A Dangerous Method - Michael Fassbender
Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics, Photo by Liam Daniel

Perhaps best known in the States as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, Michael Fassbender has had a flourishing career, playing roles in the TV miniseries Band of Brothers, and movies 300, Jonah Hill, Inglourious Bastards and Hunger, for which he won Best Actor at the British Independent Film Awards.

His new movie, A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg, spotlights the turbulent relationship between fledgling psychiatrist Carl Jung (Fassbender), his mentor, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and their troubled patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).

How much did you know about Carl Jung, before you did this movie?

A Dangerous Method - Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender
Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

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, and how it’s in everyday use now, with the idea of introvert, extrovert, personality types. That was quite cool to find out. But, other than that, it was pretty basic.

So, I had some work to do there, and then it’s a matter of digesting all the information, and throwing it away and going back to the script. Whatever else you gather, you’ve got a hundred and whatever pages to be told, in that story.

I realized there were various stages to his life, and different Jungs, in different times of his life. The guy that I was trying to portray was somebody who was young [and] still felt like he had a lot to prove in his profession.

Both A Dangerous Method and your upcoming movie Shame have a common thread of sexual dysfunction. What did it mean to play a psychoanalyst first and then character who’s spiraling out of control?

A Dangerous Method - Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender
Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

I didn’t relate the two together at all. I did A Dangerous Method, X-Men and then Shame. I work very intensely on the project when I’m running up to it and during it, and then I kind of flush it pretty quickly, too. I was jumping from one to the next so I kind of had to get rid of them pretty quickly. So it’s only in hindsight that you see that.

How was it playing them? With Jung your biography is taken care of. So in a lot of respects, it can be easier, you have the information there. Whereas when I do a fictional character, 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.

Then I just spend a lot of time with the script really, and that’s just the process that I take on for all of the work.

Were you looking to work with David Cronenberg, and was working with him as you expected?

A Dangerous Method - Sarah Gadon and Michael Fassbender
Emma Jung (Sarah Gadon) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

I was a fan of his, for sure. I was very envious when they were filming Eastern Promises, as I live around Hackney where they were filming. I thought, ‘Oh God, wouldn’t it be great to be on a David Cronenberg set.’ It was very exciting, the idea and the prospect of working with him.

And yes, it was different than what I expected because you see his films and they can be quite violent, they are dark. He’s kind of the opposite. He’s very sweet and loving, very generous and very humorous.

Having that humor gives a nice relaxed and light feeling going into scenes that can be deep with heavy themes. It certainly was dialogue heavy. David’s a joy. He’s a very collaborative guy. The great directors that I have had a chance to work with, they all have to be great manipulators and they do their manipulation in the weeks leading up.

You and Viggo had an amazing spark on screen, how did you find him as an acting partner?

A Dangerous Method - Michael Fassbender
Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

First of all, I was nervous. I’m about to meet Viggo Mortensen. Then, very quickly we just got along. He’s very supportive and generous. Obviously, he’s very well prepared.

Nobody knows when Viggo is going to arrive, that’s the thing [he laughs]. It was like, ‘Viggo will be here one of these days.’ They started filming with Keira and I first. He arrives, there’s nobody at the airport to meet him, because nobody knows when he’s going to be there [he laughs]. He gets a rent-a-car and turns up on the set.

Slowly his trailer starts to get all this character. It was the World Cup at the time, and he’s a massive football fan, so all these flags started going in his trailer. He had a picture of the Queen of Denmark up. I was watching him from my trailer, ‘What’s he doing today?’

He’s a very interesting guy. He writes poetry. He takes photographs. He’s very artistically rich. I just tried to watch him and learn as much as I could.

There’s a rumor that you might star in Robocop, even though you haven’t signed to do it yet. Would you like to?

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 like, ‘I’ve got to play Robocop before I retire.’ [he laughs] I don’t have that about anything. I don’t desire to play Hamlet. I don’t think like that. I wait to see what comes up. I’m always open to it if I react to the script.

Would you dread wearing a metal suit?

No. It would be kind of fun. It would be good to have a helmet I could hide behind. That sounds kind of appealing.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.