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Fassbender embraces leading man role

Michael Fassbender's name seems to pop up most any time a new film project is announced. "Prometheus," Ridley Scott's prequel to "Alien"? Jim Jarmusch's new vampire movie? Danny Boyle's "Trance"?

A film industry hungry for a hunky, young leading man with action-hero potential is taking a hard look at Fassbender. He was Rochester in the recent "Jane Eyre," a Roman soldier on the run in ancient Britain in last year's "Centurion." And now he's Erik Lehnsherr, the tormented Holocaust survivor who will become Magneto in "X-Men: First Class."

At 34, born in Germany, raised in Ireland (thus the accent he shows off, out of character), the Drama Centre London-trained Fassbender has barely time to catch his breath between film jobs, meetings about film jobs and premieres.

"I haven't had time to sit back and sort of take stock," he says. "It is a dream come true for me. The way I got here, it took some time. Sometimes it takes a lot longer, sure. But I felt like I really took a journey to get to this point."

The journey began in earnest with a role in HBO's World War II series "Band of Brothers" (2001) and continued with lots of British TV work. Eventually, he would be plucked to join the ensemble of "Inglourious Basterds" (2009). But the role that made him was 2008's "Hunger," a little-seen but acclaimed drama about Irish Republican Army hunger strikers during the 1980s. The film was "a remarkable cinematic experience, driven powerfully by Michael Fassbender's impressive performance as Bobby Sands," the most famous of those men who starved themselves to death in British prisons, raved the London Daily Mirror.

"It's been an incredible trip from 'Hunger,' " Fassbender says of the film, for which he lost much of his body weight in order to be convincingly starved and emaciated. " 'Hunger' definitely changed my life, in terms of being recognized by filmmakers, since that was very much a filmmakers' film."

So everything afterward would have to be a breeze, right? Playing a comic-book villain, for instance? But Magneto has "a whole lot of complexity to him," Fassbender says. "Emotionally, he's coming from a very damaged place. I like the ambivalence of it. I want the audience leaving the theater wondering, asking the questions themselves rather than being spoon-fed [what to think] like a lot of these super-villain characters.

"Holocaust survivor" is, Fassbender notes, just "the first part of his makeup. He tries to live an honest life even after the concentration camps, in the comic books. But the human race lets him down.

"So he's left alone. Every personal relationship he has gets damaged or torn away."

Fassbender might have tried to back-engineer the character, as he was played in the earlier "X-Men" films by the great Sir Ian McKellen. But director Matthew Vaughn wouldn't hear of it.

"He said, 'You know, there's something about this character that reminds me of an early Bond, a Sean Connery Bond from the '60s,' " Fassbender says. "Connery had this unusual accent and voice and Matthew heard similarities with my voice and we sort of went with that."

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