Michael Fassbender has made a career out of portraying real-life characters, from his breakthrough role as Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” to Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method.” His mesmerizing turn in the title role of Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” has earned him not only raves but his second Oscar nomination. The busy actor called from the Oslo set of “The Snowman,” just days after wrapping production on “Assassin’s Creed.”
What did you know about Steve Jobs before you took the role?
Pretty much zero, to be honest. Obviously, I knew of the man and his connection to Apple, but not much more than that. Also, I’m sort of crap when it comes to technology and gadgets, so I was pretty green.
Did you learn much from meeting the people who knew Steve?
We were all lucky to meet people like Joanna Hoffman, Steve Wozniak, that’s always very interesting and difficult as well to get a perspective of someone. It’s hard for people who know somebody and are close to someone and they’re no longer with us. But you always find little ingredients and information in the stories they tell. So that was a great help and what was amazing was to see how much he is still in their lives, they’re still kind of in orbit of the man.
What was something interesting you learned about him?
Joanna Hoffman had so many interesting stories. She was saying Steve used to come around and clean her apartment at ridiculous times. I asked her once about her Apple shares, did you hang onto them, and she said, “Oh I lost them, I think Steve threw them out when he came around cleaning the apartment one time.” I was like, “Oh my God! I’d be pulling my hair out!” But she couldn’t care less.
When you’re doing Aaron Sorkin dialogue, is there room for improvisation, or do you have to get it word perfect?
We rehearsed, and if we had ideas about certain elements of dialogue, we would talk to him about it, and he was very gracious. The line “Why have we never slept together?” was added after a meeting with Joanna Hoffman. But once it’s written, it’s written. You don’t want to tamper with it. Like Tarantino dialogue, it’s all there. It’s a gift to the actor.
Did you feel the pressure of playing someone so iconic?
To be honest with you, I was s—-ing it. The fact he wasn’t going to be there to judge me himself had no effect, I felt the pressure. But once you start on the first day, you’re in it. It’s the time leading up to, just dealing with the script. I’m a pretty slow learner. I envy friends of mine who can look at things and memorize it — Seth Rogen is one of those people. I haven’t been blessed with that. I just wanted to do justice to the writing and the fact it is very much an ensemble piece and I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Danny Boyle is a real actor’s director; this seems like a perfect partnership.
He’s pretty special because he started from the bottom, worked his way up, and is an absolute craftsman. He’s a master. His energy and what he infuses into the piece himself is pretty extraordinary to watch. I wanted to work with him before and we’d talked about doing a project together, so to have this opportunity was a real dream. The fact he came to me and wanted me to do it, I was so flattered. Even though I looked nothing like him, he said, “That doesn’t matter to me, I don’t want to go down the road of imitation I want you to concentrate on his essence.”
But by the third act of the film, you actually do look like him.
You know, that just sort of happened organically. We were halfway through the second act and I said to Danny, “I think we should go for the look, I think the audience will appreciate it.” We just felt it would be very effective and give the audience kind of a payoff.
What is it you hope for from a director?
I hope that they’ll take me beyond my own limitations, they’ll bring something out of me I couldn’t find by myself. I always look for that kind of partnership. And I’ve been so lucky, I’ve worked with great filmmakers, great artists.
I’d love to see you do a comedy next, can you make that happen?
I would love to do that! I think it’s time. (Laughs) We try and bring comedy in as much as I can to any part, really. I just think it’s such a powerful thing, to leave audiences open to experience other emotions. I’d love to do more of that, to be honest.