Robert Downey Jr. caused quite the stir in the independent film community two weeks ago when he explained why it’s unlikely he’ll make an indie anytime soon, calling most indie filmmakers “kind of inexperienced and lame.” Thank god then for actors like Michael Fassbender
Like Downey Jr., Fassbender stars in blockbuster franchises and is paid handsomely for it, but unlike the “Iron Man” star, Fassbender also likes to act for the little guys for much less pay.
The “X-Men” and “Prometheus” actor stars this month in “Slow West,” a small-budget Western, written and directed by John Maclean, a first-time feature filmmaker who Fassbender previously collaborated with on two short films, “Man on a Motorcycle” and “Pitch Black Heist.” In “Slow West,” winner of the Grand Jury World Cinema Prize at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, Fassbender plays a mysterious traveler who agrees to accompany a teenage boy on his quest to reunite with the woman he loves.
With the film now available to view on TWC Movies On Demand and in theaters, Indiewire caught up with Fassbender to ask what it takes for him to agree to work with relatively unknown directors.
You’ve been incredibly busy of late and had to miss out on the Sundance world premiere for “Slow West,” a project that you also produced. Was that tough not being there?
You know, it’s not that tough. [laughs] We put the work into it when we were filming it, and then the writing of it and getting it ready, and I worked with John a lot in the months and years building up to getting it script ready to shoot. So all the work goes in there, and then the shooting. It’s always nice to be there and celebrate it together, but it has happened to me before, and it’s just the nature of it. It’s something that happens if you’re working on something and you’re working on something else, and then I’ve got to give that the same commitment. Sometimes you can do it, sometimes you can slip off for a weekend, but then I was just too busy with work on “Jobs.” There was just no way I could have done it, otherwise I would have been there.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your workload? On top of “Steve Jobs,” you’re hard at work on the “Prometheus” sequel, a new “X-Men” movie, and a number of other projects.
The work has been pretty intense. The last job, there was a lot of workload that went into it, but no I don’t think it’s overwhelming. You just end up working a lot.
Not a bad problem to have as an actor.
Yeah, it’s better than not working. [laughs] For me, anyway.
You first worked with John on his short “Man on a Motorcycle,” in what, 2009?
I think it was actually in 2007, maybe 2008. And then we did “Pitch Black Heist” I think in 2010. Shot it towards the end of 2010, in November I think. He already had the seed of this idea, and so we started working while he was really — I mean, he did all the writing and everything else. But in terms of structuring, workshopping the idea and the characters, we started to get that together in 2011.
What about John clicked and made you keep coming back to collaborate?
I just thought he had a really mischievous and inventive way of shooting things. I’d just seen some music videos he shot for The Beta Band, which he was a member of, and I just thought, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” So I spoke to my agent and one of the partners at DMC, I said “This guy, he’s a friend. I’d like to maybe do something with him.” He was like, “Well, I think he’s got this short film. Why don’t you guys get together?” So we talked about it with “Man on a Motorcycle,” he told me the idea, showed me the script, and then told me he wanted to shoot it on a mobile phone. I thought, “Hm, this guy, he’s an original.” And so that experience went well, and then it was like okay, let’s shoot another short with the aim of getting financing for a feature film.
It kind of just happened sort of organically. He had that first film ready to go, and he already had the burst of this other idea which was “Pitch Black Heist,” and it sort of just took its own shape after that. We knew that we enjoyed working with one another, and so the ultimate thing is then to get a feature, to get the opportunity to do that. Because short films, as much as they’re a medium for themselves, and they can be great and entertaining storytelling…
They’re not commercially viable.
You just can’t get it out there. You want people to see your stories.
Did you have confidence from the outset that John had what it took to make a strong feature?
Well, I think there’s always a risk. I’ve worked with first-time directors before, having not had the experience of doing two shorts with them, so in a lot of respects I was well-versed on John. No, I didn’t have any reservations whatsoever actually.
Ridley [Scott] was a first-time director at one point. David Cronenberg the same. I’m always interested and looking for new talent, and so you do take a risk and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. For me it’s important to keep that connection to the new talent that’s coming through as well as the talent that’s already established.
What factors play into you taking that risk?
If the script is good; the script has to be good. And then if I just get a good feel for them, great. If they’ve got some work that I can see, whether it just be photographs or a short film, or whatever they’ve done if it’s literally a first feature. But then it’ll just be chemistry, I suppose, and their ideas and how they express them.
Are you a fan of the Western genre?
I am a fan of the genre, yeah. As a boy I enjoyed watching Westerns and also as an adult as well. It’s fun, I’ve always found them to be entertaining.
I like “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” I like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Once Upon a Time in America.” “Unforgiven,” probably, in most recent years.
Did you revisit any Westerns to get yourself into the world of “Slow West” before you got to set?
A little bit, but I don’t think I did that much on this. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It really depends. For “Slow West” I don’t believe I did. Maybe we watched “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I remember we tried to watch one film and we couldn’t load it, we couldn’t get the DVD to work on the setup that we had in one of the rented houses. I think it was “Back to the Future”? [Laughs] It’s all about “Back to the Future,” “Slow West.” You can’t see it clearly, but if you dig deep enough…
[Indiewire has partnered with Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand for May’s Indie Film Month. Enjoy exceptionally creative and uniquely entertaining new Indie releases (“Still Alice,””Lost River,” “Maggie,” “Good Kill,” and more) all month long on Time Warner Cable Movies On Demand. Go HERE daily for movie reviews, interviews, and exclusive footage of the suggested TWC movie of the day and catch the best Indie titles on TWC Movies On Demand.]