In hindsight, it’s kind of insane that 20th Century Fox and director Matthew Vaughn landed someone like Michael Fassbender to lead their X-Men prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class. The multiple Oscar-nominee is currently one of our finest and most popular actors working today, being sought to lead any number of other franchises, but Vaughn saw the potential of Fassbender’s talent early, and so as a result we get this incredible performer as a co-lead in a new X-Men movie every few years.
Fassbender returns once again as Magneto in the 1983-set Days of Future Past follow-up X-Men: Apocalypse, and while visiting the set along with a small group of reporters last summer, I got the chance to sit down with Fassbender in between takes to discuss where we find Erik this time around. It turns out, Apocalypse shows a brand new side of a character we already know incredibly well, as the film begins with Erik trying to live a quiet, domesticated life in Europe before it is once again upended by the cruelty of humanity. As a result, he joins up with the centuries-old mutant Apocalypse as one of his Four Horsemen, for the first time becoming a follower instead of a leader. Alongside Storm, Angel, and Psylocke, Erik sets out to protect and aid Apocalypse in the villain’s goal of restoring order to the Earth.
During the course of our conversation, Fassbender spoke about the state of Magneto’s relationship with his son, Quicksilver, the new facets of the character that we discover in this film, his “sexy” relationship with Apocalypse, and much more. Read on below.
Can you tell us where this film finds you at the outset?
MICHAEL FASSBENDER: I start off in Poland. Erik is basically living a normal life, has a family, has fallen in love, and has basically disappeared for the last eight years or so. He doesn’t use his powers, has left that life behind and lives a sort of simple life.
So we’re used to seeing Magneto as the man who will not be ruled, so it’s a little odd to see him serving a new master.
FASSBENDER: Well I think he’s serving his family, you know. He does what he does so he can provide shelter and security for his family. In a way you’re right, he’s serving a new master, and I think from before we know obviously that he loses his parents in a concentration camp, but there was always that story of Magda that I thought was pretty interesting. That sort of confounds his mistrust in human beings, so that was a sort of big influence on this story, where we find him.
Does he not make any connection between Apocalypse and the people that he saw in the concentration camp?
FASSBENDER: No because we needed him to join Apocalypse in order for the script to work (laughter). I think that’s the classic thing of any sort of megalomaniac there are huge contradictions and hypocrisies within it. It’s almost like sometimes the worst dictators start off as complete idealists, and that almost makes them more extreme in their dictatorship later. So absolutely, what Apocalypse is doing is echoing that, but for him at that point I think it’s just about, “Okay I’m gonna bring as much pain to the human race as they’ve brought me and basically wipe them out once and for all.” In a way, it’s a more extreme, more effective version of how we’ve seen him in the past. It’s definitely the most extreme version of that, but I think he’s just come to a point where he’s been pushed to that place where he doesn’t care anymore, he’s kind of dead inside. In order to make that link with Apocalypse it was a really helpful thing to have that story at the beginning with Magda.
Does this feel like Magneto is progressing towards the Ian McKellen version that we saw, basically straight-up evil with his own principals and justifications for that. Do you feel like you’re still on the villain journey or are there still ups and downs?
FASSBENDER: Well I think Ian McKellen might have a problem with that (laughs). I’ve seen an interview with him speaking about Iago and how he’s an evil character and he’s like, “Evil, I don’t know what to do with that word.” And that’s true, trying to unravel a character, “evil” is just too broad a word and too cloudy a word—how do you access it, and how do you bring that characteristic and display it in a character without being “Mwahahaha!” Whereas Iago is racist, he’s insecure, he’s got all these other things that are huge things that you can build on. And the same for Magneto, he’s somebody who’s been injured, somebody who’s had all his loved ones taken away from him. He’s quite singular in his thoughts and yes there’s an element of a megalomaniac in there, and an aspect of a dictator for sure. So I always had those things in mind when I was playing him, so I don’t think it’s any more of a progression towards Ian’s Magneto. I think he was kind of doing the same thing.
