Michael Fassbender holds nothing back in his role as a sex addict in Shame, writes Helen Barlow
Despite his lack of prizes in the current awards season, few actors are sitting prettier in every sense of the word than Michael Fassbender. Having made six highly respected films in 20 months, and with Ridley Scott's Prometheus in the can, the 34-year-old is being hailed as a rare talent.
For the moment though, the actor's frontal nudity in his portrayal of a sex addict in Shame is all we can hear about. Even so Fassbender's follow-up film with his Hunger director, Steve McQueen, is hardly sexy. In fact like Hunger before it, Shame is a dark exploration of the human psyche. His Brandon character may be charming and hold down a good job in corporate Manhattan, but even on the subway his mind is consumed by women as prey, while on his office computer he has all manner of pornography.
"Brandon's lifestyle means that he goes out and sleeps with many people," Fassbender explains. "He's quite successful at it, but he's not really getting anything out of it. It's a joyless act and he realises that he's ill. He's definitely trying to fight it."
When Fassbender started the project he knew what he was in for. "I said to Steve, 'look, do whatever you have to do'. I trust him implicitly and I didn't want my insecurity to come into it. You just have to give yourself up and say, 'okay, let's do this and get on with it'. I know that any subject matter that he deals with is going to be handled in the right way. It's not like he's exploiting anybody. Sex is around us all the time. It's so exploited that you can't look anywhere without seeing it."
Still it might seem a bit much for a former altar boy, who was raised a Catholic by his German-born father, Josef, and Irish mother, Adele. What did they think of it?
"Well, they are pretty cool. My dad was there at the Venice premiere. It was the first time I saw the film as well, which could have been a mistake," he chuckles. "My mother was going to come, funnily enough, but she couldn't make it in the end. That might have been a good thing. I told my dad there was going to be some pretty extreme stuff and to prepare himself. But he said, 'look, you are an artist and you have got to do your thing'.
"Actually I enjoyed being honest with myself while making the film and exploring those things that society has deemed to be shameful. I don't have the answers to a lot of the moral questions but at least it's important to pose them."
In David Cronenberg's forthcoming A Dangerous Method, Fassbender plays Carl Jung alongside Viggo Mortensen's Sigmund Freud. What would Jung have thought about Brandon?
"He would be interested by him, but maybe he would have sent him to Freud," Fassbender muses. "It depends on how you look at it really. In my own biography for Brandon I always had the idea that something happened in his history, but that would be an easy route for Freud to find, perhaps. Maybe he would take a look at the sort of society that Brandon inhabits, because Shame is very much a film of our time, about our access to excess. The way Steve puts it, we are living in an age where we are all communicating through technology in a way that we never have before. You can speak to people all over the world on your computer, without ever leaving your bedroom or your kitchen but you are still somehow disconnected. The film is, in many ways, about the disconnected world we live in."
Who: Michael Fassbender
When: Opens today