart. He changed my life with Hunger, he got my career going and working with him was a very special experience. The man is a genius. We just finished filming Shame in New York, and once again what struck me was the passion everybody came to work with every day. No one gets paid much working on his films, but everyone is so dedicated to not letting Steve down,” he says.

Fassbender is dedicated to each role and lost 40 kilos to play Bobby Sands. This discipline liberates him to dominate any role.

“I work best when I’m well-prepared and I do a lot of homework, so that when I get onto the floor to put it out there, I’m free to go in any direction,” he says.

I wonder how difficult is it to go from smaller budget art house movies to blockbusters. “It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just a very different mindset you have to get into, ie, that of a 10-year-old boy and have fun with it and not take yourself too seriously. I used to skive off school at St Brendan’s sometimes, with a friend of mine, Ernest Johnson, and whenever I’d get nervous about it, he’d say, ‘what’ll it matter in 100 years’ time?’ That’s my attitude to blockbusters like this,” he says.

Fassbender’s parents ran the West End restaurant in Killarney, with his German dad cooking. Fassbender won’t confirm rumours that he’s involved with his X Men co-star Zoe Kravitz. “I’ve no interest at all in answering questions about my personal life. London is home. I don’t have any pets, although I’d love to get a dog, but it would just be unfair on the animal with the way I work,” he says.

Many actors are failed musicians. Fassbender has this frustrated passion. “I’m a musical fan, or make that fantasist. I play a lot of air guitar, better than I play real guitar. I started with the tin whistle when I was young and then progressed up to the piano accordion. I actually wanted to play the violin, but my parents said ‘yes, that’s very interesting, but violins are expensive’. In my teen years, I picked up the guitar and my fantasy was to be a lead singer in a heavy metal band, but when I heard my friends play guitar properly, I knew I was just fooling myself,” he says.

On Fassbender’s slate is a biopic of the Belfast punk impresario Terri Hooley, which begins filming later this year. Good Vibrations is written by Glenn Patterson, and its co-stars include Steve Coogan, Liam Cunningham and Bronagh Gallagher. “I’m excited to be working in Northern Ireland again.”

Fassbender is a passionate traveller and loves South America. “I really love a place in Brazil called Trancuzo, which is a beautiful peninsula. I love the Brazilian temperament. Everything is very sexy. They do everything better and sexier than we do. There’s a spirit of joy and living life that’s very infectious and nice to be around.

“I was very average at school and didn’t really know what to do with myself. I thought about doing law, because I was attracted to the showmanship, but I wasn’t a great reader at school and figured I wouldn’t be able to get into university to study it. I thought about architecture, but then I failed my technical drawing exam. Journalism also appealed to me, but then Donie Courtney did a course at the Gaiety School of Acting and came back to St Brendan’s. I did one or two of his courses and it just felt right to me, as a way to express myself. All these people in my head could finally find a place to go,” he says.

How does he cope with celebrity? “None of the trappings of fame really interest me. Ten years ago I would have been very impressed and seduced by all the things that come with it, but it doesn’t interest me now.”

* X-Men First Class opens in cinemas on June 1


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