In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender play siblings of the future: Fassbender is a highly advanced robot named David, a kind of favorite son to the father of Theron’s character, Meredith Vickers. While Vickers overcompensates for her insecurities by being bossy, David is smooth and brilliantly manipulative. Their rivalry reveals each other’s central flaw—Vickers is too emotional and David too cerebral—but they share the goal of supremacy on their own terms. This essentially human conflict between the heart and the head underscores the larger themes of the film: science versus religion; reason versus emotion; the enticement of the unknown versus the evil that lurks within. Add a great many scary creatures that resemble a mash-up of male and female genitals and you have a grand existential battle amid all the sci-fi gore.
When not in character, though, Fassbender and Theron are anything but combative. Their friendship began at the rehearsals for Prometheus last year and grew during filming and throughout the awards season, when both were robbed by the Academy for their work in previous films: Fassbender’s haunting performance in Shame and Theron’s fascinating work in Young Adult were, apparently, too dark and complicated for the Oscars. “I would like to see a romantic comedy between those two characters,” Theron said at our shoot, which took place at an abandoned factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Although she was joking, Theron may be on to something—she and Fassbender have a natural chemistry that could make them the next great screen couple. They may not be romantically involved in real life, but they jab, they admire, they spark in ways that could seduce the world.
Michael, what was the first Charlize Theron movie you ever saw? Michael Fassbender: The Devil’s Advocate. I knew nothing about it before I went, and during the movie I thought, Well, who’s this person? I had no idea what the movie was about. Charlize Theron: Neither did I [laughs]. That was so long ago. MF: And then you went on to win an Oscar. The rest is history.
Charlize, what was your first Fassbender movie? CT: Hunger. A friend said, “You have to see this movie. It’s the best thing I’ve seen in my entire life.” I thought, Just chill out, okay? But I was absolutely blown away by it. It was, like, all bets are off from now on. This is the guy.
Michael, your parents saw Hunger at Cannes. In the film, you play the IRA activist Bobby Sands, who fasted in protest of the conflict in Ireland. He starved to death. Did your mother have trouble watching you die? MF: Surprisingly, no [laughs]. I try to die in most films I do. In 300 I was killed by arrows. In Inglourious Basterds I got my testicles blown off through my ass. CT: That was a great death. MF: I had two exit wounds sewn into my pants: one on each butt cheek. It was a great death.
What’s harder to do? A death scene or a sex scene? CT: It depends on who you’re doing the sex scene with. I don’t have issues being naked [pauses]. That sounds very slutty. MF: Kind of. I didn’t want to say anything, but yes. CT: What I mean is, I’m not hung up on my body, and I’ve been lucky to work with people I’ve been really comfortable with. I’ve had maybe two occasions where… MF: It’s been uncomfortable. CT: And Michael’s one of the two who did not make me feel very comfortable [laughter]. MF: I was a robot!
Did you base David, the robot, on anyone? MF: At first I was thinking about the Alien films, or Blade Runner—those robots were very human. I decided to make him more robotlike but with human elements within. I looked for inspiration in David Bowie and Greg Louganis.
The Olympic diver? MF: Yeah—for the physicality. When you read a script, certain images or names pop up, and for some reason, Greg Louganis came up. I knew I wanted to have good posture and a sort of economy of movement. It was the way Louganis walked to the edge of the diving board—I always thought it was mesmerizing.
Do you know how to dive? MF: When I was out of work as an actor, I would give myself little challenges, and diving was one of them.
How old were you? MF: This was when I was 23. I trained for a while and finally got the courage to go up the stairs to the high board. I was at the top, and I was standing there for ages, shivering. A kid who was 10 or 11 came over to me and said, “The first time you jump off, you’re going to get hurt a little bit, but it won’t be as bad as you think.” CT: Listen to the children! MF: I took his advice, but I didn’t fully commit. I hurt my leg.
There’s a great lesson there: Commit or else. Speaking of which, Michael, you still haven’t said whether you think sex scenes are harder to do than death scenes… MF: I don’t know. Sex scenes sound like more fun than they are. Death scenes are easier, really. Maybe because I’ve died so many times. I’ve had a lot of practice. In my movies, I’m often naked or dying.
Now that you’ve made this science fiction film, with its very dark view of space, do you have any longing to go to the moon or explore any other intergalactic frontiers? CT: If space is not the world of Ridley Scott, I’d go. When I watched Prometheus at a screening, I got so scared, I elbowed the metal chair next to me. I still have a little scar from it.
And you knew what was going to happen. CT: That says a lot about how pathetic I am. I don’t think I’m made of the right stuff for space.
What about you, Michael? MF: If I had a chance to go into space, I’d definitely take it, but it’s never been a priority for me. CT: The diving board is better. MF: Yes—I know what it is to dive into nothing.