Between Days of Future Past and this you got some time spent playing Macbeth, is there any carry over there, or do you find any inspiration in that character to Magneto?
FASSBENDER: I don’t know, I don’t think so. Possibly subconsciously. I guess I kind of dismissed your question a little bit, I suppose by the time we see Ian McKellen’s Magneto in [X-Men: The Last Stand] he is, you know, pretty full-on. And I guess, in a way, it was these little steps that lead him to that, what makes him so empty towards human beings? And I think it’s because of these things that they’ve done to him, what they’ve taken away from him, their weaknesses. To me, personally, I know that my biggest fear in life is the mob, the idea of what happens to a mob mentality when people start feeding off each other’s fears and it can turn horribly wrong really quickly. So he’s been at the short end of the stick, putting it lightly, in terms of the mob mentality and human beings and how they respond when they’re under fear and insecurity. I guess the one thing about the comic book stuff, taking from anything else I’ve done that might be more let’s say anchored in reality, is I’ve always thought that there was an element here in these X-Men stories that is very anchored in reality in terms of people feeling misplaced or pushed to the outside of society. So I’m definitely drawing from real things to sort of ground it and root it in something that I can relate to.
How does Magneto feel about Apocalypse? What is their relationship like?
FASSBENDER: Sexy (laughter). I think he turns him on in a new way.
Are we gonna see that scene?
FASSBENDER: Yeah, yeah that’s what we were just filming up there. Smoke machines and everything going on. Charles is a little jealous (laughter). He had just come into my head as things were happening (laughs). But yeah, this was another thing that I was discovering through talking to Oscar and talking to Simon Kinberg, and this idea of Apocalypse sort of being like a god, the original mutant. Talking to Oscar about that I was thinking, at that moment where things are being taken away from him again in Poland it’s almost like he’s looking for an answer, or he’s challenging God, it’s like, “What do you want from me? I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried to lead a good life. I’ve tried to do it correctly, whatever that is, and now you do this to me so what do you want?” It’s sort of like a challenge to God, if he’s out there, and then Oscar’s character arrives. So in a way, tied in with that I thought it was a nice link. He arrives and it’s like, “Okay well something much more powerful than me has arrived,” in a way kind of like a god; he’s the original mutant. And I think, like you were saying before Magneto doesn’t really follow anyone, so it was kind of a hard thing like, well how does he just become one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen, and is he cool with that? But he appreciates that this guy is going to do what he couldn’t do. He’s got just so much more power than him, he’s such an immense force. In a way, it’s like that classic thing of joining any cult or radical group, he’s caught him at a very low, vulnerable point where he doesn’t really care anymore whether he dies or not or what happens, so he’s like, “Yeah I’ll join this guy. I’ll go on this path of judgment.” Apocalypse is sort of bringing judgment to the Earth.
What’s Erik’s relationship with Charles and Raven and Beast in this film, because Simon said it’s kind of a conclusion of your characters’ arcs from First Class?
FASSBENDER: Yeah we’re kind of just pen pals in this (laughter). So it’s like, “Eh I’m with this guy, he calls himself Apocalypto. It’s kinda weird but I’m going with it.” (laughs) I had the great fortune in First Class to have that arc where you saw how Erik sort of becomes Magneto, so in Days of Future Past it was nice for Charles to have that arrival to Professor X. And then in the middle of that there was Mystique’s character that was, “Is she gonna go to the dark side or is she gonna stay to the light?” There was this sort of battle for her conscience. So for this one, for me it was nice to see after the White House debacle—I kind of left with my tail between my legs—what would happen, because he’s left on his own. You get the idea after the last one that there’s a relationship that’s going to sort of develop and form again between Raven and Charles and Hank, whereas Magneto is off on his own. So it was nice, in this one, to see what happens when there’s nothing left for him. Where does he go? To start in this place and to really take him out of everything we’ve see him doing before—he’s working in a factory where he could use his powers but he’s doing things manually, almost like a penance thing. I just always liked that idea, when Simon and I were originally talking about this, that physically he’s sort of toiling and laboring, and in a way it’s a form of penance. But, you know, things catch up to him. We know that history catches up with people, and that’s kind of a cool thing that we see in this as well.
