That's not to say the German-born, Irish-raised actor necessarily aspires to International Movie Star® status. In fact, his roles over the years show a more eclectic sensibility, as well as a willingness to take risks. This foray into big budget summer blockbusting is something of a surprise, but is also in keeping with his demonstrated ability to excel in a wide range of roles.
He is probably most recognizable as Lt. Archie Hicox, the loquacious British soldier assigned to infiltrate Nazi Germany after a meeting with a heavily made-up Mike Meyers and a mostly-silent Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Fassbender imbued the supporting character with charm, wit, and bravery, but he was not the first actor Tarantino had in mind. When he was first casting, the writer-director wanted Simon Pegg to play Hicox, and while we're big fans of Pegg, Fassbender was definitely the man for the job.
That wasn't Fassbender's first time working with some familiar behind-the-camera talent in a WWII project, however. A decade ago, an almost-unrecognizable Fassbender played Sgt. Burton 'Pat' Christensen in five episodes of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. His first episode, 'Crossroads' was actually directed by Hanks.
Though he's never been in anything on quite the level of First Class, he is familiar with a green screen. In Zack Snyder's 300, Fassbender played Spartan warrior Stelios, who could be seen in every commercial for the film declaring, in response to a threat that the sky would be blacked out with arrows, "Then we will fight in the shade."
Last year, Fassbender swapped the ancient Greeks for the Romans, playing the lead in the down-and-dirty British actioner Centurion. As Quintus Dias, a Roman solider deep in savage Pictish territory, he proved his ability to credibly carry a crowd-pleasing film with aplomb. The film, directed by Neil Marshall, received a limited release Stateside, and is well worth checking out.
Prior to that, in 2008, he proved himself a peerless lead in the unconventional Hunger, where he played imprisoned Irish Republican Army solider Bobby Sands. In 1981, Sands died as the result of a hunger strike in protestation of the British Crown, and the film is built around Fassbender's slow, desperate starvation. Save for two scenes, there is almost no dialogue in the entire movie, and the actor's 40 pound weight loss is only a part of the internal pain and conviction that Fassbender perfectly conveys without words.
Following his staring role in Centurion, the one-time bartender played a supporting role in his first comic book adaptation, Jonah Hex. The would-be blockbuster starring James Brolin was chopped up by reshoots and filmmaking-by-committee, resulting in a justifiably lambasted film. Fassbender's performance, however, stands out, and every scene in which he appears as the merciless, tattooed baddie Burke brings the whole enterprise to life. In a tonally confused film, Fassbender knows exactly who he's playing and how.
Most of these credits may give the impression that our new Erik Lensherr is a more conventional actor than he actually has been. In Andrea Arnold's searing British drama Fish Tank, Fassbender brings depth and dimensionality to a character who could simply have been revolting: an opportunistic, immoral borderline pedophile. It's not the sort of performance – or the sort of film, for that matter – that would play to a mainstream American audience, but he quietly knocks his role of the park.
His last character before donning Magneto's unmistakable helmet was as Rochester in Jane Eyre, the latest adaptation of the classic novel by Charlotte Bronte. Starring alongside Mia Wasikowska, Fassbender brought a fresh and interesting take to a character who has been played in film and on television by dozens of actors over the last century.
With X-Men: First Class hitting theaters this weekend, the future will contain plenty more Michael Fassbender. He has a supporting role in the Steven Soderbergh-directed action film Haywire and he's playing Carl Jung to Viggo Mortensen's Sigmund Freud in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. And, for all us nerds, he's aboard Ridley Scott's currently filming return to science fiction: the Alien-quasi prequel Prometheus, which also stars Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba.
All of these acting accomplishments, both past and future, pale in comparison to the highest honor Fassbender's ever achieved, however, as he is our latest Rogue of the Week. His Magneto is just that good, and I for one can't wait to see him flinging metal in the continued adventures of Marvel's merry mutants.