LOS ANGELES—Michael Fassbender thinks people obsessed too much about the graphic nudity in the film “Shame,” in which he played a character addicted to sex.
Michael has moved on from that performance, which earned him a slew of best actor awards and nominations. He now stars in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” which, he stressed, “isn’t an ‘Alien’ prequel.” Spoiler alert! The rest of this column discusses specific plot points.
Michael plays David, a synthetic human—sans head—in the story about explorers who find a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth which leads them on an adventure to the darkest recesses of the universe.
The film also stars Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and Logan Marshall-Green.
Below are excerpts from our interview with Michael, who kept a slight touch of humor throughout:
What was it like as an actor to be headless in this movie?
You just put on a green suit. You look a bit like Kermit the Frog. It’s slightly embarrassing walking around the set. At that point, I’d gotten to know [my character] David pretty well. I was concerned in the beginning when I was reading the script. I was like, I want to try and make this funny but believable at the same time.
It was curiously believable.
Yeah, that was the challenge. I just treated it like I didn’t even think about it, really. It didn’t become a question or there was nothing that I had to do or take away. I had to try and make sure that the guy survives, that there is this survival thing in him, that he wants to continue. He doesn’t want to be shut down. We were focused on that.
Talk some more about the scenes where your head is missing.
I was just lying on the floor with a green costume up to my neck. They poured a lot of goo on me. It’s a milky sort of colored stuff which looked like some other kind of liquid. That was gross. It was a fun set to work on.
Are they going to put your head back on?
You have to ask Ridley that. It’s a handy thing for a director to have a bodiless actor, so I’m not sure.
Did they make a cast of your head?
Yeah. I’ve done that now about four or five times. They always say to you, “Once you do this, you’ll never have to do it again.” But I did one more.
Is it creepy?
Not really. I just go [to the head cast], “You know, you’re not as good-looking as me.” He says the same thing to me. It’s creepy at times when you’re doing it. After a while, it gets hot in there and then it starts to set. There can be a little moment of claustrophobia. You breathe through it because you’re thinking, if I freak out now, and try and get it out, we’re going to have to do it all over again.
In “Shame,” you gained raves for playing a nearly emotionless being. But there were articles that said your character was ultimately too emotionless. In real life, you are oftentimes required to be charming. How do you cope with that?
Sometimes I will be charming and then other times, I will not be. There’s really nothing I can do in terms of people’s perceptions of me, or what they talk about after watching my films. It’s annoying with a film like “Shame,” where there is so much going on inside and yet everybody’s talking about the physical aspects of it. That’s more reflective of how the film is affecting them, as opposed to what they’re trying to describe about me.
I was taught at a young age to treat people as you have been treated yourself, so I try and keep that in mind. I keep myself on a positive level even if things around me aren’t so positive. If you get sucked into it, you end up carrying those negative aspects with you. I just try not to take myself too seriously. I have a good life. There’s not much to complain about.
Can you talk about Ridley Scott and the first time you saw “Alien”?
I was 12 or 13 the first time I saw “Alien.” For some reason, my parents let me see that film as opposed to other certificate 18 [British Board of Film Classification] films. I wasn’t really allowed to watch them, but if they felt it was a worthy film and not sexually gratuitous or violent, if they were interesting stories and well told, then I could see them. “Alien” was one of them. The scene that always sticks with me is that of John Hurt in the lab.
But “Blade Runner” was the film that really affected me. I saw that when I was 15 and that stuck with me—that whole world, the concept of the future and what it might hold. I found it very believable. That was the thing with ‘Alien’ as well that struck me. It all seems very real and tangible because Ridley’s characters are complicated, intelligent and have a very definite objective.
Ridley writes very well for women, like in “Thelma & Louise.” It’s very clear that he’s got very strong female characters who are not dependent on their male counterparts. He’s one of the rare breed that can do everything. He runs his own production company so he knows all things that go into making a film outside of the artistic elements of being a director. He’s one of the master craftsmen.
Do you see a parallel between the character you played in “Shame” and your robot in “Prometheus”?
I’m glad you saw it. There are some behind-the-scenes with David, you know. It will be on the reel.
How are things changing for you since your acclaimed performances last year? What’s important to you?
It really depends on where your priorities lie, what you want out of life and what you’re looking for. There are temptations. It’s about what you value for yourself and what you think is enriching for yourself. For me, I keep things pretty basic. Nothing really changes in my everyday routine, the people that I hang out with and what I do in terms of work—it’s always about telling the story right as opposed to the fame that goes along with it.
But I did go to the recent Monaco Grand Prix and, because of the position I’m in, I was allowed to stand beside Michael Schumacher and his car. That was pretty amazing to me. It has been my childhood dream. I’ve been watching [that racing event] for 20 years so that was nice.
What else do you want out of life?
I want to continue telling good stories, learning, working with people who inspire me and hopefully, inspire audiences. That’s really it. It’s that simple. In terms of life, I want to be around people that I love and be a positive influence on people as much as I can in that circle. And try and do more go-karting.
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