Michael Fassbender’s transformation into Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs for Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs should hardly come as a surprise to those who have been following his career - the actor is an incredibly subtle chameleon who possesses an almost sly ability to inhabit any role, be it a World War II sergeant in HBO’s Band of Brothers or rugged yet sleek Spartan warrior Stelios in Zack Snyder’s 300, which gave mainstream audiences their first real introduction to Fassbender’s talents. The actor has grown to become one of the most widely acclaimed of his time, arguably the contemporary male version of Meryl Streep whose career will likely endure well past his AARP prime.
On a thespian evolutionary chart, Fassbender would be the missing link between Tom Hardy and Christian Bale, two actors often hailed for their transformative prowess and commitment to character. Fassbender has the subtlety that Hardy sometimes lacks in his more aggressive leanings, and a natural elegance often missing from Bale’s more traditionally masculine performances. That Fassbender should be drawn to the role of Steve Jobs, itself as demanding as the real-life Apple genius, is understandable - not only was Bale himself briefly attracted to the part, but Jobs offers Fassbender the chance to flex that chameleonic muscle in a much more overt sense.
Reflecting on his career, Fassbender has long been drawn to roles that offer him the chance to transform. While those transformations are not frequently so physically blatant (see: Bale), they do provide the actor with a fully immersive emotional experience emphasizing psychological distortions over those which are more readily evident. Fassbender began his career by playing Sgt. Burton “Pat” Christenson in Band of Brothers, but it would still be years before he found real recognizable success in the U.S. The actor continued to appear in British miniseries like Holby City and Murphy's Law and TV films like Sherlock Holmes And the Case of the Silk Stocking - basic supporting roles like these occupied his time until he landed a central role on the Sky One series Hex, in which he played the seductive Azazeal, a dangerous and dangerously attractive fallen angel who falls in love with a young witch. It’s here that Fassbender honed and displayed his more darkly alluring qualities which would come in handy later with roles in Fish Tank, Jane Eyre and Shame.
Those three latter roles offer an informal yet immaculate trilogy of Fassbender as deeply flawed, sensual characters - men whose insecurities and emotional deficiencies add to their complexity. Each of these characters holds a certain attractive dichotomy: they are perhaps more handsome and alluring because of their flaws and more repulsive attributes. To desire them is ill-advised in the most traditional sense; he makes for the type of man whom we should always know better than to desire, and yet…
Fassbender’s good looks are like that of a young Laurence Olivier or Peter O’Toole, and allow him to effortlessly inhabit roles of soldiers in films like Centurion and Inglourious Basterds - his sophisticated and restrained style evokes his classic predecessors, but he uses his icier features (his blue eyes, his perfectly carved face) to his advantage to give his characters an almost unsettling edge. Ridley Scott clearly saw this in casting Fassbender for Prometheus, as the opening scene features the model synthetic David watching and emulating O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.
His more recent roles have continued this dangerously attractive and darkly complex trend in character, with parts in the rugged western Slow West and Steven Soderbergh’s slow-burn action throwback Haywire, as the suave but menacing Magneto in the new X-Men films, the deeply offensive and psychologically throttled slave owner Epps in 12 Years a Slave, and soon as the afflicted mad king of Macbeth.
Jobs is not a singularly transformative role, for the man - the icon - subjected himself to his own sort of self-imposed transformations over the course of his career. But Steve Jobs may offer Fassbender his most prestigious role yet, one that serves to unite his many versatile talents under the roof of one compelling character. Jobs has the flawed consciousness of the ever-popular anti-hero popularized by contemporary television, the drive of a loyal soldier, the allure of an emotionally wounded man about whom we should all know a little better than to touch, and the maniacal vision of a super villain.