One of the fallacies about these movies is that even though Charles is the hero and his idea of the world is what we should strive for, Magneto is always right, people always wanna hurt the mutants. So is he right in this movie?
FASSBENDER: He’s always right! (laughs). That’s part of being a dictator, you can’t go, “Well I was wrong on a few things, we won’t tell anyone.” Obviously he’s in with the wrong crowd, Apocalypse is pretty full-on. So I wouldn’t say he’s right, but again you can understand. Hopefully at the beginning you’re like, “No just leave him be.” I think he highlights a lot of our weaknesses as human beings, the tendency to ridicule or even kill things that are different, whatever that may be from religion to everything else, we try to quash these things. That’s what I think he’s always had an interesting part as a villain, because what he says makes sense. But this is judgment, this is Biblical stuff. Apocalypse wants to reorganize the system. And you could say yeah, the system we live in has gone seriously wrong in many ways as well, so it makes sense but it’s always about the methods, and the methods are so extreme.
In Days of Future Past we meet Quicksilver who has a special relationship with Magneto, obviously. Is that something we’re going to see explored in this film, the father/son thing?
FASSBENDER: Umm, there’ll be development there yeah (laughs). I think, you know, for me personally and most people that I speak to, that was their favorite scene in Days of Future Past, it was a fantastic scene. Evan’s great and I think the introduction of that character is something that the fans will want to see again, so he’ll be there.
That was one of the bigger comedic releases of the movie and you got to play the kind of straight man in that scene. Is there any of that in this film as it relates to your storyline or is your stuff just too serious?
FASSBENDER: You know there’s not a lot of comedy moments for Magneto this time around—I try and find them, but not really though. I guess, you know, before we’ve seen somebody who’s had years between the original trauma that happened to him as a child, and he’s sort of masked it with this flippancy or sarcasm or “I don’t care” type of attitude, whereas this one is just a little more raw. It happens a little closer to the event, so not so much on my part. Oscar’s bringing lots of humor to it (laughs).
Can you talk about working with Oscar on the film?
FASSBENDER: Absolutely. I’ve been a fan for quite a while now, so I was really, really excited and pleased to hear he was coming aboard. It’s just one of those things where you admire somebody and then you get together and it works out just the way you thought it would, that’s great. We sort of hit it off immediately and were on the same page in terms of how we saw the characters and what we wanted to bring to it, so yeah we just sat down and had dinner immediately and started working on the scenes that we had together. It was just a very organic, easy working relationship from the beginning, which is great because we didn’t get much of a sort of build-up time to get to know each other going into scenes, it was pretty straight away.
Does Magneto have any relationship independently with the other Horsemen?
FASSBENDER: How do you mean? I just told you he and Apocalypse are involved (laughter). It is a commune so I see what you mean…
Does he regard them as anything more than just “they’re with me along for the ride?”
FASSBENDER: He’s not really into making friends, he’s just kind of a bit dead really. In terms of when he joins them, he’s got nothing to lose and it’s just, “Okay I want to bring pain on the human race and this is a great way to do it. The closest I’ve ever come to really doing it is with this guy and with this group, we have a chance of doing it actually.” So there’s not really any need for him to bond or any of that, this is just something that’s helping him. It’s a sharp tool and me behind it.
They’re just co-workers.
FASSBENDER: Yeah they’re co-workers (laughs). Again we know him as somebody that doesn’t like to form relationships that much, in the previous ones that I’ve done certainly. So yeah, it’s just like, “This could work.” He hasn’t seen a power like anything like Apocalypse, and the more the better in terms of if you look back to when he was trying to form his own armies, he realizes he can’t do it alone. That was the thing about Days of Future Past, he was kind of a singular, going out there on his own. But this is more about we need numbers to do damage.
What’s the experience like of playing the same character for a third time? Are you still finding out new things about Magneto and delving deeper into his psyche?
