Film interview: Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender as Silas and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish in Slow West.
Michael Fassbender as Silas and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish in Slow West.
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Michael Fassbender has always wanted to be in a cowboy film – now he’s got his chance. He tells Susan Griffin all about his new film Slow West.

Fortunately for Michael Fassbender, he’s reached a point in his career where he doesn’t have to extend the truth to get a gig, and could be quite open about his lack of equine experience before filming the new western, Slow West.

Set in the 19th century, Slow West tells the story of sixteen-year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), as he travels from Scotland to Colorado in pursuit of his lost love.

It’s not long before he’s confronted by the dangers of the Frontier and decides to team up with a mysterious and monosyllabic traveller by the name of Silas Selleck (Fassbender), who agrees to protect him for a price.

The role of Silas was written specifically with Fassbender in mind.

“We bashed the script around a lot and Michael came up with some great ideas. He was very much involved in the writing process. He’s a great collaborator,” remarks writer and director John Maclean, who makes his feature film debut with the movie.

“Silas could have been the solitary macho type, but Michael gives the character vulnerability. He’s a man of few words but Michael could give him shades of grey despite that.”

Fassbender had already worked with Maclean on two short films – 2009’s Man On A Motorcycle and 2011’s Bafta-winning Pitch Black Heist – before Slow West.

“It was nice to see that journey through, as this was an idea that he’d had brewing for a good few years,” explains the actor, who also served as an executive producer on Slow West.

“Part of the draw was also that, ever since I was a kid, the idea of being in a Western has appealed to me, so it’s great to have been given the opportunity to do one.”

And Silas was a fun character to embody, he adds.

“He’s a bounty hunter, a loner who doesn’t really have much in his life, in terms of love and companionship. And [he’s] without much joy in his life, so he’s become a bit bitter and cynical. The introduction of Jay into his world infuses him with some feelings of hope and enthusiasm, and commitment to something other than money.”

As inscrutable as Silas is, he seems to have an agenda of his own as he accompanies the naive, lovelorn Jay across the beautiful but threatening landscape peopled by all manner of desperate eccentrics, including an intimidating posse of outlaws, led by Payne (Ben Mendelsohn).

“This story is very much about the land we’re in, and America is very much a character,” continues Fassbender. “Silas can survive very well out in the Wild West, but Jay is hopeless, and so the two of them get together and come to depend on one another.”

A teenager when he realised he wanted to act, at the age of 19, Fassbender moved to London, first studying at the prestigious Drama Centre London before landing TV roles, including in the early-Noughties series Band Of Brothers. He worked intermittently, bolstering his income by pulling pints – until he was cast in 2007’s 300, the stylised big-screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s blood-thirsty comic book series, co-starring Gerard Butler.

A string of critically acclaimed performances soon following, in movies including Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men, Prometheus and A Dangerous Method. In 2013, he was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a Bafta for his role as Edwin Epps in 12 Years A Slave.

The film marked his third collaboration with director Steve McQueen, the first being 2008’s Hunger, where he played IRA member Bobby Sands, and the second being 2011’s Shame.

Slow West is released in cinemas on Friday, June 26.