After a hectic 2011, one that saw the actor appear in no fewer than four high-profile films (winning him our Man of the Year accolade), Michael Fassbender is calming things down a bit for 2012. Sure, he'll likely be highly visible in the coming months, thanks to a possible Oscar nomination for his work in "Shame" coming next week, but the actor actually hasn't shot a film since last July, and will only have two films hitting theaters in 2012.
The most high-profile will come this summer, with a key role in Ridley Scott's semi-"Alien" prequel "Prometheus," but first up is a film that was actually shot before many of his key roles in 2011 — Steven Soderbergh's ice-cool actioner "Haywire," in which Fassbender has a small, but pivotal role as a colleague of Gina Carano's black-ops badass Mallory. The Playlist sat down with Fassbender before Christmas to talk about working with Soderbergh, co-starring with an MMA fighter, and what draws him to a project.
Unsurprisingly, it was the director that drew Fassbender to the film.
Anyone looking at the actor's recent filmography will see that he's clearly interested in working with top auteurs: Steve McQueen, David Cronenberg, Ridley Scott. And on "Haywire," it was no exception; when we asked the actor what drew him to the project, he replied, "Steven Sodebergh. The opportunity to work with him was too good a chance to let slip." That's not to put down the script, from "The Limey" writer Lem Dobbs, however. "I thought it was an interesting world," Fassbender added, "an interesting character to play. I thought there was enough on the page but it wasn’t over-written and didn’t sort of bog me down with too much information, so there was enough blank space for me to fill in and get creative with it. But mainly Steven Soderbergh."
Starring alongside professional fighter Gina Carano meant that Fassbender picked up a few tips on screen fighting.
In a world full of stunt doubles, casting a first-time actress best known for her experience in MMA competitions was always going to give a more visceral quality to the film, and that's exactly what Fassbender said working with Carano gave the project. "I love Gina, she's great," he said of his leading lady. "I'm happy to consider her a friend. Gina, she can handle herself, you know? She’s really experienced in her physicality and has got great control. That’s the sort of person you want to be sort of dancing with in that scenario. Because you can really push it, you can make it look really violent and messy and visceral and it can still be in a controlled way so nobody gets hurt. That’s what I really love about doing fight sequences in films, what appears to be chaotic is actually, at the core of it, it’s all very well in control."
Indeed, working with such a seasoned pro means that Fassbender knows how to handle himself a little better, at least when it comes to receiving the hits. "I think I punched like a bit of a…I think my wrist placement was a mistake that I was always making. My wrist would tend to be sort of…I don’t know how to explain it, your knuckles have got to be pointing down more and my wrist would tend to be a bit fey," he explained. "During the day, if there were any tips she could give me in terms of how to move through a punch or a kick, but essentially we had the whole crew I’d worked with before on '300.' I know that I can take a punch better than I can give one, from experience. So I was good at receiving the blows, that’s for sure."
Fassbender was happy to help Carano with the acting — not that she needed much.
Following the precedent he set with "The Girlfriend Experience" in casting a first-time actress best known for her experience elsewhere, Soderbergh's gone down that path again with "Haywire." And the whole crew and cast, including Fassbender, set out to make the fledgling actress feel at home as much as possible: "We just ran the dialogue and just sort of made sure that everyone feels comfortable," Fassbender said of the atmosphere on set, "You try to help out as much as you can. So it was very much a collaborative experience. It’s like anything, you’re walking into something, you’re the lead character, it’s a totally new sort of world and not one that she’s used to. I wouldn’t say nurture, she’s a big girl, she’s creative, she’s brave, she’s not afraid to try new things, and I think she likes a challenge in life. But I would just sort of tell her what I do, to try to keep best prepared and try to share as much as I know, you know what I mean? Just share it and give her the information that I have. But she’s great, she’s a smart girl so you know it wasn’t much for me to do, really."
Fassbender says Soderbergh and Steve McQueen both work fast.
The joke that actors often make is that they're not paid for the acting, they're paid for the waiting, and that's often borne out by major productions, where only a handful of set-ups can be done in a day. But not on a Soderbergh shoot, according to Fassbender. "I like to work fast, he works fast," the actor told us. "There’s something in that sort of speed where it’s like you’ve got to get on it. You’re ready, you come to work, you’re ready to go and rather than sitting around talking about things, just get it done. Get up there, if it doesn’t work you’ll find out pretty quickly when you put it in the scene. You know it’s just a collaborative thing, you know?"
And the process aided by the fact that Soderbergh has shot his own work since 2000's "Traffic," under the pseudonym Peter Andrews. As Fassbender continued, "He comes in the room, looks around the room, moves his head, his body stays in one position and then he goes 'Okay, we’re going to shoot from here, put the camera here, here and here' and then he films it himself, he lights it himself. He’s a really efficient, well equipped, hyper intelligent man. So at the same point he’s interested to hear what you’ve got to say and he’s totally open to whatever. He’s like sure let’s try it. He’ll try anything and if it works it’s clear it works, and if it doesn’t, it’s clear it doesn’t. It’s a nice atmosphere to work in. That shows the confidence in the man and the confidence in the people around him that he’s cast."
Ultimately, Fassbender is attracted by stories, to the extent that he's developing his own material.
Fassbender has worked with an impressive roll-call of directors already, but he's attracted by the tales they have to tell first and foremost. "…it’s good stories. Whether it’s a big story or a small story doesn’t really matter to me. I mean I like to keep myself guessing and everybody else and like I said I just want to tell stories, good ones with good people, it’s a dice game, this whole business," he told us about choosing his projects. "You just try to load the dice as best you can by working with the people that you think are inspiring and that you get along with. To be honest life’s too short, it doesn’t have to be a tortuous experience, it can be a fun experience as well."
And while Fassbender is one of the most sought-after actors around at present, he's planning on keeping up that stream of good material by developing his own projects, including a few with former Beta Band member John MacLean. "I’m working on my own stuff as well, so I’m trying to really invest in that and working with various writers and filmmakers. One guy, John Maclean, that I’ve done two short films with already. One through my production company and we’re working on a feature script at the moment. So I’m putting my energy into that until something comes up that really excites me."
"Haywire" hits theaters on Friday, January 20th.