FASSBENDER: Yeah, I mean just as we started to talk about it—and that’s thanks to Simon. In First Class I was introduced as a certain character and his journey was definitely something that was very different from what my role was in Days of Future Past, he was definitely on a more singular trip. And this again is something totally new, so it allows me to see different sides of him and the hopefully audience will get to see different parts of his history and tendencies originate and are born.
Can you tell us about the scene that you’re shooting today? Is Magneto still questioning if he wants to be a part of this?
FASSBENDER: No, I don’t think he questions. Once he joins, he joins. Although we were doing the scene and I was doing voiceover and was like, “I think I’ve joined the wrong crew” (laughs). Because at the moment Apocalypse gives everyone a makeover, and Ben Hardy’s getting his makeover as Angel and I think that Magneto’s like, “Hmm, I’m not so sure about this makeover business.” So at the moment we’re just recruiting, and once he joins there is a scene where he comes and he reveals himself to Erik and is like, “Join us.” In a way, again, it’s the more religious take on it, at that moment he goes, “I’m leaving this world behind now and I’m walking into hell, and I’m prepared to do that.” And so he’s signed up for who knows what’s in store. So the scene we’re shooting at the moment is Angel being inducted into the family and I’m kind of helmetless at the moment, Apocalypse has promised me that I am going to get a helmet (laughs). But at the moment I’m without it, so Charles has managed to communicate with me just in this moment, in this scene he’s hooked up to Cerebro and he’s made contact with me.
Does Apocalypse give your character any new gadgets, or does he enhance your powers in any way?
FASSBENDER: Perhaps. (laughter)
Apocalypse has his Four Horsemen, he has War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. Does Magneto embody one of those or is he still just Magneto?
FASSBENDER: I think he’s still just Magneto. I think what he’s doing at the moment he’s going, “Okay I’m just gonna grab together some powerful mutants.” So Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto, and so he’s gonna use my powers and then some.
When a character finally says, “Forget the contradiction, forget the moral dilemmas, I’m just out to destroy,” that’s a lot of fun for the audience to see the character let loose. Is it more challenging for you to think, “How do I make this more than a blunt instrument who’s had enough?”
FASSBENDER: No, I think you make him a sharp instrument. I think as long as there’s a clear objective for him which is there, it’s easy. And like you said it’s easy for the audience to see that, and it’s easy for the audience to understand, “Oh I get his journey, that’s clear to me.” Because that’s the other thing about this story, there’s so many characters in this story now. And again that’s something that Simon and Bryan do brilliantly, which is just give enough time to each without it overweighing, overflowing, or taking away from one of the other characters. So I think it’s important to have that clarity for the audience moreso than for me to play it, so they know, “Okay this guy’s on that team and that’s what he wants, oh and she’s doing that because of this, okay I know what that team’s about what’s happening at Cerebro and back at the school?” There’s a lot of elements, so it helps to have that clarity.
So does that mean you have to have kind of a brutal efficiency as you’re approaching things, because you only get so many scenes to put yourself across?
FASSBENDER: Yeah I think so. I mean that’s kind of the case anyway, hopefully most things that you’re doing each scene is there for a reason, whether it is to relay information to the audience or whether it’s for that character to go on their journey, each character is there for a reason and this, like you say, there’s a lot so there isn’t room really for any fat.
Could we see you do a Magneto take with the Frank helmet on?
FASSBENDER: I’d like to do all my roles with the Frank helmet on. It was a revelation for me it was like, “Oh my better acting is when I’m behind a big head.”
Does that change your acting at all, just having the body?
FASSBENDER: Not really, you know. In some ways I hope it gave me an impetus to be more mischievous or less reverent, maybe.
For more of our X-Men: Apocalypse set visit coverage, peruse the links below:
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Over 75 Things to Know about the Epic Superhero Sequel
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: New Timeline Explained by Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: Bryan Singer on the Villain’s Powers, Costume, and Casting Oscar Isaac
- ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’: How Did They Decide Which Mutants to Include?