In a relatively short amount of time, Michael Fassbender has risen to join the ranks of Hollywood’s most esteemed performers. The German-Irish actor only made his feature film debut in 2007, but he has quickly made his mark on the industry.
Through a variety of roles, Fassbender has garnered respect from moviegoers and film critics alike, earning his first Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a slave owner in Steve McQueen’s 2013 film 12 Years a Slave.
While he did not go home with the award, the recognition alone has helped to catapult him into his reputation for endearing and emotional performances. Though he (hopefully) has many more decades of inspired work ahead of him, let’s take a look back at some of his most compelling roles of his career to date. The movies on the list are ranked in chronological order.
1. Hunger, dir. Steve McQueen (2008)
So much of Fassbender’s performance in this film is physical, beginning with the transformation that he subjected his body to for the role and carrying over into every flinch and grimace that characterized the agony of Bobby Sands. As a member of the Irish Political Army and a political prisoner, Sands becomes a symbol for the hardships faced in the name of liberty.
A true test of an actor’s ability in any given role is based on how easily their part could be recast. In the case of Bobby Sands, no other performer could provided the energy and humanity which Fassbender so seamlessly brought to the set. The film did not receive the international accolades fitting of its compelling storytelling, but it did see Fassbender win the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor.
Memorable Quote: “I have my belief and, in all its simplicity, that is the most powerful thing.”
2. Fish Tank, dir. Andrea Arnold (2009)
With his magnetic charm and powerful screen presence, Fassbender is able to make the audience for a connection with even an otherwise despicable character. Connor O’Reily, an initially charming father figure, begins a sexual relationship with his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter, Mia.
As the audience, we see the world through Mia’s eyes, as her perception of Connor shifts from admiration to disgust. Fassbender is able to balance this transformation with inspired subtlely and enraged anxiety. While he tries to keep the affair hidden from the rest of the family, we are afraid as we anticipate what evils he is willing to commit in order to do so.
Memorable Quote: “You need sortin’ out, you do.”
3. Inglourious Basterds, dir. Quentin Tarantino (2009)
Not only does Quentin Tarantino have a great instinct for talent, he knows how to match performers with roles which utilize their strengths. This is never more apparent than when he cast Fassbender as a British spy in this reimagining of history.
The role of Lt. Archie Hicox, while brief, provided the actor with an international audience, unlocking the door to many opportunities in the film industry. Fassbender’s take on the soldier revolved around his calm reverence, even in the face of certain death at the hands of the enemy. He is smooth and collected, calling to mind agents from classic British spy movies.
Memorable Quote: “There’s a special rung in hell reserved for people who waste good scotch. Seeing as how I may be rapping on the door momentarily…”
4. A Dangerous Method, dir. David Cronenberg (2011)
Trying to capture the essence of an actual person on film can be a risky move. You have to display the quirks which made them unique without turning them into a caricature. As Carl Jung, Fassbender had to examine the complex nature of the man of science who was conflicted by his desires.
The famous psychiatrist is best shown through his interactions with Sabina Spielrein (patient turned lover, played by Keira Knightley) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Fassbender is able to highlight the transformation of the character as his romantic and academic obstacles arise.
Memorable Quote: “There must be more than one hinge into the universe.”
5. Shame, dir. Steve McQueen (2011)
Due to its controversial subject matter and the graphic way in which it is handled, this is a movie which alienated certain areas of the general public. Michael Fassbender plays Brandon Sullivan, a man struggling with sex addiction. Like his other work with director Steve McQueen, Shame gave Fassbender a chance to channel his abilities as a physical performer. He is captivating in his miserable state, as we watch the toll that his affliction has on his life and on those close to him.
The film provides a rich look into a disorder which doesn’t routinely come up in casual conversation, with Fassbender at the forefront of the tormented tale.
Memorable Quote: “How are you helping me? You can’t even clean up after yourself. Stop playing the victim.”