Michael Fassbender: I was a bit of a worrywart. Ive tried to work on that

He does raw and repressed better than anyone, but off-screen the actor is learning how to relax. He talks old friends, forgiveness and on-screen nudity

Michael Fassbender is either one of the worlds most well-adjusted human beings, or the most brilliant liar. I can lie pretty easily to journalists, he tells me, and he says hes good at it. I have to be. But as this is the policy a well-adjusted movie star might adopt, talking about it only reinforces the impression of someone unusually at peace with himself.

Fassbender came to fame playing men who are decidedly not at peace with themselves. In 2008, he starred in Steve McQueens debut film, Hunger, as the Republican prisoner Bobby Sands on hunger strike. McQueen then cast him as a sex addict in Shame, followed by a sadistic plantation owner in 12 Years A Slave. Fassbender has appeared in Fish Tank and Inglourious Basterds, played Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre and Steve Jobs in the eponymous biopic, as well as the mutant antihero Magneto in the X-Men franchise, and Macbeth. Once dubbed Britains Brando, he brings to every part an intensity of commitment that makes audiences feel they are not watching a performance, but spying on a mans rawest private self. This sense of intrusion is both electrifying and unsettling; it can feel almost indecent.

Twice nominated for an Oscar, the 39-year-old stars in three new films between now and January alone, one of which he also produced. And all this with barely a misstep (he opted not even to watch the 2010 flop Jonah Hex), nor gossip column indiscretion. It is about as flawless a movie star career as would be possible to perfect. Jesus, I know! he agrees. I know, I know. Its nuts. Its been pretty incredible. There is no actor alive, he says, with whom he would want to swap places. But then, you know and this is dead true Ive never wanted to swap places with anyone.

Fassbender has made 10 films back to back since 12 Years A Slave, and must be exhausted, but you wouldnt guess it. In fact, Im not sure I would have recognised him. Hes wearing board shorts when we meet in a Soho hotel, having been to the gym that morning, and his face is covered in a careless fuzz of gingery hair. I hadnt expected his accent to have survived 20 years in London, nor so many roles demanding different nationalities, but he still sounds unmistakably Irish. He has that actorly alchemy which makes his face look quite different in every film, so its a surprise to find that in real life he looks like Sharons brother Fergal in Channel 4s Catastrophe.

We are about to see him in a stunning film adaptation of the 2012 novel, The Light Between Oceans, set on a remote island off Western Australia shortly after the first world war. Fassbender plays Tom, a taciturn veteran who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, soothed by the isolation until he falls in love with a vivacious young woman from the mainland, Isabel, and marries her. The couple are torn apart by two successive miscarriages, and when a rowing boat washes up containing a dead young man and a crying baby girl, Isabel implores Tom to let her keep her. Against every instinct, he agrees and they pass the baby off as their own. What I liked about it is, its a film about decent people, Fassbender says. You know, its not, Heres the baddie, heres the goodie. Thats the great thing about the story. Its not like you think, What were they thinking? They were out of their minds.

Michael
Obviously chemistry is something that is tangible. With real-life partner Alicia Vikander In The Light Between Oceans. Photograph: Allstar/Touchstone Pictures

Tom is certainly nothing like the deviants and abusers Fassbender has played, so Im curious to know how closely he identified with the part. When I read it, I thought, God, this is such a good man. Hes from another generation, he doesnt talk a lot, his loyalty is fierce and his principles are as well. I would like to think that I would do the same as him.

In the film, Tom delivers the anguished line, We have to do whats right, even when that means hurting people you love. I think you have to be true to yourself in life, Fassbender says. What is your own moral compass? Youve got to stay true to that, regardless of what your loved ones compass is, because were all individuals. You can co-exist with somebody and love somebody, but I think if were honest with ourselves, we know what our make up is, and what sits well with us and what doesnt.

Fassbender dries up when I ask about the biggest moral dilemma he has ever faced himself. Oh shit. He falls silent for 10 seconds. I dont know. There are so many, I guess. Let me think about it. He pauses again. Whats yours? Then maybe Ill get an idea.

He does this a lot, turning a question back to me or throwing out one of his own. Its a very likable quality in a person, but not ideal in an interviewee, and he deploys the device to deflect attention from anything hed rather not say. I offer up a number of my own moral challenges, hoping for the best, but when its his turn he offers an apologetic grin. Im so guarded. I feel a little uncomfortable. Im not going to say.

Michael
I dont worry about things I cant control. I dont spend much time looking back, because I think its pointless.

T-shirt, Maison Martin Margiela at Harvey Nichols. Coat, Neil Barrett. Opening shot: sweater, Tom Ford at Harrods. Blazer, Dries Van Noten at Browns Fashion. Photograph: Brendan Freeman for the Guardian

The films other great theme is forgiveness. Fassbender feels less confident now than he thought he did about where he stands on forgiveness. Well, its the only way forward, I do believe that. For the person that is forgiving, for sure, more than the person that needs forgiveness. Theres a great line in the film about it: you only have to forgive once and its done; but if you dont, you have to carry on and on resenting.

