Move over, Sir Ian McKellen. Marvel mutant supervillain Magneto has a new face, courtesy of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men origin story, First Class. In place of the great McKellen – who portrayed the mutant in three films – we now have Inglourious Basterds co-star Michael Fassbender, who pairs with James McAvoy to explain how old friends Charles and Erik grew apart and became archrivals Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Fassbender called Movies.com to talk about Vaughn’s X-Men prequel, the comic’s vocal fan base, and his theory on how Xavier may lose his hair in an X-Men sequel.
Movies.com: Superhero adventures are jockeying for our attention at the multiplex these days. Tell me what sets X-Men: First Class apart from the competition.
Michael Fassbender: What I think is interesting about the X-Men, and what has always been appealing to the series, is that fact that you are dealing with very complicated characters and relationships. We’ve definitely focused on that for this film. We did a lot of work on dealing with these very individual and – in terms of Charles and Erik – historically different characters who have had very different upbringings with different philosophies, and seeing how a friendship is born from a mutual respect. Now, it’s essentially fractured by the end of this film. But there’s the fact that X-Men deals with the idea of alienation within society, and it deals with very human fears in terms of feeling like you are ostracized, for whatever reason. You are an outcast or a misfit. And it asks how people need to deal with that so they feel accepted.
Movies.com: Speaking of acceptance, there is an intense scrutiny placed on comic-book films by the rabid fans who track the project from rumor to the screen. How much of that is discussed on set? Do you have to put it on the backburner?
Fassbender: You know, what you have to do is make sure you are respectfully dealing with the material. Obviously there is a massive fan base out there. They are so passionate, so loyal and so vocal. [Laughs]
Movies.com: Maybe a little too vocal?
Fassbender: No, I don’t think so. I think that makes it exciting. They care about this product so much. Some of them have been reading these comics for 30 or 40 years. But that pressure is good. To have an element of fear going into a job keeps you on your toes. But essentially once you get to the set, you have to disrespect that and get on with the job. Otherwise you’ll kind of turn to jelly, really. But we sat down and did an awful lot of work on how we were going to deal with these characters. We tried to make really bold choices. And I think, hopefully, what the fans are going to find is a very fresh take on the series that already was very successful.
Movies.com: It isn’t possible for you to read the further adventures of Lt. Archie Hicox or the next chapter in Rochester’s story from Jane Eyre. But with Erik, there are volumes of comics you can thumb through if you wanted to see where the character next goes. Are you compelled to continue studying Magneto to see his progression?
Fassbender: Oh yeah. You know, when I first got the job, Fox gave me a massive folder of more than 40 years worth of comics. It’s so dense. There’s so much in these comic books, and they dealt with its subject matter in such a mature way. I’m very excited to see where these characters can go from here. In particular, I’d like to know what happens to Charles Xavier and how he makes that progression to Professor X. By the end of this film, I think we see that Erik has left his Lehnsherr identity and he has stepped into his alter ego of Magneto. So there is a lot there within the relationship between those two characters, and obviously will all of these new characters that we’ve introduced into this film.
Movies.com: You couldn’t convince James McAvoy to shave his head for the Xavier role?
Fassbender: Well, I have an idea that Magneto sneaks into his room one night and shaves it while he sleeps. He just leaves an “M” on his door or whatever. [Laughs] We’ll see how we get to that.
Movies.com: Maybe Erik just grew tired of hearing Charles go on and on about how great Celtic Football Club is?
Fassbender: [Laughs] Exactly!
Movies.com: First Class plays like an early James Bond film, and your director, Matthew Vaughn, has made connections between this and the 007 series. If the part of James Bond ever became available, would you be interested?
Fassbender: Well, we’ll see. I take everything one step at a time. I think Daniel [Craig] is doing a fantastic job at it. But I grew up with James Bond, and I’ve obviously been a big fan of that character and the franchise for many years.
Movies.com: And can you tell me more about Matthew Vaughn? When you first saw the way he stripped apart the conventions of the comic-book formula in Kick-Ass, did it worry you about how he’d treat X-Men or did it energize you for the project?
Fassbender: I was totally energized by it. I actually hadn’t seen Kick-Ass. I had joined X-Men and Matthew put a screening on for me. But it was Layer Cake that impressed me. Now having seen Kick-Ass, I like the way he has his own way of sending up the material but then dealing with very poignant moments and sinister moments. It has a good concept of an action-movie adventure film in a traditional sense, in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I think he has very good control, and is capable of dealing with all of those different elements.