Michael Fassbender says his 'Macbeth' is suffering from PTSD
CANNES — The last film in competition has debuted at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and that meant it was time for two of the world's most respected and photogenic stars to get their moment in the spotlight. So, yes, the global media were quite excited about Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender taking the podium for "Macbeth's" official press conference.
Justin Kurzel's new adaptation is a stylish, gritty and intense depiction of William Shakespeare's classic play. Fassbender plays the title role passionately and Cotillard takes on his Lady. Kurzel expands on the material by including some beautiful and gruesome war sequences that frame the story in a slightly different light.
Fassbender said he experienced the play when he was 15 and later when he was in grad school, but was taking on the iconic role for the first time. It was a conversation with the Aussie director, however, that provided him some modern context to the role. Macbeth begins the film as King Duncan's top general and has likely spent years on the bloody battlefields of the Dark Ages.
"Never did it occurred to me that this character was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder," Fassbender said. "Justin had said that to me during one of our first conversations and that changed everything for me."
The "12 Years a Slave" star says the cumulative effect isn't just about a soldier who is engaged in war day after day, month after month, "but the fact the battle takes place with his bare hands. What it takes to pierce someone's skin. To drive the sword through somebody's muscle. And then take the sword out again [and] smash someone's skull. Those kind of images, definitely, I tried to dig up and explore and try to find that fractured character right at the beginning, the idea that he's seeing hallucinations."
He continued: "We know soldiers today coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan that, despite post traumatic stress disorder, they can have these hallucinations. They can be working down the Croisette here and the next thing it's a real time battle. So that makes so sense for the character. The fact that he's seeing things there, and his sort of unhinged behavior."
Considering how intense his performance appears, Fassbender was asked if it's difficult for him to leave the set without being affected personally by the experience.
"It's inevitable that some residue is there, but I have worked hard to try and leave everything on the floor on the day," Fassbender replied candidly. "So a lot of the time I spend in preparation when it comes to the day's filming I can really just sort of leave everything there and explore everything on the day as much as possible. Of course, on the drive home, all the good ideas come. But I try to meet friends at the end of the day and I wouldn't have many left if [it was], 'Oh, here he goes again with one of those characters.'"
That response brought some much needed laughter to the day's proceedings. Cotillard, on the other hand, already spoke to HitFix in November about the unpleasantness of her experience noting, "I lost control of everything." On Saturday she told the assembled media that she'd always dreamed about playing the role of Lady Macbeth, but thought it would be on the stage and in French. She'd never even considered taking part in a Shakespearean English production. Even though it took a personal toll she still described it as a "marvelous opportunity."
"For me this is the first time in a film I found it difficult to slip into the character," Cotillard said. "I've often played dramatic characters but never perhaps to this extent. Most of the characters I've played so far were full of light or held out some hope. I this case it's all gloom. The character loses control of the situation. I found it difficult to prepare for the film and let myself be swept away by the character."
Fassbender will likely get a majority of the critical kudos between the two stars, but he could not praise Cotillard enough for bringing more "humanity" to Lady Macbeth.
"I think Marion is the best in the business," he said. "She brings a grace to everything that she does, which is just in her I think. But at the same time she is very human and I think when she portrays a character the audience has something of a mirror in front of them and see much of themselves in her."
Later on he remarked, "Just to be standing opposite her and to see just the most engaged partner and somebody who is listening seems like such a simple thing, but the best actors are great listeners. She listens so brilliantly and responds to whatever is happening in the moment and is very generous in return. She'll take something, use it, form it and give it back to you. So it's very easy. We worked comprehensively in rehearsal, but once we started filming we didn't discuss things and just presented them when the camera was rolling. I really enjoy that way of working."
"Macbeth" is currently slated to open in the UK in October and is expected to hit American shores sometime this Fall.