One of the best things about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is Michael Fassbender’s performance as the ship’s resident android, David. You’re never quote sure where the robot’s programming ends and his own sentience begins (if at all).
Myself and a few other journalists sat down with Fassbender yesterday in London to grill him about his role. I found him to be a highly intelligent, engaging and funny interview. We spoke at great length about Prometheus and whether or not he felt like he had to study up on “Ash” from Alien and “Bishop” from Aliens.
“With ‘Prometheus,’ Scott creates a groundbreaking mythology, in which a team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a thrilling journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.”
In theaters June 8, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Sean Harris, Guy Pearce, Kate Dickie, Rafe Spall, Logan Marshall-Green, Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott and Patrick Wilson all star.
Head inside to check it out! I’ve taken out some major spoilers, but we also actually had to talk about the film so I imagine there’s some stuff in there that you haven’t heard discussed yet. Proceed at your own risk.
So are you enjoying that you can at least talk about the film a little bit?
No, I much prefer it when I don’t have to say anything. It makes my job much easier. Yeah, I haven’t seen it yet. You guys have seen it and I haven’t seen it. I see it tomorrow with them at the premiere, so you can tell me.
Actually regarding your character named “David,” you’ve got “Ash” in Alien and “Bishop” in Aliens. But you are an earlier model of android. Did you reference their performances at all?
No. I don’t know why. Sometimes you do, like when I was doing Jane Eyre I watched as many of the Rochesters as I could get my hands on, but for this I made a decision not to watch the Alien movies. I watched Blade Runner and I looked at the replicants. Well I looked at Sean Young. There was something in her character, a quality there that I kind of liked for David, this longing for something or some sort of a soul at play there, a sort of vacancy also, a sort vacant element. I don’t know exactly what, I just knew there was a quality there that I liked and then Hal from 2001 and then I sort of walked in with The Servant and Dirk Bogarde and that and then Lawrence Of Arabia, Peter O’Toole’s character of Lawrence and The Man Who Fell To Earth, David Bowie. So those were the kind of ingredients and then Greg Louganis, the diver, so that was sort of the mixture.
There was also some contempt in David a little bit, like he has a little bit of contempt for the person who made him. Do you feel you played David as if he had emotions?
I played him exactly like you said, with the idea of an earlier model and what it was with the earlier versions were that they were very human and “Oh my god, they are robots,” this idea there, whereas this one the reveal is very early, so I wanted to make him in the external very robotic and then yes, inside have human traits and personality trait, so you’re like “Wait a second, is he being sarcastic there?” or “Is he being for real?” So you are always asking that question with the character. So it’s like as the character develops as well physically, I don’t know if it shows, but like at the beginning he’s a very neutral physicality, by the end I was leaning on my hip when we are leaving the space ship to go down on that last mission. It’s little things like that. So that’s an attitude. Little things like that I was trying to bleed through, so even then you’re thinking as the audience or the people on board “Wait a second. Is something happening here? Was he pretending to be more robotic than he was?” So he’s a big question mark. It’s like “Is that a revenge attack on (redacted)? Or is it for information’s sake?”
You were talking about the physicality. There’s a really distinct physicality between you and Charlize and I’m wondering if you guys talked about it at all openly or is that something that just organically happened?
I just came on set doing the David walk on the first day and we didn’t discuss any of that. In fact there wasn’t much discussion other than a little bit at the beginning when we all met up and then once we were on set it was like people bringing their work to the floor and Ridley throwing in some ideas and mixing it about, but no that was never discussed.
David’s demeanor and delivery are so very specific and it’s also very different from your own personality. All of the other actors were saying that you joking a lot on set between takes and you were changing. How was it to go in and out of David? Are you just able to get in and out of it that easily?
I kind of like to do that with other characters as well. I have a tendency to have that energy on set. There’s something about that where I think if you keep it relaxed or go into it relaxed then things will happen as opposed to trying to preempt them. I don’t try to go “This is what I’m going to try to do with the character in this scene.” I allow things to appear as opposed to place them and doing that I find helps going in and out like that. Sometimes if I stick in a character too much I feel like I might start to get blinkered, because I’m making my decisions too definite. I don’t know what David is going to do next. “How do I know?” There’s a thousand ways to do something.
How did you approach the scenes where David is killing time on the flight over?
Again like you say, he’s up there two and a half years and everyone is in cryostasis and there was that question like “What do we do?’ and that idea of Ridley wanted him to have blonde hair. That was his look and so I said, “Wouldn’t it be kind of interesting if he was highlighting his hair once?” (Laughs) That’s how cool Ridley is. Ridley was like “Let’s do it.” I didn’t think it would end up in the movie, but apparently it’s in there. Things like that. I thought “Is there a vanity to this guy?” Again, it’s a very human trait and then I thought to myself “There’s a childlike element to him as well,” because he’s had to amuse himself, because nobody has been awake and even when they do wake up they don’t really… there’s a certain contempt towards him. It’s sort of like he is an outsider and he’s a robot and so I thought, “As a child as well, everything is fascinating. Everything is information for him,” so it’s like the childlike thing, so when he watches humans behave together it’s information. Then I had a yo-yo and I was playing around with that idea. We didn’t use it, but just the various things he would get up to on board the ship. So again, when everybody wakes up it’s his ship and everybody is roaming around and it’s like he keeps everything clean, so there’s the butler element to him as well house keeper and all of those things.
