Alice is beloved, so that was a responsibility. I did about five auditions for Alice before I got the role.
Did you have to wear a corset as Alice?
Yes—for two scenes, and it was very painful. But now, having done Jane Eyre, I realize the Alice corsets were sissy corsets. The corsets I wore in Jane Eyre were incredibly painful. Ballet hurts, but it’s more like your feet are killing you. With a corset on, you can’t breathe properly.
But does wearing the proper costume help you get in character?
Absolutely. It’s the last piece of the puzzle. Once you get in the costume, it’s like, Okay, this is who this person is. With Jane Eyre the corset helped me understand the repression and pain of the character.
You have a natural sweetness—do you think anyone would ever cast you as anything but a heroine?
I would love to play a villain. I’ll have to learn to seem more diabolical.
Michael Fassbender is the movie star as chameleon. In the past few years, he has been seductive and menacing in Fish Tank; suave and wry in Inglourious Basterds; and, in the new Jane Eyre, he casts a unique spell as the cloudy, mercurial, and doomed Mr. Rochester. For Hunger, his first major film role in 2009, the 34-year-old Irish actor lost 40 pounds in order to transform himself into Bobby Sands, the IRA activist who led a 1981 hunger strike during his incarceration in a Northern Ireland prison. “When you stop eating, your mind changes,” he told me. “There’s a thin line between control and madness. I like characters that walk that line.”
You are very young to play Rochester in Jane Eyre. Did you love the book? Or were you just intrigued by the part?
I’m probably 10 years too young for Rochester, so I went for a Byronic sort of hero. I didn’t read Jane Eyre in school, but my mother and sister were always talking about it, and that was a big reason why I did it. I didn’t have a preconceived idea of Rochester—I just saw him as encapsulating so many interesting elements: a shady past, intelligent, self-destructive, destructive, passionate. And he has a terrible secret. I’m curious to see what my mother and sister think of my Rochester.
Did your mother get upset when she watched you starve in Hunger?
Yeah, she did. Also, I die [Laughs]. The makeup artist on the movie I’m doing at the moment said, “God, all you do in your films is dying. That’s your thing.” So maybe I’ll have to start saving lives. Or living, at least.
Is it harder to do a death scene or a sex scene?
It depends. Sex scenes can be quite awkward. As a guy, the first thing you want to do is make sure you’re not taking advantage. You don’t want the girl to feel like you’re getting a free feel or something. I try to make a fool of myself in one way or another to lighten the mood and then just go for it, because you don’t want to be doing take after take. As for dying—to not play like you’re dying is the way to go when you’re dying in a movie. I think it’s best to look like you’re about to fall asleep.
You just finished portraying a superhero, Magneto, in X-Men: First Class. What is your superpower?