One of the best actors working today without a doubt is Michael Fassbender. Born in Germany and raised in Ireland, Fassbender’s career has gone strength to strength showcasing his range from small-budget indies to massive blockbuster franchises. Garnering critical and commercial acclaim winning a slew of awards including the Venice Film Festival’s Volpi Cup for Best Actor (for Shame) as well as two Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (for Steve Jobs and 12 Years a Slave, respectively). Fassbender never fails to push the bar and standout in whatever film he is. He has worked with a variety of huge directors such as Steve McQueen, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott and Danny Boyle to name a few and is currently working on Taika Waititi’s new film Next Goal Wins.
There are so many performances that I could list but I managed to compile a list of my top favourite performances which I think are the best of the best. Hopefully if anything, this list will demonstrate the range that Fassbender displays from an Irish activist on a hunger strike to an English soldier in World War II to an American billionaire. He has really established himself as one of the most exciting method actors working in Hollywood today.
Without further ado, here are my top 5 Michael Fassbender performances in chronological order:
The role that catapulted Fassbender to the A List is not one to be overlooked. The first collaboration between Fassbender and Steve McQueen already shows the fearlessness that they both have in their filmmaking and the roles that Fassbender chooses to take on. Fassbender plays IRA member Bobby Sands who takes part in a hunger strike for 66 days and also participates in a no-wash strike. The film also marks mcQueen’s feature debut and won him the Camera d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. McQueen’s minimalist direction combined with a character driven script includes an incredible 17 minute shot in which Bobby is challenged to end his protest by Father Moran (Liam Cunningham). What Fassbender does so well in this film and his subsequent performances is his ability to pull off performances that are memorable but not over the top. What Hunger does is allow the focus to be on the performances of the actors because the film doesn’t have bells and whistles and special effects. Fassbender’s performance earned him a British Independent Film Award for Best Leading Actor and it’s easy to see why. His preparation for the role is evident in his dramatic weightloss pre-production. Hunger proves to be a great start when looking at the filmography for Fassbender as it shows his willingness to pick good roles and his dedication to method acting.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Following his stellar lead in Hunger, Fassbender starred in Quentin Tarantino’s fantastic revenge thriller Inglourious Basterds which is a fictional retelling of Nazi-occupied France during the peak of the War. The cast is led by Brad Pitt as Aldo Raine, the leader of the Basterds and stars Christoph Waltz in an Oscar-winning dazzling supporting turn as SS Officer Hans Landa, the latter of which was the major talking point for critics and audiences alike and with good reason. ANother brilliant aspect that comes from this film is Michael Fassbender’s small role as Leiutenant Archie Hicox, an English soldier drafted to FRance to assist the Basterds with their plan. His role is only short-lived in the film but what he lacks in screentime, he makes up for with charisma. Fassbender is memorable as the quick-witted soldier as he struggles to fit in with the others who are hellbent on revenge. The scene in the underground bar remains one of the best Tarantino moments and it’s largely thanks to Fassbender’s control of the character. As expected in a Tarantino film, the characters are larger than life and it’s clear that Fassbender is enjoying playing Hicox. As mentioned before, this is only a small role but it is a rewarding point in Fassbender’s career as it shows he can standout in a star-studded cast.
Fassbender’s second collaboration with Steve McQueen is a deeply explicit look at sex addiction. Fassbender plays Brandon, a high-living bachelor living in New York who is constantly having sex with prostitutes and masturbating in his workplace where he holds an Executive position. Brandon’s addiction is initially his lifestyle. Just like any other addiction, he is subconsciously engaging with sex in any way he can. The film documents the downward spiral Brandon experiences as his lifestyle begins to fall apart with the arrival of his self-harming sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) who stays at Brandon’s apartment as she has a few gigs as a lounge singer in the City. Sissy is openly lonely and upset, longing to bridge the broken relationship with her brother who has deluded himself into believing that he is not alone because he is constantly engaging with sex in some way or other. It is the slow-burning realisation that he is alone and that he is incapable of forming “real” connections that make way for Brandon’s downfall. The film earned an NC-17 rating in the US thanks to its explicit scenes which includes Fassbender appearing full-frontal. In an industry where full female nudity has become normalised, there is still a stigma around showing full male nudity. This role is understandably challenging and uncomfortable but Fassbender gives everything to the film. Brandon is deeply flawed and is looking for the puzzle piece that is missing in his life. Fassbender won a second British Independent FIlm Award for Best Lead Actor for his performance. It’s not the lightest film to watch by any means but it is an unafraid look into a common topic that is taboo in a very realist way.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
The third and (to date) latest collaboration between Fassbender and Steve McQueen is an adaptation of the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a New York-born man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana in 1841. Featuring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, Fassbender portrays plantation owner Edwin Epps, a despicable and inhumane person who takes pleasure in beating and raping the slaves who work for him. Fassbender is truly terrifying as Epps and the performance gives goosebumps due to his unpredictability. The scene in which he demands Northup whip Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and then proceeds to violently do so himself to a point where she almost dies is horrific to watch and shows a fearlessness in Fassbender’s performance. He is clearly not afraid to go the extra mile and show Epp’s evilness while keeping complete control of the character. This performance shows a different side to Fassbender’s range that we have not seen before, even in his previous antagonist roles. Epps is a man void of compassion and embodies evil incarnate. Thanks to McQueen realist and relentless direction, Fassbender successfully shows this and really gets under the skin of the character and presents this to the audience in a way that no filmmaker has done before. Everyone in the cast does justice to Northup’s story, especially Ejiofor, Nyongo’o and Fassbender, garnering awards attention for each. Fassbender was nominated for his first Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Steve Jobs (2015)
My favourite Fassbender performances sees him take on the titular character in this Danny Boyle biopic. Fassbender practically becomes the Apple CEO and co-founder as we follow Job’s life from the launch of the Mac that lead to his firing ending with the launch of the iMac which is seen as his Apple comeback. It is such a subtle masterclass of acting that you forget that you are watching an actor. He perfects the accent, the mannerisms and manages to create a deeply complex character that allows the audience to form their on opinions on the man. Aaron Sorkin’s script is a brilliant foundation that Fassbender takes and adds that extra dimension to the film. It is his command of the screen that constantly grabs the audience’s attention and elevates the film to something more than a biopic. The film also features a strong supporting cast led by Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan and Michael Stuhlbarg but it is Fassbender’s lead turn that will leave a lasting imprint long after the film’s ended. The scene in which Jobs and Steve Wozniak (Rogan) argue whether the former should acknowledge the Apple II team in his speech at both computer launches. Jobs is clearly a highly intelligent man but his stubborness and pride hinders him and makes him appear alien and detached from those around him. Fassbender was deservedly nominated for the whole round of major awards and, in my opinion, I think he should have won because the performance is top tier. However, this was the year that Leonardo DiCaprio won all of the awards for his brilliant turn in The Revenant which made the competition one of very high standards.
It’s clear that Fassbender thrives in an environment where he is given challenging and different material. He clearly is wanting to consistently show more range and depth by starring in different genres and working with varying directors and budgets. He is an actor who wants to challenge topical taboos and portray characters who bring discussions among critics and audiences alike. I know that there are tons of performances I could have included such as his performance as Connor in Fish Tank, Magneto in the rebooted X-Men franchise and the titular role in Frank but each of the films I listed are the real standouts in terms of him pushing his range and his charaterisations. I look forward to seeing him in Waititi’s new film and what roles he takes in the future. hopefully this will include a film that sees him sweep the major awards that he is long overdue.
What are your favourite Michael Fassbender performances? Let me know in the comments below!