But enjoyment, it’s a human emotion, but he is able to enjoy those things he is doing?
Yeah, I think again pride. He takes pride in what he does, but that’s a human thing, isn’t it? I thought it was always the idea of human beings have programmed him and they have designed him in a certain way that he will be able to react to certain human behavior. So it’s possible that that programming starts to bleed and form its own personality trait. So that was the thing, but never to make it an open ended “Yes, that’s what he is doing.” It’s kind of in and out.
Obviously if this film is successful they have talked about possibly making a trilogy. Your character, being an android, could show up in many different forms. When you signed on for this did you sign for a multi-picture deal?
I don’t know what the contract says on this one. I think probably it is the case, because with these sort of things they usually will cover that anyway. Let’s see what happens. I’m pretty excited… It looks like with X-Men we are going to be starting up next year I think, so I’m excited by the prospect of that and the ideas that have been floating around on that court and to get back together with that team again.
One of the interesting things about David and we talked about it earlier, he seems very inquisitive and curious, but some of the things he ends up doing can be seen as evil. It’s hard to talk about it, but I’m curious. Do you look at it as he’s just curious or being told to do things? What was your take on why he does some of the things he does later on?
The driving force is it’s the information that he’s got to gather and sometimes you need guinea pigs in the science laboratory and that’s the way he looks at it. It’s collateral damage and then maybe there’s other little elements to it that he can enjoy that go with it, but he’s definitely very focussed on an objective, you know?
It’s just very interesting to me to tell a robot “try harder.” You can’t tell your computer to “try harder.” You can’t tell a piece of machinery to “try harder,” they just do what they do. I just thought that was a really interesting directive.
Yeah, but she [Charlize] is human. He knows that that for a human being is… that that will get to her. “You’ve got to try harder.” “I’m trying my best.” “Best isn’t good enough.” So it’s like harder for him is achievable, it just means “I need to do something else in order to get the information from this,” where as we go “Shit, how do I do it? I’m working so hard on it.” He will just find another way to get there and so “harder” doesn’t even exist as you say. It just means “Do it another way.”
There’s a lot that’s hinted about your relationship to Charlize’s character and your relationship to Weyland, but it’s never really said. I was wondering what you could tell us about those relationships.
Well it’s complicated. I think Weyland is obviously that high achieving alpha male and what was cool about the Davids is there are hundreds of Davids, thousands of Davids. They are mass produced and he is obviously very proud of his creation, but I think that’s because he is proud of himself. It’s all about Weyland. He is the creator, you know? So when he goes “The son that I never had,” it’s not because he has affection for David, it’s that he has such affection for himself and self-affirmation that he created this. I think it’s the classic thing of perhaps a neglected daughter or a neglected child; she [Charlize] is desperately vying to get “daddy’s” attention.
A lot of the other actors were talking about being fans of Alien and being excited to be able to work with Ridley on this movie for that reason. Did you have that same kind of feeling? Did you feel the legacy of that original movie and what he did?
Sure. Absolutely yeah, you’re very much aware of that and that it is Ridley and that it is this world and there is that pressure, but that’s good. That gives you a healthy amount of fear and then like I said I try to get all of the preparation squared away and then on set really try to have fun. I knew that I wanted to have fun with this character and that I didn’t want… I really wanted to enjoy it and Ridley and I seemed to click immediately in terms of what was going on with the character and the freedom to try things out with him and to find the humor in there. I said to him, “This guy is funny, right?” He was like “Yes. Great. Let’s go for it.” So yeah, that was the main thing, to really enjoy him.
The viral marketing has been a big hit and you did them back when you were shooting the movie. Did they explain to you what they were going to be used for?
Yeah and you know I think it’s the future of advertising a movie. I think it’s brilliant to actually have other pieces of this trailer which could be in the movie or at least flesh out the movie, it’s part of the same philosophy of the movie, without showing any of the movie. I love that. I get to such an extent with trailers where I have to close my eyes, because I don’t want to see trailers, you know? I love to go into a movie and have no idea what’s going to happen in it. I remember when I went in to see City Of God and I had no idea what it was. I came to an audition a week early. I came in and was like “I’m here for the audition” and they were like “No, it’s next Wednesday” and it was raining outside and I went in to the Curzon and I went in and I just sat down. I was blown away. So to have that thing for me is when I experience a film at its best, you know?