In just the last two years, Michael Fassbender has transformed himself into a Spartan warrior, an emaciated hunger striker and a dashing English military man.
For the upcoming Jonah Hex, he donned facial tattoos to play the charismatic henchman Burke, and Fassbender said it was the costume that helped him get into character the most.
"You draw your inspirations from so many different areas, and the people working around you have so much play with that," Fassbender said in a group interview Sunday in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"Burke on the page was a certain sort of character, but then when I arrived in New Orleans and met up with Michael Wilkinson and Christien Tinsley, who did the tattoo, they really gave me all of the information I needed," he said. "I put on this three-piece suit, and then I was going through hats, and I just put on a bowler hat, and I was like, that reminds me of Clockwork Orange, and that reminds me of Frank Gorshin's Riddler. So that would be my physicality—I wanted to try and make him quite angular and quite rakish, and I definitely got the inspiration through the hat. So I found it all in that bowler hat, to be honest."
Fassbender's latest film is Inglorious Basterds, in which he plays a film-critic-turned-soldier who infiltrates the Nazis during World War II. The German-born, Irish-raised resident of London said that Jonah Hex was not unlike Quentin Tarantino's war-movie mashup in that it also combined different genres.
Jonah Hex is based on the DC Comics series and stars Josh Brolin as the gunman known for having the right side of his face disfigured and wearing a Confederate army uniform.
"[Director] Jimmy [Heyward] was telling me that he wanted to shoot it in a bit of sort of like an homage to the spaghetti westerns and that he was going to use these anamorphic lenses," Fassbender recalled. "I was like, 'Great! What the f--k is an anamorphic lens?' [But] I don't really think about how the end product is going to look. I'm doing my own thing, and if he tells me it doesn't look right for it, he'll tell me. But I'm kind of going with my inspiration, and we've talked about it before, what he wants from it."
According to Fassbender, his primary purpose in the film is to offset the understated intensity of John Malkovich, who plays Turnbull, Jonah's main adversary. "I knew that [Jimmy] wanted quite a sort of boisterous, colorful character to go against John Malkovich's, which is sort of calm and menacing," he said. "Something that was sort of off the wall. So that's sort of why I thought of the Riddler in the 1970s—I thought there was something kind of off the wall about that—and then there's also something very sinister and dangerous about the Clockwork Orange element. So I just sort of mashed them together."
At the same time, Fassbender said that he wanted to make sure there was a degree of believability to his character's oddball behavior. "For me personally, I like to play a colorful character within that," he said of the film's genre pastiche. "It's like something that's maybe got a comic-book sort of aesthetic, like the comic-book shape and the angles of the character; I kind of like wanted to keep the comic-book style. But it always has to come from a real person. If you're doing fantasy, in order to take this person on that journey to a fantastical world which is already outside of the realms of reality, the people that occupy that world should be real or coming from some sort of reality."
Jonah Hex, which also stars Megan Fox, is due for release on June 18, 2010.