Dear Michael Fassbender

Art & Culture

Dear Michael Fassbender,

Almost alone among major film stars/actors working today you are a) a proper grown up bloke and b) a fairly recent arrival on the scene considering your current status. Let me explain.

Take for example, your X Men: Days Of Future Past co-star James McAvoy. Lovely bloke, I’m sure, and often terrific in films. But he is in many ways Britain’s answer to Leonardo DiCaprio – a boy striving to look like a man. Whereas another of your contemporaries, with whom you costarred twice in early TV series (including Band of Brothers), Damian Lewis, is not boyish, but nor is he dashing, handsome and charismatic. Which you are, being like George Clooney’s younger brother, with the added advantage of being more dangerous as well as a better actor.

As for the late arrival, it was not until 2006 that you made what might be termed your first proper movie and that was the risible (imagine Michael Palin saying that word in Life Of Brian) 300, which involved brief loin cloths, homoerotic bonding and an excess of CGI. Can’t say as you made much of an impression, but then nor did Dominic West and Gerard Butler (does he ever?). But it was another 2 years before the world – or at least a small part of it – began to take notice after your extraordinary and charismatic turn as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s first film, Hunger. 

It’s a remarkable performance from an unknown actor, who doesn’t even appear in the film until over a third of the way through. It’s not just the fact that you lost weight to play the IRA hunger striker in his last weeks alive – that has become something of a clche – but it’s the ferocity, intelligence and passion of the man that you capture so eloquently, at its best in the prolonged and riveting conversation with Liam Cunningham’s priest all shot in one unbroken take. Unforgettable, and you are – I’m sure – eternally grateful to McQueen for giving you that chance (as well as roles in his next 2 films), just as he must be grateful to you for electrifying his film.

Then things started to get more (and sometimes less) interesting. On the plus side, there is the excellent Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold’s superb drama about a woman, her daughter and her dodgy boyfriend (you); but in the same year, you took a role in Tarantino’s pointless Inglourious Basterds playing a British officer who speaks German (as you do), but who gets killed for no good reason.  2010 had little to recommend it – Jonah Hexand Centurion – and the less said about them the better.

However, in 2011, a hardworking year, you were cast as: a) Rochester in a new version of Jane Eyre, alongside Mia Wasikowska which cemented your status as a post Firth/Darcy hearthrob; b) X Men: First Class, which established your Hollywood credentials; c) as a young Carl Gustav Jung in Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method; d) in a Soderbergh action thriller, Haywire; and e) last, but by no means least, Steve McQueen’s second film, Shame, in which you play a man who is addicted to sex – and not in a good way. These five films cover a pretty wide range of roles, which is why you have managed to combine being a film star as well as a fine actor, and (incidentally but crucially) smoulderingly handsome . This is a rare combination; possibly only manifested by Daniel Day Lewis.

Of course, after the rise comes the fall, though Prometheus has its admirers, and you are the best thing in a bad film, playing a robot who bases his persona on Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia. Sadly, there will be a sequel next year, which I shall try to avoid. This last year has seen both the sublime and the ridiculous. The Counselor must be one of the worst big budget films with starry cast ever made. Baffling how it ever saw the light of day, or why you appeared in it. But then there is also the newly crowned Twelve Years A Slave, your third McQueen film, and although you are a supporting actor, what a role you have, and how crucial to the film.

2014 sees four more films, starting with the next X Men movie, which is – I suppose – contractually obliged, plus a Terrence Malick film which I am not looking forward to (are you sure you’ve watched his recent movies, or are you confusing him with the man who made Badlands?). You’ll be playing Thomas Wolfe (not Tom Wolfe) alongside Colin Firth in Genius, and finally – wait for this one, film fans – the leading role in Assassin’s Creed, which I gather is a some kind of computer game. 

So there you are, some years off 40, the movie world at your feet, and – apparently – everything going your way. If we’re looking for limitations, then there re no obvious comedies on your CV (sadly Prometheus doesn’t count, and no actual Oscars as as yet). If I have a concern, it’s for the volume of films you have made in recent years. I imagine that you still can’t quite believe the level of your success, and hate to say no when the Ridley Scotts, Malicks, Soderberghs etc come calling. But apart from McQueens films, there isn’t much in recent years that looks as though it will still be memorable in 20 years time, so do feel free to take it easy some time soon, and follow Daniel Day Lewis along the path of “I’ll only do it if I really really want to.” I’d hate you to burn out before you get the Best Actor award, which is surely yours before too long.

Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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