You know, I spent a lot of time out of work. Now I’m trying to make hay while the sun is shining.
[on creating his character David in Prometheus (2012/I) with Ridley Scott] We took inspiration from David Bowie and some of his looks as well. I liked the idea of having a feminine quality to him for sure.
[on his preparation for Hunger (2008)] I felt really focused, really centred, really strong. Hungry all the time, obviously.
We live in this society where nowadays if I want something, I take it, I eat it – it’s so easy and readily available. When you take all that away, you actually become more appreciative of the things around you. I don’t want to do it again, but there is a level where it humbles you in a good way.
I lost about 14 kilos and weighed 59 kilos by the end. It was the only way we could do it and make it convincing (on portraying hunger-striker Bobby Sands in Hunger (2008)).
In drama school, they don’t think of movies as a pure form like theater, and it’s films that I love most. There’s an intimacy in movies – I wanted to have the same impact on others that movies had on me. — on why he dropped out of the Drama Center.
[on picking roles] I’m just following my gut instinct.
[on Quentin Tarantino] You know the man eats, breathes, lives film. You could bring up the most obscure movie, like some fuckin’ Swedish film from 1963 or whatever and he’ll know it. It’s quite staggering, actually, he is encyclopedia of knowledge.
For me, Daniel Day-Lewis is in a league of his own. I think that he’s amazing. And he’s always been a benchmark of excellence.
[2011, on what attracted him to Jane Eyre] It’s a classic, and the reason people keep doing it is because there are so many things that seem to still resonate with audiences today. They like to disappear in that world. I did it because my mother and my sister are really big fans of the book, and I wanted to see what they would think of the Rochester that I would bring to the table. That’s the first reason I wanted to do it. And then when Cary [Fukunaga, director] came on board, I was really excited, because Sin Nombre was such a good film, such a beautiful story, and so beautifully told. I was like, “This is going to be interesting, an American director coming over and doing his take on this, the classic British piece.” I like that the characters are ugly and they’re beautiful and they’re cruel and they’re nurturing. There’s so much complexity to the characters, they’re so well-written, and I find that interesting. There’s ambiguity within the characters, and that’s what really attracted me to it, to the performance.
[on his own unguarded nudity in ‘Shame’] It was important to go all out, not take shortcuts there, and to be sort of naked in every respect. Otherwise, I don’t think the film would have worked.
[on if he felt “disgusting” playing the role of “Connor” in “Fish Tank”] It washes away. I think it’s important to go to places that are uncomfortable. For the benefit of others, maybe. You’re facing all these ugly things, and knowing well this is an ugly thing and it’s there somewhere in all of us. And so you’re representing the ugliness. Connor does cross the line in “Fish Tank,” but on the flipside he is the catalyst for [the heroine] to become her own person. He is the only one who inspires her with confidence to follow her dreams. And that she’s not destined for shit. And so it’s again playing with that ambiguity.
The problem is, we feel a lot of pressure about looking silly or appearing weak, whatever that means, or being a failure. You have to keep in your head: what’s the worst that can happen? I’m trying to tell a story – what’s the worst that can happen? You fall flat on your face, then hopefully you get back up again and go for it again and try something else. We’re all going to die one day. I’m stealing that off Steve [McQueen]; it’s what he’d say when he ordered me to take my clothes off. ‘WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE ONE DAY!’
[on being nude in films and full frontal nudity] To be honest with you again, I think it’s the idea of male frontal nudity. It just baffles me: Women can parade around naked all the time, but the guy conveniently has his pants on. I remember my mom always complaining about that to me, saying, “This is such bullshit, it’s always the women who are naked” … so I did this one for you, Mom!
[on if he had any problem beating on Gina Carano in Haywire (2011)] It didn’t really faze me. This isn’t Michael Fassbender doing this, it’s the character. I’m here to serve the story and the character. And in real life, Gina would beat the shit out of me in any circumstance. I mean, have you seen her on YouTube?
I suppose the German side wants to keep everything in control, and the Irish side wants to wreak havoc.
I have a theory that everyone’s crazy anyway. And those who think they aren’t, are the ones who are even crazier – because they’re in denial.
…but you keep a realism, put AC/DC on, get over it, keep positive.
I think you’re either a good director or you’re not, and it doesn’t really matter if it’s female or male. I mean, Andrea Arnold is very good at creating a safe environment to work in, and she loves working with actors and she’s very clear. And all of those directors are like that – Steve McQueen, Quentin Tarantino. They love their work, and they’re good at it, so it makes my job so much easier, and then they bring a lot more out of me because of that.
[on David, his role in ‘Prometheus’] I am playing a robot. It’ll be a good excuse, the critics can’t say, ‘Oh, he was very wooden in that’. I can say, ‘I was supposed to be’. I wanted to avoid attitude, make him appear like he’s kind of neutral most of the time. But you also have to hint at a few human characteristics, as if he might have something like a soul.
At one point you think, Well, it’s funny, I could just be a starving actor… So if somebody were to pull the plug right now, there’d be no room for complaint.
I really wanted to be a guitarist – I wanted to be a lead guitarist. But I wasn’t good enough. And it’s always hard to find a drummer, especially in small towns. Or a bass player. So it was just me and this other guy Mike – the two Mikes – and we tried to put on a gig one time in this pub at lunchtime, playing Metallica. It didn’t go off too well. They kept turning the volume down, so it was like Unplugged, but with electric guitars. That was the one and only gig I ever played.