He pauses. But I was thinking about this, this morning. I ended up watching one of those videos online, I dont know how I got on to it, but it was five girls beating up this girl teenagers and I thought, oh God, its so brutal. And then it led to another video of this 15-year-old girl in McDonalds in New York being kicked to the ground. They were stomping on her head and they pulled out her hair extensions. There was a group of five or six of them. I thought, God, if I was that girls parent, I dont know if I could forgive that. Because I was watching it myself, not as a parent, and I thought, God, those girls are vile.

When Fassbender was a teenager, he used to let everything get to him. I was a bit of a worrywart. I would just sit worrying. About? Anything. Aids? Nuclear war? Oh yes. Getting someone pregnant? Exactly, yes. Failing exams? Absolutely. And pimples. I had a lot of pimples. So yes, and then Id be sitting there going, Im not worrying about anything what should I be worrying about? He laughs and shakes his head.

But Ive tried to work on not doing that. I dont worry about things I cant control. I dont spend much time looking back, because I think its pointless. There are mistakes that have been made, perhaps, but mainly its just experiences. Things that gnaw at you, that you have no control to change, are pointless. And if youre not careful, you can start almost to enjoy that self-obsessive martyrdom and self-loathing. Things can become patterns that become comfortable, because they become habitual. I learned that sort of stuff doing Shame how patterns become safety blankets, even if theyre fucking killing you.

Michael
As a sex addict in Shame, 2008. Photograph: c.FoxSearch/Everett/Rex Features

The only residual trace of resentment I glimpse comes when I ask how he felt about finding himself sexually objectified, after Shame was released. The film featured an awful lot more full-frontal nudity from Fassbender than audiences are accustomed to seeing from a male lead, and caused something of a sensation.

Well, I guess at times I was like, Well, you know theres so much more to the film than me with my cock out. One journalist kicked things off saying, So whats it like to have a big cock? That was the first thing she said to me. And then she said that I was flirting with her in the interview. Total bullshit, you know. The whole interview was so wrong. He looks properly offended, then shrugs.

But again, you know, it sells more to paint that picture of me than of a guy who wasnt interested and was nonsexual towards her. So I get all that. I suppose I took myself more seriously back then. My mum always says, whenever were watching a film, Oh here we go again. The women are always naked, and the guy is always covered up. He smiles. So I was like, this ones for you, Mum.

Fassbenders parents werent thrilled when he announced he wanted to be an actor. He was born in Heidelberg in 1977 his father is German, hence the name but when he was two, the family moved to County Kerry, where they opened a restaurant. At 16, Fassbender began working alongside them, and took up acting in his spare time.

They wanted me to go to university, because they were of that generation when anybody who went to university had security and got a good job. Fassbenders sister took a degree and became a neuropsychologist, but he knew academia wasnt for him, and he told his parents he wanted to act. They said, Go to university first, and I was like, No, Im not going to waste time and money, I need to do this now. The argument continued until, at 17, he directed his own stage production of Reservoir Dogs. They saw me put on that play and they thought, Shit, hes serious. When they saw that Id made up my mind, they knew thats what I was going to do, and I have to say they supported me immediately after that.

Success appeared miraculously effortless at first. He won a place at drama school in London, and before even graduating had landed an agent and a part in Steven Spielbergs TV mini-series Band Of Brothers. And then… nothing. After two years in Los Angeles, Fassbender had clocked up a grand total of six weeks work, and returned to London, where long periods of bartending were relieved by the occasional part in Holby or a TV commercial. Reluctantly, he was forced to have a conversation with myself where I said, what else can I do? Opening a restaurant was the best he could come up with, and it wasnt something I wanted to do. But despite all this, he says the years of unemployment were fine, really. There are a lot of good actors who are still in that position at 40. Bundles of them. I was so fucking lucky. I thought, Ill just keep knocking on the door and when the opportunity comes, Im going to take it.

The opportunity came with Hunger. Under McQueens direction, Fassbender established his reputation as an unusually intelligent actor, but protests, Im definitely not in the intelligent bracket. I mean, I was never academically smart. I dont really consider myself intelligent. I just have a good if I have, I dont know intuition. Im a very intuitive person, and I guess I think very simply.

I ask him to explain. Well, I just think, Oh, the character might do something like that because he has an inferiority complex, so therefore hes sadistic towards somebody else, or whatever. Thats a very crude example, but I just keep things very simple. If I can make them logical to myself, then I apply them, and thats really it. But there are a lot of very intelligent actors out there, I would say. I just think maybe what comes across as unintelligent is, we end up talking about ourselves an awful lot. And thats sort of boring and unintelligent and uninteresting. That is the danger of the job, because its a lot of thinking about a character, and thinking about yourself, and so one can fall into that trap pretty quickly.

Michael
With his mother at the 2014 Oscars. Photograph: Ethan Miller/WireImage

Its certainly true that journalists dont ask plumbers to talk them through how they repair a boiler. No. And they dont say to plumbers, Oh, it must have been very difficult work. And yet people are out there working long hours every day.

