LONDON – In Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” Michael Fassbender gets to follow in the rich “Alien” franchise history of fabricated humans, a tradition that includes Ian Holm’s Ash and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop. Those classic robots were not where Fassbender turned to find influences for his “Prometheus” character.
“No. I don’t know why,” Fassbender admits to reporters at the “Prometheus” junket at Claridge’s in London. “Sometimes you do, like when I was doing ‘Jane Eyre’ I watched as many of the Rochesters as I could get my hands on, but for this I made a decision not to watch the ‘Alien’ movies. I watched ‘Blade Runner’ and I looked at the replicants. Well I looked at Sean Young. There was something in her character, a quality there that I kind of liked for David, this longing for something or some sort of a soul at play there, a sort of vacancy also, a sort vacant element. I don’t know exactly what, I just knew there was a quality there that I liked and then HAL from ‘2001’ and then I sort of walked in with ‘The Servant’ and Dirk Bogarde and that and then Lawrence Of Arabia,’ Peter O’Toole’s character of Lawrence and ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth,’ David Bowie. So those were the kind of ingredients and then Greg Louganis, the diver, so that was sort of the mixture.
Stop and ponder that for a second. Fassbender’s “Prometheus” character equals a combination of Greg Louganis, David Bowie, Peter O’Toole, Sean Young, Dirk Bogarde and HAL. You can totally picture that, right?
In the movie’s early moments, David is introduced to viewers filling time while the human crew of the Prometheus is in the midst of the extended hibernation that accompanies space travel in the “Alien” franchise. It’s a funny, touching and surprisingly swift and thorough way to instantly dimensionalize a character who might otherwise be, for want of a less predictable word, robotic.
“He’s up there two and a half years and everyone is in cryostasis and there was that question like ‘What do we do?’ and that idea of Ridley wanted him to have blonde hair. That was his look and so I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be kind of interesting if he was highlighting his hair once?’ That’s how cool Ridley is. Ridley was like ‘Let’s do it.’ I didn’t think it would end up in the movie, but apparently it’s in there. Things like that,” Fassbender explains. “I thought ‘Is there a vanity to this guy?’ Again, it’s a very human trait and then I thought to myself ‘There’s a childlike element to him as well’” because he’s had to amuse himself, because nobody has been awake and even when they do wake up they don’t really… there’s a certain contempt towards him. It’s sort of like he is an outsider and he’s a robot and so I thought, ‘As a child as well, everything is fascinating. Everything is information for him,’ so it’s like the childlike thing, so when he watches humans behave together it’s information. Then I had a yo-yo and I was playing around with that idea. We didn’t use it, but just the various things he would get up to on board the ship. So again, when everybody wakes up it’s his ship and everybody is roaming around and it’s like he keeps everything clean, so there’s the butler element to him as well house keeper and all of those things.”
While 2011 felt like The Year of Michael Fassbender, between “Jane Eyre,” “X Men: First Class” and “Shame,” this will be his first 2012 release and, in fact, he hasn’t acted in a film since “Prometheus” wrapped last July. It’s the kind of downtime that would make many actors feel antsy, but Fassbender sounds relaxed.
“It felt good. I needed to stop. I needed to get some perspective,” Fassbender says. “I had done six films back to back in 20 months, so it was like ‘Okay, take a break’ and then the promotion thing kicked in and then I really wanted to make DMC, my production company, really work as opposed to just an idea and you’ve got to put a lot of time into that. So I really did focus energies in that, working with writers, finding the writers, and so now I go back to acting again, plus my friends are like ‘We are f***ing sick of you and we see your face everywhere,’ so I was like ‘Okay, I won’t do anything for a while.'”
Now, of course, things are ready to ramp up again for Fassbender, acting-wise. When he completes his “Prometheus” press tour, he’s going to shoot “12 Years a Slave” with “Shame” director Steve McQueen. Then there’s an “X-Men” sequel and, due to the synthetic nature of his character, there’s always the possibility of David having a role in a “Prometheus” sequel. [Recall the number of times/forms Lance Henriksen has appeared in “Alien”-related films if you think the previous observation was a spoiler.]
“I don’t know what the contract says on this one. I think probably it is the case, because with these sort of things they usually will cover that anyway. Let’s see what happens,” Fassbender says of “Prometheus II,” discussing the prospect of being contractually tied to multiple franchises at once. “I’m pretty excited… It looks like with ‘X-Men’ we are going to be starting up next year I think, so I’m excited by the prospect of that and the ideas that have been floating around on that court and to get back together with that team again. So you know it’s just about another job, really. It’s just another film isn’t it? Just a continuation of that last one. You go on to one and then when that’s done they have to make it available for you to be ready for the next one, so that’s the only thing. It just means going on to the next film when it’s ready to go.”
“Prometheus” opens on June 8 at theaters everywhere (unless you’re in European territories where it’s opening sooner than that).