Michael Fassbender has two sexually provocative films coming out in the next few weeks. In David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, he plays Carl Jung, in psychological discussion with Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) over a sexy patient (Keira Knightley). In Shame, he plays a sex addict in modern day New York. During a press conference for A Dangerous Method, Fassbender discussed Jungian theory with a little overlap with Shame. A Dangerous Method opens in New York and L.A. this week and goes wide Dec. 16. Shame opens Dec. 2.
How much did you know about Jung before the movie?
Michael Fassbender: "Not a great deal. When I started looking into it and researching it, I realized just how much of his teachings, philosophies, ideas are intrinsic in our vocabulary, in everyday use now. The idea of extrovert/introvert personality types, that was quite cool to find that out. Other than that, it was pretty basic. I had some work to do there, and then it’s a matter of digesting all the information and then throwing it away again and going back to the script because whatever else you gather, you’ve got 100 and whatever pages to be told in that story."
"I realized there were various stages to his life, different Jungs and different times of his life. So the guy that I was trying to portray was somebody who was young, still felt like he had a lot to prove in his profession, so I wanted to have that element of unsurety there and insecurity if you like. So he’s very much representing this time he lives in, the stiff collars, everything is controlled. He’s conforming to the social etiquette at play at the time. You’re dealing with Europe in the early 1900s. They believed they were this hyper civilization at that point. Then, of course, World War I was right around the corner and proved that theory totally wrong. So I looked at various stages of his life."
"The Red Book was interesting for me to take a look at because that was the Jung that comes right after the movie. He had his breakdown, he comes through that, and then comes up with the Red Book. There's also footage of him. On YouTube I could watch some interviews and in the '60s or '70s there was an old man who again seemed very self-assured and seemed very confident in his life’s work. He was very charming. I got a feeling of sensuality in him and through his physicality. So gathering all that information and then trying to find where it applies best in the story."
How do you think Jung would diagnose Brandon in Shame?
Michael Fassbender: "I think he'd probably tell him it's all right. The first stage, it's like, 'It's okay. Let's just talk about it.' I think what's interesting about these guys is they were truly very fascinated in human behavior and why we behave in certain ways. I think they realized that, again, there’s a social form that we're expected to live under and we're expected to behave a certain way with one another and socially. But in actual reality and practice, what way do we really behave? It's kind of crazy being a human being and trying to all get along and all the complications that we have within ourselves. So the relationship that we have with ourselves, number one, let alone the relationships that we have with others... I think he would probably tell him that everything's going to be okay, and go see my friend Siggy Freud."
Do you agree with Jung that there is no coincidence, only synchronicity?
Michael Fassbender: "I was talking about that last night actually with a friend. Yeah, kind of. I'm not sure. I don't really know if I have any set beliefs in anything. I think I'm kind of open to anything. I don't rule anything out. It's funny, sometimes you think something greater is at play when you take a look at a series of events that led you to get to here from here. But I don't know. Why then would I be born into relative comfort and wealth and then you see somebody who's born in the Congo, Sierre Leone, get their hands chopped off. Those questions will remain unanswered for me, but I was just thinking about it yesterday."
What did it mean for you to play a psychoanalyst first and then a character spiraling out of control?
Michael Fassbender: "Yeah, I didn't relate the two together at all. It's only in hindsight. I did Dangerous Method, then X-Men, then Shame. I work very intensely on the project running up to it and during it, then I kind of flush it pretty quickly too. I was jumping from one to the next, so I had to get rid of them pretty quickly. It's only in hindsight that you see that."
"How was it playing either of them? Well, you have the information there with Jung as we were discussing, so your biography is sort of taken care of. So in a lot of respects, it can be easier. You have the information there, the character is available. When you're doing a fictional character, what I do anyways, I go away and write that biography out of the information that's given to me in the script, logically. What would a child go through in order to create this motivation? What did the parents do? Were they popular in school? Were they a loner, sporty, academic? Then I just spend a lot of time with the script, really. It's just a process I take on for all of the work, regardless of what it is. Then I had the opportunity to meet people who were suffering from the condition. That was a huge insight and I'm very grateful for that, the honesty and bravery of these people to come forward like that. This one guy in particular especially because this idea of the intimacy problems that Brandon has, that's really the crux of his problem. This guy that I met, that was exactly his problem as well so it made me get something tenable, made me understand the condition."
Did knowing this was a play inform your work on the film?
Michael Fassbender: "No. I don't know how different the script we used was to the play. It just didn't seem necessary to me that I needed an extra text. That was the one we were going to be working with. It's a very dialogue-heavy piece as I'm sure you can see from the film, which is pretty much nonexistent in films now to have that much dialogue. So I definitely spent a lot of time with the script and definitely tried to treat it as a piece of music."
"Christopher Hampton wrote it. It's very eloquent. It's very articulate. Again you're dealing with a time period, in the early 1900s in academia, especially. If you couldn't have a great command of discourse in whatever language you were speaking, you would be torn to pieces. To have a command of the language, the vocabulary they use, was a much wider and richer source. It was getting a handle on that that was definitely a challenge and one of the first challenges I had to get on top of, the rhythm of that piece, like a piece of music."
A part of all the success you've had recently is there are lots of rumors you are attached to all sorts of great projects. I know you haven't signed for any yet, but is Robocop something you'd like to do?
Michael Fassbender: "You know, I'm always open. I'll take a look at the script and sit down with the director and have a conversation. It's not definitely like, 'Oh, I've got to play Robocop before I retire,' and I don’t have that about anything. I don't go, 'To play the Dane one day, Hamlet…' I don’t think like that. I just wait and see what comes up and I'm always open. If I react to the script, then I'm up for anything."
Would you dread wearing a metal suit?
Michael Fassbender: "No. It'd be kind of fun. It'd be kind of good to have a helmet that I could hide behind for most of the film too. That sounds kind of appealing."