Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi, Prometheus, opens in U.S. theaters this Friday, June 8th (read Ben Kendrick's review), and Michael Fassbender's performance has repeatedly been singled out as one of the strongest aspects of the film.
We had the opportunity to travel to London to attend the Prometheus premiere and European press day where we spoke with Fassbender in a roundtable discussion about how he developed his character - the android David - the future of movie advertising and his career, and why a robot would highlight his hair. (BTW, that's not a spoiler - it's revealed almost immediately in the film that he is an android.)
Q: Are you enjoying that you can at least talk about the film a little bit?
Michael Fassbender: "No, I much prefer it when I don’t have to say anything. (Laughs) It makes my job much easier."
Q: Your character, David, is this film's resident android. Previously, we've seen Ash in Alien and Bishop in Aliens. But you're an earlier model. Did you reference their performances at all?
Fassbender: "No. I don’t know why. 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 of 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 then 'Lawrence Of Arabia,' Peter O’Toole’s character of Lawrence and [David Bowie in] 'The Man Who Fell To Earth.' So those were the kind of ingredients - and then Greg Louganis, the diver. So that was sort of the mixture."
Q: It sometimes felt as if he had a little bit of contempt for the person who made him. Do you feel you played David as if he had emotions?
Fassbender: "I played him exactly like you said with the idea of an earlier model. [The way it was] with [Ash and Bishop was] that they were very human [from the beginning] and [then] 'Oh my god, they are robots.' [...] Whereas [with] this one, the reveal [that he's an android] is very early, so I wanted to make him in the external very robotic and then yes, inside have human traits and personality traits, so you’re like, 'Wait a second, is he being sarcastic there?' or 'Is he being for real?' So you are always asking that question with the character. So it’s like, as the character develops physically [as well], I don’t know if it shows, but like at the beginning he’s very neutral physicality, [but] by the end, I was leaning on my hip when we are leaving the space ship to go down on that last mission. It’s little things like that. So that’s an attitude.
If I sit there and look at you like that, it’s something very different from that or this. Little things like that I was trying to bleed through, so even then you’re thinking, as the audience or the people onboard, 'Wait a second. Is something happening here? Was he pretending to be more robotic than he was?' So he’s a big question mark. It’s like 'Is that a revenge attack on Logan’s (Marshall-Green) character? Or is it for information’s sake?'”
Q: You were talking about the physicality. There’s a really distinct physicality between you and Charlize (Theron) and I'm wondering if you guys talked about it at all openly or is that something that just organically happened?
Fassbender: "I just came on set doing the David walk on the first day and we didn’t discuss any of that. In fact, there wasn’t much discussion other than a little bit at the beginning when we all met up and then once we were on set it was like people bringing their work to the floor and Ridley (Scott) throwing in some ideas and mixing it about, but no that was never discussed."
Q: David’s demeanor and delivery are specific and unique from your own personality. All of the other actors were saying that you were joking a lot on set between takes. Is it easy for you to slip in and out of character?
Fassbender: "I kind of like to do that with other characters, as well. I have a tendency to have that energy on set. There’s something about that where I think if you keep it relaxed or go into it relaxed, then things will happen as opposed to trying to preempt them. I don’t try to go 'This is what I’m going to try to do with the character in this scene.' I allow things to appear as opposed to [placing] them and doing that I find helps going in and out like that. Sometimes if I stick in a character too much I feel like I might start to get blinkered, because I’m making my decisions too definite. I don’t know what David is going to do next. How do I know? There’s a thousand ways to do something."
Q: Charlize Theron was saying you were showing her stuff from your computer to make her laugh. What sort of things would you show her?
Fassbender: "Check out 'Reporter goes ghetto in 3 seconds.'"
Q: I feel like I could have watched an entire movie of David killing time while everyone else was hyper-sleeping. How did you approach those scenes and what David was actually doing in those moments?
Fassbender: "Again, like you say, 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 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?' (Laughs) 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. 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, 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."
Q: But enjoyment, it’s a human emotion, is he able to enjoy those things he's doing?
Fassbender: "Yeah, I think again - pride. He takes pride in what he does, but that’s a human thing, isn’t it? I thought it was always the idea of human beings have programmed him and they have designed him in a certain way that he will be able to react to certain human behavior. So it’s possible that that programming starts to bleed and form its own personality trait. So that was the thing, but never to make it an open-ended 'Yes, that’s what he is doing.' It’s kind of in and out."
Q: I’'m curious, with this character - obviously, if your film is successful, they've talked about possibly making a trilogy - your character, being an android, could show up in many different forms. When you signed on for this did you sign for a multi-picture deal? Also, how did it feel, because you obviously have the X-Men thing going where you’re signed to multiple pictures, is it weird for you to be tied where you could be bouncing from franchise to franchise?
Fassbender: "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. 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."
Q: One of the interesting things about David is he seems very inquisitive and curious, but some of the things he ends up doing can be seen as evil. It’s hard to talk about it, but I’m curious. Do you look at it as he’s just curious or being told to do things? What was your take on why he does some of the things he does later on?
Fassbender: "The driving force is it’s the information that he’s got to gather and sometimes you need guinea pigs in the science laboratory and that’s the way he looks at it. It’s collateral damage and then maybe there’s other little elements to it that he can enjoy that go with it, but he definitely very focused on an objective, you know? And he knows that that for a human being, the directive 'try harder' will get to her (Theron). 'You’ve got to try harder.' 'I’m trying my best.' 'Best isn’t good enough.' So it’s like harder for him is achievable, it just means 'I need to do something else in order to get the information from this,' where as we go 'Shit, how do I do it? I’m working so hard on it.' He will just find another way to get there and so 'harder' doesn’t even exist as you say. It just means 'Do it another way.'"
- Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in 'Prometheus'