Michael Fassbender recently took some time away from his endlessly busy 2011 to speak with The Playlist about his role as swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” which opens in limited release this week. The story focuses on the early career of Jung — considered the founder of analytical psychology — at a period in his life when his career briefly intersected with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). But the story also brings a lesser known influence to light in Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a figure long lost to the annals of history who may have influenced the work of both Jung and, to a lesser extent, Freud.
As a whirlwind year comes to a close for Fassbender that has included a solid turn as Magneto in “X-Men: First Class,” an awards worthy performance in Steve McQueen's "Shame," and a small part in Steven Soderbergh's “Haywire” where he gets his ass handed to him by Gina Carano. With such an eclectic bunch of work with some great talent, the actor was unsurprisingly in high spirits as we spoke about his transformation into Carl Gustav Jung in David Cronenberg's film. Here are some highlights from our discussion.
Fassbender Dug Deep To Research His Role
Cronenberg’s film, which is based on Christopher Hampton’s play “The Talking Cure," focuses on a crucial period of Jung’s career and professional development. While some may be aware of the path his career took after the events of the film, Fassbender tried his best to very delicately infuse that knowledge and research in aspects of his portrayal. “Most of my work sort of revolves around the script, whether it be fictional or an actual character,” Fassbender said. “But I did do research. I got through as much of it as I could. I’m a very slow reader, so that kind of works against me. I found it sort of hard to access to begin with and then I was questioning my interpretations of it. I would call my sister, who’s a neuroscientist, to confirm that I was on the right path.”
“There’s a biography out there that was very helpful,” says Fassbender. “I read that his father was a pastor and his six uncles as well, so you could see that he was very much surrounded by this religious upbringing. One thing that I had no idea about was the fact that talking with the spirit world was something that was quite fashionable, especially in Switzerland. And so he dabbled in that. At one point he thought his cousin was communicating with spirits, but then he found out she was just leading them all down a garden path. So that spiritual side to Jung and how he came back to that and it was a very important part of his life.”
Fassbender Also Left Room To Flexible With His Interpretation
The culmination of Jung’s self-exploratory work, “The Red Book,” was published posthumously. Considered a breakthrough work in the world of psychoanalysis, it is far from light reading. “I went into a book store and asked for it and they picked up this [giant] fucking book. I was thinking it was going to be a diary and I was like, ‘Holy shit, how am I going to carry that?’ I was on my motorcycle and I had to stuff it down my jacket and drive back. But just looking at that, and that wasn’t the Jung we were representing in the book, but that was the other thing I had to realize. There was various Jungs, various stages of his life.”
Sabina Spielrein & Otto Gross Added Further Dimension To Carl Jung
Sabina Spielrein first came to 29 year-old Carl Jung as a patient suffering from bouts of hysteria as a result of physical and sexual abuse. Based on Spielrein’s own writings, “A Dangerous Method” follows a likely affair that was born out of those sessions. Spielrein later became a one of the first female psychoanalysts. Later discoveries seem to influence that Spielrein may have had a great influence on Jung’s own work, though he never credited her. “David Cronenberg, who’s a pretty well read guy, had never heard of her,” Fassbender said. “Christopher had discovered all this paperwork of hers and realized that she’s this amazing woman. Some would testify that she’s sort of behind the introvert and the extrovert personality ideas.”
“A Dangerous Method” also brings the colorful character of another psychoanalyst and Freud protege, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) into the story. His free-spirited, almost anarchist view of life tempts the very restrained Jung. “Otto Gross comes in to steal the show,” Fassbender laughs. “He arrives just at the time where Jung is looking for something to say, ‘It’s all right, go ahead and do this.’ You look at Otto Gross and obviously you can’t live like that. His theory was sort of proved wrong. He died in 1919 of starvation. But there’s so much there to play with.”
Jung’s Financial Independence Enabled Him To Indulge & Explore Psychoanalysis
Jung’s marriage to the wealthy Emma Rauschenbach (Sarah Gadon) in 1903 gave the thinker great freedom and financial independence with which he was able to pursue his research and further his own theories on the human mind. Fassbender admits this was an aspect of the character he struggled with, particularly in light of Jung’s well-documented extramarital affairs.
“His life had sort of been provided for him by his wealthy wife,” he says. “There’s no way that he would have been allowed to indulge and explore his belief in psychoanalysis without her financial support. There’s that scene with Freud where he’s talking about the dream that he had with the horse and the log. And Freud says, ‘Perhaps it’s also the financial implications of another child’ and Jung says, ‘No, no, that’s not a problem. My wife’s very rich.’ And Freud is like, ‘Oh.’ You see the first cracks. But that was always something I was wondering about. Did he just feel entitled to the life he lead or was there an element where he felt like he owed her a lot? His other mistress, Toni Wolff, she lived in the same house as them.”
Fassbender Talked With David Cronenberg Plenty Before Filming, But Not So Much On Set
Fassbender met multiple times with David Cronenberg as filming approached, mostly just to talk. They spoke at great length about the character and worked together to achieve the look of Jung. “Great directors are great manipulators,” says Fassbender. “We had a meeting in Toronto. He’s just super bright. In the preparation and in choosing the costume and props, we did a lot of talking. When you’re dealing with a world with this level of social correctness with the stiff collars. There was this idea of this sort of super civilization in Europe at the time, so the clothes definitely help you to embody that. And also the props that you use. He’ll be sort of manipulating and giving an idea of various things. This was all in the buildup. When we’re actually filming, there’s not much discussion at all. He gives you a lot of freedom and then you just sort of play."
“A Dangerous Method” begins rolling into theaters on November 23rd.