In the November issue of GQ, Michael Fassbender leads the writer on a wild motorcycle race, opens up about his work jag and lets loose on why he won’t campaign for “12 Years a Slave.” His memorable quote has gone viral: “It’s just a grind. And I’m not a politician. I’m an actor.” Instead of campaigning, this month Fassbender is heading to New Zealand to shoot his own indie feature, followed by “Macbeth” with Marion Cotillard. Still to come is Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” which GQ describes as “too defiantly bloody and operatic to threaten much in the way of Academy Awards…The film is very much in the spirit of the younger, more gonzo Scott brother—violent and stylized and wildly over the top.” And Fassbender is still doing bits and pieces and voiceovers for the new Terrence Malick movie about the Austin music scene. (He appears with the “12 Years a Slave” gang on Charlie Rose, below.)
The GQ piece reminded me of a giddy Fox Searchlight party at Telluride after the first screening of “12 Years a Slave” when a young married reporter was flummoxed by Fassbender’s wee flirtation with her. While I did not interview Fassbender this go-round (we did do the flipcam honors for “Fish Tank” and McQueen’s “Shame”), I can attest that on the second viewing of the film, as floored as I was by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Kenyan Yale grad Lupita Nyong’o, I appreciated the nuances of Fassbender’s performance as Epps, a ruthless slave driver. He’s at odds with his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson) and he’s threatened by his more-than-competent slave “Platt” (Ejiofor) and his own powerful attraction for Patsey (Nyong’o), with whom he’s having sex. At the moment when he’s ready to apply the lash to punish Patsey, at first he forces Platt to do it. There are layers to Fassbender’s performance: self-loathing, frustration, anger, perhaps love. He has strong feelings that he doesn’t know how to handle. “He can’t process it,” Fassbender tells Charlie Rose. “He’s a victim of the time as well.” Adds McQueen, “Epps is a human being…It’s a classic tragedy. You can’t paint him as one-dimensional character.”
As far as I’m concerned Fassbender doesn’t have to campaign. After all, he’s an established, respected and remarkably consistent performer who between March 2011 and June 2012 released six films: “X-Men: First Class,” “A Dangerous Method,” “Haywire,” “Jane Eyre,” “Prometheus,” and “Shame.” And he has already worked the Academy room, as it were, charming the voters. (His director, Steve McQueen, memorably describes the “Shame” Oscar campaign as feeling like a prostitute with johns coming in every 15 minutes.)
Not campaigning worked for Martin Scorsese on “The Departed,” following “The Aviator” campaign, and “Precious” star Mo’Nique. If the performance is there, Fassbender can still be lauded for a film that will be a must-see for every voter, even if they’re initially resistant, and didn’t all turn up for the Academy screening. (Those that did applauded.) Many voters will watch screeners. They’ll have to.
Searchlight is trying to seed the campaign with memes about survival, hope, and love, as they seek to get away from the film’s violence and brutality. I watched it again at UCLA Sneak Previews at the WGA Wednesday night. It is a tough sit. But they also wept and applauded. Seeing the film in a room with an audience is a powerful shared emotional experience. I recommend it.
One audience member asked about releasing the movie in still-racist areas of the south. Producer Dede Gardner, who is partnered with Brad Pitt at Plan B, explained that Searchlight will start with six markets on Friday, add six more, and keep going from there. It played well at its opening in New Orleans, she said. (Our interview with Chiwetel Ejiofor here, screenwriter John Ridley here.)