Michael Fassbender doesn't have TV and 'the less distraction, the better'
Michael Fassbender, whose mum hails from Larne, tells Susan Griffin why he enjoyed playing a complex loner in his new film
It's a well-known fact that many actors allow a little creative licence on their CV, if it means there's more chance of being cast. Horse riding, for instance, is often boasted as an accomplished skill, whether or not someone's ever saddled up.
Fortunately for Michael Fassbender, he's reached a point in his career where he doesn't have to extend the truth to get a gig, and could be quite open about his lack of equine experience before filming the new western, Slow West.
It didn't make life any easier on set, however.
"First of all, I was introduced to a horse called Awesome, and I wasn't so awesome on Awesome, so they introduced me to Arnie, who was a lot more chilled and easier to ride," recalls the handsome 38-year-old actor in his soft Irish accent (Fassbender was born in Germany but his parents Josef and Adele, who comes from Larne, moved the family to Co Kerry when he was a toddler).
"He made up for my lack of riding skill, so it was a lot of fun."
Set in the 19th century, Slow West tells the story of 16-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as he travels from Scotland to Colorado in pursuit of his lost love.
It's not long before he's confronted by the dangers of the Frontier and decides to team up with a mysterious and monosyllabic traveller by the name of Silas Selleck, who agrees to protect him for a price.
The role of Silas was written specifically with Fassbender in mind.
"We bashed the script around a lot and Michael came up with some great ideas. He was very much involved in the writing process. He's a great collaborator," remarks writer and director John Maclean, who makes his feature film debut with the movie.
And Silas was a fun character to embody, says Fassbender.
"He's a bounty hunter, a loner who doesn't really have much in his life, in terms of love and companionship. And (he's) without much joy in his life, so he's become a bit bitter and cynical. The introduction of Jay into his world infuses him with some feelings of hope and enthusiasm, and commitment to something other than money."
A teenager when he realised he wanted to act, at the age of 19, Fassbender moved to London, first studying at the prestigious Drama Centre London before landing TV roles, including in the early-Noughties series Band Of Brothers.
After being cast in 2007's 300, a string of critically acclaimed performances soon followed, in movies including Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men, Prometheus and A Dangerous Method. In 2013, he was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a Bafta for his role as Edwin Epps in 12 Years A Slave.
The film marked his third collaboration with director Steve McQueen, the first being 2008's Hunger, where he played IRA member Bobby Sands, and the second being 2011's Shame, where his performance as a sex addict earned more Golden Globe and Bafta nods.
Before Hunger, he spent five weeks living in Belfast to learn his lines and perfect his accent, sharing a house with co-star Liam Cunningham for 10 days in preparation for a long, pivotal scene featuring Sands and Cunningham as a priest.
Is it a challenge not to absorb the dark subject matter of his films? "I do get depressed, but fortunately it's for a short time, especially with Steve (McQueen), where you film over short periods of time. It was 25 days for Shame, 35 days for 12 Years A Slave, so you just have to hang in there."
Not only do critics hail him one of the most impressive actors of his generation, but Fassbender has a huge following of fans, though he's not interested in any "sex symbol" tag.
"It's whatever people write or say, it doesn't change my day-to-day activities," he says with a shrug. "I've kind of stopped reading most press of late, including newspapers, which is kind of weird. I try not to spend too much attention on good or bad (press), because if you live by it, you die by it. I don't have a television either, the less distraction, the better."
Indeed - for this is a man known for submerging himself entirely into his roles. "I'm a complicated person," Fassbender admits with a grin - but the actor, who'll also be appearing in the title roles in Macbeth and Danny Boyle's biopic Steve Jobs later this year - says he doesn't really know why he's so often drawn to dark roles.
"I think human beings are complex, and I like to play characters that don't hold answers for the audience," he says. "I don't like to be on any moral crusade. I just want to present them in a provocative way, with all the bells and whistles."
- Slow West is released in cinemas on Friday, June 26