2011 was the year that America began to take notice of German-Irish actor Michael Fassbender. He played broody, secretive Edward Rochester in Cary Fukunaga’s refreshing take on Jane Eyre, Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, the younger version of Ian McKellen’s magnetic super villain Magneto in X-Men: First Class, and then a sex addict in Steve McQueen’s Shame.
With such a wide-ranging span of roles released in one year, he was bound to attract attention. It reminds me of Daniel Day-Lewis’s breakthrough in 1985 – the year he delivered two completely different, yet fascinating performances in My Beautiful Launderette and A Room with a View. 2012 brought him the Peter O’Toole-loving android David in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, and now he has two new performances out this year in The Counselor (also from Scott) and 12 Years a Slave (also from McQueen). His performance in 12 Years a Slave as a ruthless plantation owner has already drawn critics to predict him as the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.
Then this week, Fassbender dropped a bombshell on the general awards-crazy pundit blogosphere. He was not going to campaign for this year’s Oscars after an unsuccessful bid to garner a lead nomination for Shame. Fassbender was nominated for a Golden Globe that year and did win the Volpi Cup for his performance, so it’s hard to criticize his disappointment and frustration with the process.
The Oscar season is an endless cycle of self-promotion, and I can imagine it to be exhausting for an actor. While other actors have given the same statements (Mo’Nique for Precious and Joaquin Phoenix for The Master), I don’t think his comments will generally interrupt his chances this year or move him out of the lead. Whereas Phoenix trashed the entire campaigning process altogether, not to mention the Oscars themselves, Fassbender simply stated that “I’m not a politician. I’m an actor.” There’s something refreshing about this approach that I imagine Academy members will be keen to remember.
Regardless of the outcome, Fassbender has already established himself as a leading man with more roles to come in 2014 with a new adaptation of Macbeth, the next X-Men sequel—Days of Future Past, and an untitled Terrence Malick project. Whatever happens on Oscar night, Daniel Day-Lewis, watch out.