Thursday, October 30, 2008

Michael's mum was worried about his role for Hunger

I read the Daily Mail religiously and I have been waiting for them to finally write up an article on Michael. The newspaper can get really snarky on the gossip side, so I didn't want that, but since it's so well read, it is another avenue for Michael to gain attention from. In their review of Hunger, they speak with Michael about his preparation for the role, but this time he elaborates a bit more than he has before.

'Hunger is not a political film,' he insists. ' It doesn't preach; it merely tells a story, a very human story. Yes, people will be shocked at the way I look, as Sands, when they see me lying on a hospital bed, my ribs sticking out, and my life clearly hanging on a very slender thread.
'And yes, we show how brutally the IRA protesters were treated by the prison officers who thought they could bring the hunger strike to an end by beating prisoners into submission.
'However, to balance all that we show an IRA man gunning down a prison officer in cold blood, in a nursing home in front of his own mother and a room full of elderly residents.'

Distasteful as the subject matter is, critics have praised Fassbender's performance and the lengths he went to to make his characterisation authentic. To play the role, for ten weeks he lived on little more than nuts and berries, starving himself into skeletal shape. He shed 42lb, transforming himself from a well-fed 12 stones to an undernourished nine stones.

If he had refused all food and water - as Sands did back in 1981 when, in death, he became a Republican martyr - Fassbender couldn't have survived. By fasting under medical supervision, with an allowance of less than half the recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories, he reduced the risk to his health.

Not that his anxious mother, Adele, was convinced. 'She pleaded with me not to do it, because she was worried that I would do myself serious harm,' says 31-year-old Fassbender. 'After all, I was aiming to lose a quarter of my body weight far too quickly for my own good.
'In the end, she reluctantly accepted that I had to do it for the sake of realism. If you have to put on weight for a part, it's easy to over-eat or to wear a fat suit. But you can't fake being so skinny that you're at death's door.'

Since his parents run a restaurant in his hometown in Ireland, it's easy to imagine his mother's concern of Michael denying himself food just for a role. But luckily as it all turned out, she wound up supporting him. The article continues with Steve McQueen actually admitting that he did not instruct Michael to loose so much weight, but Michael did it on his own for realism.

Fassbender says: 'In my own mind, I simply didn't have any choice but to change the appearance of my body in a significant manner. It would have looked ridiculous if there had been so much as an ounce of flesh on my ribs for Bobby Sands' final days.'

After filming the early scenes, production stopped for ten weeks while Fassbender embarked on his starvation diet. To help him with his willpower, he swapped his East London flat for an apartment in Venice Beach, California - ironically a haven for body-builders.

'I wanted to get away from friends, from temptation, and go to a place where I felt I could meet the challenge. It was warm, so I didn't feel the need to comfort eat, and there were lots of people around, up and down the beach, who were intent on losing weight, too, so I fitted in.

'I got into a routine where I'd walk four miles a day, skip, do 40 minutes of yoga, and stick to a diet that basically revolved around berries. Berries are very low in calories so I could eat quite a lot of them.

'I started off eating 900 to 1,000 calories of food a day. I'd have berries and a few nuts in the morning, followed by a small tin of sardines and bread for dinner. But I just wasn't losing enough weight fast enough, so the calorie intake had to come down to just 600 a day for the final four weeks. I cut out the slice of bread I'd been having with my dinner and cut back on the nuts. I became almost obsessive. I got to the point where I could walk around a supermarket and know the calorific content of virtually everything on the shelves.

'The hardest part was the feeling I experienced immediately after dinner, when I had come down to 600 calories a day. A tin of sardines staves off the immediate pangs but it doesn't really put hunger to bed. I'd spend the entire evening wanting to eat something else but knowing I couldn't.'

Three weeks into the diet, Michael experienced feelings of nausea and dizziness but says it was the only time his diet had a detrimental effect on his well-being.

'I came to understand why people get hooked on the idea of weight loss because there were times when I felt really wired and full of the most amazing energy. I'm the king of the afternoon nappers under normal circumstances - yet I was finding I didn't get tired at all. My energy levels, generally, were remarkably high.'

THE sight of Michael returning to filming in Belfast was greeted by gasps from cast and crew, who realised what a sacrifice he had made. Once filming was complete, Michael 'celebrated' with the mother of all feasts at a Japanese restaurant, in Belfast.

'They say your stomach contracts when you cut down on your food intake, but I'm not sure I found that to be the case! I ate rather too much sushi than was good for me, and, at the end of the meal, I was almost literally laid out cold. It was a weird sensation, like nothing I'd experienced before.'

Michael's conviction has surely paid off with his outstanding performance in Hunger. While I still hold out hope that Oscar and other big awards do not ignore him because he's a relative unknown, a discussion at Awards Daily in the 'FYC 'Hunger' thread, a poster reminded me that the Academy lost validity eons ago as they are very finicky in which films and which artists they bestow Oscar honors to, let alone a nomination. So I guess, time will tell.


greyeyegoddess said...

When I read this, the first thing that caught my attention was what his mother thought about losing the weight. But I still appreciate the fact that he spoke to his parents about this.

It's hard to see someone, who grew up with really good food and who was sooo skinny already, losing weight for a role. I can see his mother's concern.

It's a great article...we learn so much about him again.

Simone said...

It's just these new little details we learn that allow us to learn a bit more about how he went into researching and preparing for this role. I get the impression that he shares a lot of his role considerations with his parents to get their feedback, and that speaks volumes to his relationship with them which I respect very much.