NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Fassbender is cool and composed, calmly answering questions from a reporter, with one exception: when it's suggested he's not quite as severely serious as some of the films he's made.
"I would (expletive) hope not!" he exclaims, his head rolling back as he lets out a roar. "I hope definitely not. I like to keep myself fairly balanced. I suppose I have a short fuse with annoying things, like threading a needle. That's about as bad as I get. I try to put everything into my work and then enjoy my downtime with as little drama as possible."
Putting aside for a moment the question of whether Fassbender spends much time doing needlepoint, his response crystallizes something striking about the 38-year-old actor: Despite the deep, often dark places he goes for a character, he bounces back with the lightness of an Irish featherweight. When he's not playing a menacing slave owner or a hunger-striking Bobby Sands, Fassbender is easygoing and playful — certainly not brooding.
"Most people in the world do really hard jobs and they do them every day of the week. I live a pretty sort of privileged life," he says. "There's no place for me to go, 'Yeah, it was pretty difficult and it was psychologically wearing and blah blah blah.' Nobody should hear that or wants to hear that."
Lately, Fassbender's job has been expanding. He not only stars in the Western "Slow West," but it's also the first feature from his production company, DMC Films. In the film, which opens Friday, Fassbender plays a hardened bounty hunter, chewing on the same cigarillos Clint Eastwood munched on, who takes in a young romantic traveler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from Scotland pursuing his love (Caren Pistorius).
For Fassbender, a fan of both Westerns and Eastwood, "Slow West" is his chance to put his own stamp on the genre. The New Zealand-shot film is the first feature by John Maclean, a member of the '90s experimental Scottish outfit the Beta Band, and it has some of his former band's unpredictable genre mixing. It's both a classical Western, in which people die gruesomely, and a fairy tale seen through the eyes of a naive young immigrant. Fassbender effectively bet on Maclean, making two short films with him before "Slow West."
"It's nothing to do with any great, grand scheme of furthering his profile," says Maclean of his star. "He's much more interested in being intuited to the people he wants to work with and the scripts he wants to read."
"Slow West" heralds a shift for Fassbender, who's also producing an adaptation of the video game "Assassin's Creed," as he looks to broaden himself in the industry he's risen to the top of.
"I don't want to become comfortable and complacent because then there's just no point in doing it anymore," he says. "Just trying to involve myself in more areas, I suppose. Maybe one day to get behind the camera at one point would be something I'd like to do. But whether it will ever happen is another matter. Who knows in a few years' time where my priorities will lie?"
It's an open-ended question for one of the most in-demand actors in movies, whose upcoming films include a "Macbeth" adaptation and a Terrence Malick film. He's been the go-to star for "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen, whose "Hunger" (for which Fassbender shed 40 lbs. to play the I.R.A. activist Sands) was followed by the sex addiction drama "Shame." ''12 Years a Slave" earned him his first Oscar nomination, but likely not his last.
"Slow West" is in line with the adventurous indies ("A Dangerous Method," ''Fish Tank") that Fassbender has sometimes favored; last year, he spent nearly the entirety of the eccentric "Frank" with a papier-mâché head over his own. His success in bigger films, like "Prometheus" and the "X-Men" franchise, has opened many doors.
The leaked Sony emails, however, revealed that not everyone has always been on board. In hunting for a star for a highly anticipated Steve Jobs biopic, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin questioned the casting of Fassbender: "I don't know who Michael Fassbender is and the rest of the world isn't going care."
Sorkin eventually came around: "He's a great actor whose time has come." Fassbender recently finished shooting the film, directed by Danny Boyle. Asked about the incident, he jokes, "What email leaks?" and after a laugh, isn't inclined to discuss it much further.
"It's whatever," he says. "People have opinions. The Internet is the Internet. I have a job to do, so I just get on with that."