While re-watching Steven Spielberg’s World War II opus Band of Brothers, I was surprised by how many big-name, British talents are to be found in the American TV miniseries: James McAvoy, Simon Pegg, Stephen Graham, Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender. All had major roles and are now all over our film and television screens, ten years on from being cast together. British actors seem to be in far higher demand now than for quite a while, so why is this?
Tom Hardy was first seen in Band of Brothers, and has since had an incredibly diverse and critically acclaimed career, taking on all kinds of roles, from Handsome Bob in RocknRolla, to Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, to his breakout role as Eames in last summer’s Inception (for which he won the BAFTA rising star award). He recently turned in a stellar performance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and will next be seen playing villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Another young Brit whose stock is also rapidly rising is Andrew Garfield; he has worked with directors such as David Fincher and Terry Gilliam, and will next summer be appearing as the new Spider-Man. Amongst these fellas, however, there is one actor who is leading the way in cinematic talent at the moment…
Originally from Heidelberg, but raised in Killarney, Ireland, Michael Fassbender seems to be an unlikely fit for the leading British actor, but as he currently resides in London, often plays Englishmen and is, at time of writing, the frontrunner to succeed Daniel Craig as James Bond at the next re-boot, we can feel comfortable claiming him as one of our own. Thus far Fassbender’s biggest roles have included Magneto in the most recent X-Men film, and Archie Hicox in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Fassbender has made canny career choices, picking his projects wisely, and his CV is a long list of engaging and compelling films (300 aside).
His breakthrough role came in 2008 with Hunger, in which he played IRA volunteer and prisoner Bobby Sands, who died as a result of the 1981 ‘Dirty Protest’ and hunger strike. It is a powerful, bleak and challenging movie, built entirely around Fassbender’s incredible performance, for which he won Best British Actor at the British Independent Film Awards, amongst other widespread critical acclaim. For the role he went on a crash diet, living on just 600 calories a day in order to appear as emaciated as Bobby Sands did before his death. Shortly after Hunger, he appeared in two lesser-known but undeniably brilliant works, firstly the disturbing hoodie-horror Eden Lake, then council estate drama Fish Tank, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nevertheless, it is only in 2011 that he has properly ascended to the level of full-blown, headlining star. In June, he starred as mutant Magneto in Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, and a few months later as Rochester in Jane Eyre. These two films are really the first that the wider cinema-going public will have seen him in and in both he puts in performances that arguably surpass the overall quality of the films.
Historically, in Hollywood at least, British actors get cast as the villain (Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins etc), possibly due to a sustained sense of resentment towards the oppressive colonial force of the late 18th Century, which may or may not still reside in the psyche of American casting directors. However, it seems that with a new wave of young, British actors leading the way in films from both sides of the pond (with only the likes of Ryan Gosling being a currently comparable Stateside actor) the talent of these men is finally and rightly being recognised. Fassbender, with a seemingly relentless output, will be seen in numerous upcoming works. Of particular note is Shame (also starring Carey Mulligan, perhaps Fassbender’s female equivalent), which was greatly received at the London Film Festival. Furthermore, there’s A Dangerous Method, directed by David Cronenberg, about the relationship between Carl Jung (Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and their conflict over the affections of a female patient. And finally there’s Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel/ re-boot/ parallel storyline. I would say remember the name, but quite frankly, I don’t think you’ll be able to avoid it.