Michael Fassbender appears at a Manhattan hotel in a leather jacket, with Camels in his pocket and the tips of his close-shorn hair highlighted Paris Hilton-blond. It's hard to believe that this jovial hipster, 34, played both the debonair spy in Inglourious Basterds and the villainous Magneto in X-Men: First Class, but one of Fassbender's most impressive qualities is malleability. "That's the biggest compliment, when someone calls me a chameleon," he declares. Fassbender grew up in Ireland, where his German father served up scalloped salmon at an upscale pub. He enrolled in drama school in London at 19, but it took him more than a decade to land his breakout role, in visual artist Steve McQueen's film Hunger, about an IRA prisoner who starved to death in an Eighties prison strike. This year, his roles range from Carl Jung in David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method to a sex junkie in the art film Shame. He's also signed on to Prometheus, Ridley Scott's Alien prequel. "As a moviegoer, I like to disappear on an adventure ride for an hour and a half as much as I like something with a social pulse," he says, smiling, "so it's fun for me to do both kinds of work. Plus, it keeps everyone else guessing."
By Vanessa Grigoriadis