If Fassbender was hoping to disprove his intelligence, this doesnt really swing it. It only leaves me even more puzzled by the appeal, for him, of blockbuster roles in action movies such as X-Men. Why would someone who can lead a film such as The Light Between Oceans want to play a comic book mutant? He seems to confirm what Id always assumed: that if there was another way to secure A-list box office status and earnings without them, he would, when he replies, looking faintly uneasy, Well, you work according to the landscape in front of you.

Then he gathers his thoughts and says all the nice regulation stuff about how much fun it was making X-Men Oh, and Prometheus was a blast and what great friends he made with his co-stars. Whats exciting about the big films is that you have so many people you can have 300 crew members on set who all have to integrate to make something at the end. Thats satisfying. Theyre hard to make, the big ones. They might look like easy ventures when people see them and go, Oh God, this is another of these action-packed, bish-bosh, blockbuster-type things. But theyre bloody hard to make. The only bit that rings completely true, however, is the pleasure he describes in travelling all over the world and meeting people touched and excited by those movies. Thats cinema at its best.

Michael
I always think if youve got five friends that you can depend on, thats a lot, and I definitely have that.

Stylist: Tania Martin. Stylists assistant: Amii McIntosh. Grooming: Petra Sellge Photograph: Brendan Freeman for the Guardian

The proceeds of X-Men have allowed Fassbender to set up his own production company, DMC Film, fulfilling the ambition he has harboured ever since his Reservoir Dogs debut at 17 to become a producer. He appears in Trespass Against Us this autumn, co-produced by DMC, and the production companys first major film, Assassins Creed, will be released on 1 January, starring Fassbender opposite Marion Cotillard, his Macbeth co-star. Only eight years ago, he couldnt even land a part; what does he still long for, beyond his reach? Id like to try and direct, he says softly. Well see, you know. I hate to say it and then for it never to happen. But Id like to try and do that.

What he really needs, he admits, is a break. He claims to be very good at doing nothing, and got rid of his TV 10 years ago because I end up watching shit Ill be watching the God channel at one in the morning. I could watch anything, so I thought Id just get rid of it. He is still in the same Hackney flat he bought 10 years ago, but wants to move, and is toying with the idea of moving to the countryside. He took up surfing four years ago, and spends any free time he gets on the water, but doesnt fancy moving to LA because its too much of an industry town. He thinks about San Francisco, and Austin or New Orleans. But I like Europe, you know. I really do enjoy Europe.

By the time he has located himself across two potential continents, its clear that his vagueness has more to do with privacy than indecision; he doesnt even want to say where he goes surfing. He maintains that fame hasnt changed his life terribly; hes still close to the mates he grew up with, and has made several more Irish friends in London. But its interesting that he says he streamlined his friendship circle at 30, the year before Hungers release; Id guess he knew his status was about to change.

He has a few celebrity friends, but they wouldnt be in his top five. I always think if youve got five friends that you can definitely depend on, thats a lot, and I definitely have that. He can walk out of the hotel without strangers screaming at him. And I walk around the streets. Sometimes I get the bus.

Michael
In Steve McQueens Hunger.
Photograph: Allstar/FILM4/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

He sounds so convincing that Im ready to believe in this remarkably ordinary, anonymous London life until I ask how often he gets approached. It depends if Im stopping still. Give me a distance: where am I walking to? Imagine walking out of the hotel, I suggest, stopping in a newsagent on his way through Soho, and walking on. But before Ive even got him to Oxford Circus, a distance of less than a mile, he says, OK, I would have been stopped three or four times. Thats a lot! He looks embarrassed, and quickly tries to backtrack But, but there could be nothing as if worried it sounded like he was showing off.

One of the ways he has maintained some privacy is by keeping his romantic relationships away from the cameras. In the past he has been linked to actors Zo Kravitz and Nicole Beharie, but he will have a job remaining under the radar now that he is going out with Alicia Vikander, his Swedish co-star in The Light Between Oceans. They make a luminous on-screen couple, and he concedes awkwardly that I suppose it translates, yes. Obviously chemistry is something that is tangible. Their relationship maybe made the sex scenes slightly less uncomfortable, he agrees, but with every syllable he is withdrawing farther into himself. If the gossip columns are hoping for the next Brangelina, they will be disappointed.

Its no easy trick to sustain an impression of casual normality while guarding ones privacy so closely. I suspect the easy classlessness of being Irish helps, and he agrees at once. I definitely still consider myself Irish. Yes, yes. And Im definitely European. After 20 years in London, does any part of him feel British? I would never consider myself British, he says firmly. Does he mind being claimed by our media for a Brit? He laughs. Well, they only do it if Im doing well. If Im not, Im Irish.

The Light Between Oceans is released on 4 November

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/22/michael-fassbender-worrywart-work-on-that

Hi my name is Kareem Maize and welcome to my personal blog. I am 26 year old musician and information technology professional with a passion for learning new aspects of life everyday. On my journey to express myself I began blogging to share my ideas with others. Now I intend to write fun, interesting, and engaging content for my viewers to help them grow spiritually, physically, and mentally . The concept of belief systems and the law of attraction peak my interest!!! I believe blogging about my personal experiences, beliefs, and ideas is the best way to achieve these goals!!!